Leathernecks come in ninth at Summit League Championships

Jacob VanZuiden, Courier Staff

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On Sunday, the Western Illinois women’s golf team battled for the grand prize at The Summit League Championships in the opening round of their last event of the 2019 spring season. The Leathernecks wanted to make one last statement to the rest of the conference when teeing-off at the three-day held at Sand Creek Station Golf Course in Newton, Kan.

For Western, they got to see all of their familiar conference rivals in action as they competed against: Denver, North Dakota, North Dakota State, Omaha, Oral Roberts, Purdue Fort Wayne, South Dakota and South Dakota State. The Leathernecks rolled out an all-too-familiar starting-five, as the group was comprised of juniors Cassidy Jurkaites and Nicole Hamilton-Cross, seniors Mariah Peters and Kate McTaggart and freshman Emily Marrs.

Weather, not other teams, proved to be The Purple and Gold’s biggest obstacle to overcome throughout day one of the event. With powerful, gusting winds pressing these golfers with each backswing, they struggled to find their groove. The best score of the day came from McTaggart, who fought through these conditions to post a score of 81 (+9). Next in line was Hamilton-Cross, who wasn’t far behind, firing an 83 (+11). Jurkaites, a player who has been a consistent “x-factor” for this team all season, didn’t have her best round. She compiled a score of 84 (+12). Marrs, who competed in the big dance for the first time in her collegiate career, finished the day at 86 (+14) while Peters turned in a 90 (+18). At the end of the first day, the Leathernecks sat in ninth-place out of as many qualifying schools.

Head coach Lia Biehl Lukkarinen knew the reason for her team’s struggle was weather-related. She was just happy to put an underperforming day to bed in hopes of turning things around in round two.

”Tough conditions today with 30 mph winds,“ Lukkarinen said. ”Hopefully tomorrow we can have a little more normal of a day.“

On Monday in round two, Peters bounced back from her first-round blunder to give the team it’s best score of the day, proving that she would not let her day-one performance define her. She carded a 79, an 11-stroke difference from the previous round, finishing with a 169 (+25) total. It was McTaggart, however, that carried the team’s best individual score through two rounds, shooting an 84 on day-two to give her a lineup-leading 165 (+21). Marrs and Hamilton-Cross both capped a score of 83 on the day, while Jurkaites’ 88 rounded out the lineup for round-two. Sitting on a team score of 663, Western remained in last place.

While the team trailed their rivals by a notable margin beginning the last day of the tournament, the Purple and Gold managed to finish strong. Leading the pack this time was Marrs, who concluded her freshman year with a 77, putting her at 246 (+30) for the event. Hamilton-Cross proved capable of matching Marrs’ performance, as an 80 on day that also put her at 246. Hot on their tracks were the senior duo of Peters and McTaggart, each of whom accumulated a total score of 250 (+34). Jurkaites’ improving play in the third round was good enough to keep pace with her teammates, firing an 80 as she concluded the meet with a composite score of 252 (+36). Overall, the Leathernecks finished in ninth-place with a team score of 981.

As The Summit League Championships wrapped up, Lukkarinen was happy to see her team finish the year on a high-note, even if their place in the standings may not have done their performances enough justice.

”We battled weather and health conditions all week but were able to pull together in the last round for an 11-stroke improvement,“ Lukkarinen said. ”Emily Marrs finished with a two-under back nine to lead us for the day. It was a good last tournament with the seniors, and they will be missed.“

As The Summit League Championships put a cap on the 2019 season, the Leathernecks’ ever-improving play has them optimistic about how things will play out next fall, as the Purple and Gold will return three of its five starters. For seniors McTaggart and Peters, this was their last hoorah as collegiate golfers, and their dedication and service to the program will not be forgotten.

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