Nilsen earns runner-up finish in Wisconsin

NIU takes fifth in Badger Invitational ahead of home tournament

Senior+Reece+Nilsen+hits+a+tee-shot+during+a+tournament+qualifying+round+at+Rich+Harvest+Farms+in+Sugar+Grove.+Nilsen+claimed+solo+second%2C+Monday+at+the+Badger+Invitational+in+Verona%2C+Wis.+

Zulfiqar Ahmed | Northern Star

Senior Reece Nilsen hits a tee-shot during a tournament qualifying round at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove. Nilsen claimed solo second, Monday at the Badger Invitational in Verona, Wis.

Skyler Kisellus, Assistant Sports Editor

DeKALB — The men’s golf program was led by a strong performance from senior Reece Nilsen, who finished in solo second individually at the Badger Invitational in Verona, Wis.

In their second outing of the season, the Huskies finished at four-over par, 868, over the span of the three-day tournament notching its first top-five finish of the season.

By the end of play Sunday, NIU was tied for fourth place along with South Dakota State University and the tournament host, University of Wisconsin-Madison. All three teams had recorded performances of three-over par with a score of 291.

The team entered the invitational’s second round seeking to break the three-way tie. Noticeable improvements brought the squad down to even par. Freshman Ben Sluzas, junior Luc Warnock and graduate student Michael Cascino were each able to trim their par scores by three strokes on Monday.

Even so, stronger performances from Wisconsin and the University of Cincinnati saw NIU drop two spots on the leaderboard. Going into Tuesday’s final round, the Huskies were ranked sixth out of 14 teams.

“We wanted to clean up our short games a little bit,” head coach John Carlson said. “The first two rounds, we had given some shots away from good spots to be in.”

In the last 18 holes of the event, NIU battled with Wisconsin and Iowa State University for fourth place. Carlson’s program maintained its position for the duration of its playing time. A late birdie by Wisconsin after NIU had completed the course knocked the team down to fifth.

The Illinois State University Redbirds emerged as the victor after putting up an eight-under par performance. The Redbirds had four golfers rank in the top 10 on the individual leaderboard.

The brightest spot of the tournament for NIU was the impressive performance of Nilsen. The transfer from Grand Canyon University ended the opening round tied for third place. Nilsen recorded a second place finish after hitting six-under par in a 54-hole competition, marking a career-best for the sophomore Huskie.

“Reece played a really clean tournament,” Carlson said. “(He) drove the ball very well and gave himself a lot of opportunities. (It) was one of the best individual performances that we’ve had in recent years.”

The Arizona native acknowledged his achievements following his remarkable showing on the course.

“I kept putting myself in good spots and my speed was good,” Nilsen said in a press release from NIU Athletics. “I just made a lot of pars down the stretch.”

Nilsen came one stroke short of winning the tournament, placing second behind decorated Cincinnati golfer Sam Jean. 

“Reece really showed that he can play with the best in the country,” Carlson said.

The men’s team will have a quick turnaround as they prepare to play in familiar territory. Their next competition will take place at their home course as they host the Rich Harvest Intercollegiate at Rich Harvest Farms.

“The focus will be the same way that we have prepared for qualifiers,” Carlson said. “We know exactly where we need to hit it off the tee and where we need to place it around the green.”

The Rich Harvest Intercollegiate is set to begin at 9 a.m. Saturday at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove.