June 9, 2009
EVANSTON, Ill. -- When Emily Fletcher was hired as Northwestern's head women's golf coach following the 2007-08 season, one of her goals was to make the program into a contender in both the Big Ten and on the national stage. After her first year, Fletcher has the Wildcats on the right track, as NU finished fourth at the Big Ten Championships while posting top-10 finishes in 10 of the 11 tournaments it competed in.
"I think we really started to play up to our ability at the end of the season and especially at the Big Tens," Fletcher said. "We finished three strokes out of third place, so we were pleased with that, behind Purdue, Michigan State and Ohio State - all of which advanced to the NCAA Finals. As we go forward, I'm just looking to set high expectations and that we continue to raise the bar."
One sign of optimism for Fletcher was the improvement of her club from the fall season to the spring season. The Wildcats compiled a 941.8 stroke average during the five tournaments in the fall with four top-10 finishes, highlighted by their sixth-place showing in the season-opening Mary Fossum Invitational.
But during the spring is where Northwestern began to assert itself. Competing against larger and more challenging fields, the `Cats shaved 24 shots off their scoring average to 917.6 while never finishing in the lower half in the team standings. At the Mountain View Collegiate is where NU showed what it is capable of, breaking 300 in both the first (297) and third (292) rounds en route to a season-best 890 performance.
The Wildcats cracked 300 for the third time on the year, shooting a 299 in the first round of the Lady Buckeye, pacing NU to a fourth-place finish out of 15 teams in its final tune-up before the Big Ten Championships in West Lafayette, Ind. A second-straight fourth-place finished capped a productive year for Northwestern, one which made Fletcher excited about the future.
"As well as we played in the spring was encouraging to me, because we did not get off to a good start in the fall," Fletcher said. "Certainly in the spring we played much better and even became a bubble team for the NCAA Regionals. Now that improvement we made from the fall into the spring is the same improvement we're looking to make over the summer in preparation for next year."
That optimism is aided further considering Northwestern returns the core of its team in 2009-10. Of the six golfers who competed for the Wildcats this past year, only senior Jennifer Hong (Windermere, Fla./The First Academy) will not be back. Hong closed out her career as one of the top golfers in program history, as her 77.00 career stroke average ranks second all-time. She also put together six rounds of 70 or better, the most of any Wildcat in program history, and finishes with six top-10 finishes and an additional seven top-20 showings.
But it was the Northwestern sophomores who stepped up and set the tone for the `Cats this past season. The duo of Kelsey Lindenschmidt (West Chester, Ohio/Ursuline Academy) and Innapha Tantanavivat (Bangkok, Thailand/David Leadbetter Academy) finished one-two in the season scoring average, with Lindenschmidt's 77.81 just ahead of Tantanavivat's 78.15. The two combined for a pair of top-10 finishes on the year, with Tantanavivat placing sixth at the Windy City Collegiate and Lindenschmidt recording a 10th-place showing at the Big Ten Championships.
Fellow sophomore Rebecca Lederhausen (Hinsdale, Ill./Hinsdale Central) came on strong as well for Northwestern, competing in five events with a 78.69 scoring average, including an eighth-place finish at the Lady Buckeye.
A pair of freshman also made their mark for the `Cats, with Alexandra Lederhausen (Hinsdale, Ill./Hinsdale Central) and Kylie Fuller (Temecula, Calif./Chapparal) each competing in 10 events for NU. The duo posted a combined three top-20 finishes between the two of them in what Fletcher sees as a bright future for the program.
"We're a really young team, and the great thing about that is we get to see these girls continue to improve and better themselves for at least a couple more years," Fletcher said. "We get to build on the successes and improvements of this year instead of starting over, and I'm looking for us to continue to elevate our play. Having another year under their belts is really going to help these girls' maturity and patience."
And with one year under her belt, Fletcher will continue to raise the bar and expect great things from her team. The Wildcats know how close they came to making the NCAA tournament this spring, and were disappointed when it wasn't meant to be. But they look to use that disappointment as a motivating factor heading into the fall.
"That's the challenge we've posed for ourselves is that we have to carry that feeling we had of being on the outside looking in everyday with us," said Fletcher. "As a coaching staff and as players we know we need to make a choice everyday to be better and pick up in September right where we left off. That experience will continue to motivate each of us."