Western Illinois golf teams set to make one more appearance before heading into The Summit League Championships

Nicole Hamilton-Cross watchesd her drive go a long way.

GOLEATHERNECKS.COM

Nicole Hamilton-Cross watchesd her drive go a long way.

Jacob VanZuiden, Courier Staff

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TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — The Summit League Championships are just around the corner for the Leatherneck women’s golf team. However, the Purple and Gold will get one last tune-up before the end-of-season tournament when they travel to their neighboring state of Indiana for the Indiana State Invitational beginning at 10 a.m. on Sunday.

The two-day event held at the Country Club of Terre Haute will pose Western no shortage of competition. Joining WIU in the tourney are: Loyola-Chicago, Northern Iowa, Dayton, Purdue Fort Wayne, Valparaiso, California Baptist, Evansville, Youngstown State, Eastern Illinois, Green Bay and event-host Indiana State. Among the competing teams, Butler stands out as a school to keep an eye on. The Bulldogs, according to NCAASports.org, rank as the 59th best women’s golf program in the nation. The Leathernecks, however, seem to be catching them at the perfect time with their rapid improvement as of late.

The Purple and Gold have come on strong down the stretch this season. Last time out in the NIU Invitational, they sputtered out of the gates but came back on day two looking like a completely different squad. After a less-than-ideal composite score of 341 in the first round of action, the Necks bounced back, posting a 316 team-tally in round two. This was good enough for a fourth place finish and most importantly allowed Western to build up some steam heading into their upcoming match.

In the Indiana State Invitational, the Leathernecks will roll out a familiar starting-five. The lineup, one-through-five, will feature: junior Nicole Hamilton-Cross, freshman Emily Marrs, senior Katie McTaggart, senior Mariah Peters and junior Cassidy Jurkaites. Freshman Abby Gault will go solo, competing as an individual as she has done on several occasions throughout the 2019 spring campaign. Gault, too, will aim to build off her last outing where she showed significant improvement, cutting 10 strokes from her game with a score of 78 on day two at NIU. The upcoming event will follow the standard format of one, 18-hole round of play on Sunday followed by another on Monday.

Aside from the team’s current morale boosting momentum, they’ll get the luxury of playing at a familiar venue, one they’ve had fair luck with in the past. Head coach Lia Biehl Lukkarinen sees this as an advantage, hoping her group can capitalize with a strong start.

“We enjoy the golf course at Terre Haute,” Lukkarinen said. “It’s fair with a couple of interesting Par 3’s. Driving it straight will be important as well as short game. The team is hoping for some rounds that aren’t in the cold and wind.”

Indeed, the weather will again play a factor as it often does with the hectic temperature variance of spring in the Midwest. Once they conclude play in Indiana, the Leathernecks will have just over two weeks to shift their focus and hone-in on the ultimate prize that awaits them at The Summit League Championships. The team will then depart for Newton, Kan., to compete in the big event beginning April 23.

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