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    Wildcats Building Something Special

    NUSPORTSDOTCOM Alice Kim holds Northwestern's single-season stroke average record.
    Alice Kim holds Northwestern's single-season stroke average record.

    Feb. 17, 2006

    EVANSTON, Ill. -- Northwestern's women's golf team, which has been to postseason competition five of the last six years, enters the spring portion of its season with a bright outlook.

    Ranked 39th nationally in the Golfweek/Sagarin pre-spring rankings, the young, but talented Wildcats figure to continue their progression that began with the start of their fall season last September.

    "We had some ups and downs in the fall, but our outlook on the spring is very positive," says head coach Chris Regenberg. "We have beaten several top-ranked teams in any given round so we know the talent and depth exist. We just need to string those good rounds together."

    Regenberg and the 'Cats have good reason to be optimistic. They saved arguably their best performance for the last tournament of the fall, the Mercedes-Benz Championships. The 'Cats finished behind five collegiate teams, all of whom are ranked in the top 20 entering the spring. Northwestern, however, was able to defeat several teams ranked ahead them -- No. 19 Ohio State, No. 22 Kent State, No. 24 SMU, No. 27 Tulane and No. 37 Penn State.

    With no seniors, the Wildcat roster is young but at the same time experienced. Of the six golfers who competed in the fall, five of them saw action in at least nine events last year. Despite losing Ina Kim, who was second in scoring last season, NU averaged 303.3 strokes per round in the fall. The fall average was almost three strokes below last season's average.

    Junior Alice Kim, a second-team All-Big Ten selection and NU's leader in stroke average a year ago, once again anchored the team in the fall. In four tournaments, Kim garnered top-20 finishes in a team-leading two tournaments and finished third at the Mary Fossum Invitational. Kim was a model of steady play, with her 12 18-hole scores in the fall ranging from 72 to 78. She averaged 75.17.

    "Alice is such a commanding force on the golf course," says Regenberg. "Her accuracy and pursuit to get below par is remarkable. Alice is a player who will lead this team with her passion to win."

    The most impressive individual play of the fall came from a newcomer, freshman Jennifer Hong. If Hong had any problems adjusting to college life, it sure did not show on the golf course as she started her career with a bang.

    In the season-opening tournament, Hong debuted with a 2-under par 70, which was the lowest round for NU in the fall. She was tied for first place after completing the 54 holes of scheduled play, but came up short in a playoff. Her runner-up finish was a team best. Hong played in every fall event, averaging 75.42 and leading the team with two top-10 finishes.

    "Jennifer had a good fall season and has successfully settled in to student-athlete life at NU," says Regenberg. "This spring she feels ready to make an impact at every tournament. Her winter regiment has her stronger and focused on winning."

    Sophomore Brittany Johnston is another player Regenberg has high hopes for. She has lowered her scoring average from 79.06 last season to 77.17 and is third on the team in scoring. Johnston closed with an even-par 72 to finish a career-best 18th at the Lady Paladin Invitational. Her second-round 70 at the Mary Fossum Invitational was tied for team-low in the fall.

    "Brittany is a key player for us," says Regenberg. "She has seen many of the golf courses we are competing on this spring and that experience will be a great advantage. Brittany can score very low and her confidence is improving as her skills become more refined. She is a terrific positive presence on this team."

    Fellow sophomore Katie Trachok played in three events in the fall. After playing in the first two events, Trachok did not see action in the third but returned to the lineup and played well at the Mercedes-Benz Championships. She opened with a 79 and improved from there with rounds of 74 and 73. Her total of 226, which was tied for fourth-lowest of the fall, produced an 18th-place finish.

    "Katie was fighting a bit this fall to get into the lineup but her fight and patience paid off with a terrific tournament at the Mercedes-Benz," says coach Regenberg. "Katie is a `get-things-done' type of player and that is a quality many college players do not possess as they try too often to perfect the game."

    Heather Scholten, one of a trio of juniors on the squad, played in all four fall events and stepped into her role as team leader nicely. She averaged 77.67 and led the team with a 21st-place finish at the Lady Northern Invitational.

    "Heather is our team captain and she is a natural for that role," says Regenberg. "Heather has worked very hard on her mechanics and will take a renewed sense of confidence and purpose to the golf course this spring. Heather is a player who could quietly surprise her competition this spring."

    Junior Kelly Robb, who played in 11 events last year, saw action in the middle-two fall events. Her stroke average of 78.67 was down from last season's 79.42, and Regenberg is expecting big things from her in the spring.

    "Kelly will be a major contributor this spring," says Regenberg. "Kelly is a renewed and very eager for the season to begin. Her game has never looked better."

    Kerry Burke, Justina Yu and Katherine (Katy) Grafton, members of a five-player sophomore class, round out NU's roster.

    "Kerry, Justina and Katy add depth to our strong roster both on and off the golf course," says Regenberg. "All are phenomenal students and positive student-athlete role models who add to the tremendous team chemistry this team possesses."

    A six-tournament spring slate is highlighted by a trip to Rancho Mirage, Calif., for the Northwestern Invitational. NU hosts the event April 3-4 at the Westin Mission Hills Resort.

    "We are thrilled to be hosting an event which dovetails the LPGA's Kraft Nabisco tournament and offers a tournament experience unparalleled in collegiate golf," says Regenberg. "We are very proud of our efforts in getting this event started."

    The 'Cats have the depth and the talent to compete with and beat upper-echelon teams--they proved that in the fall. Now the goal is to string together solid rounds on a consistent basis in the spring. With the hard work the 'Cats put in during the winter, there is a good chance that Northwestern could make its sixth postseason appearance in seven years.

    "This team believes it can go a long ways this year," says Regenberg. "Our goal is to make it to the NCAA Championships and play well there."

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    The Wildcats start their spring season this Monday and Tuesday, Feb. 20-21, at the Central District Classic in Parrish, Fla. Two rounds (36 holes) will be played Monday followed by 18 holes on Tuesday.

    This is the sixth year the Central District Classic has been held, and the fifth in succession. Northwestern won the first Central District title in 2000. Last year, the Wildcats placed 11th overall. Alice Kim, however, placed sixth in the tournament, which included a 3-under 69 in her final round.

    Besides the Wildcats, 13 other teams will be participating in the event: host Michigan State, Baylor, Illinois State, Kansas, Kansas State, LSU, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio State, SMU and Texas Tech. Missouri is the defending tournament champion.