By JOSH SIGLER KOKOMO TRIBUNE
---- — Although the members of the team still have to go out and perform the deed, the circumstances are lining up quite nicely for Northwestern’s golf squad entering Saturday’s Lafayette Jeff Regional.
The majority of the squad enters having played in the regional before. The regional course, Battle Ground G.C., was designed by the same person who designed Northwestern’s home course, Green Acres G.C. And although the Purple Tigers, who shot a 343 to win the Western Sectional at Chippendale G.C., enter the regional round with the fourth lowest sectional team score of the qualifying squads, will be in the final pairings with the host Bronchos and Valparaiso, the two squads with the lowest qualifying scores. Playing the final pairings will give Northwestern an opportunity to play alongside the best competition in the tournament, as well as get a feel for how other schools are faring with time still left to adjust accordingly on the course.
“We know what we have to do,” Northwestern coach Randy Lindgren said. “Right now, we’re playing very well. You can’t control what other teams do. So, one of the things we try to focus on this deep in the tournament is not to worry about the teams we’re playing against. The mindset is basically to not be playing against them, but to play against yourself.”
No. 9-ranked Jeff enters regional play with the lowest team score in the 18-team field with a 333. No. 3 Valpo shot a 336 to win its sectional, and No. 13 Lake Central carded a 339 to top its sectional field. The pairing for Northwestern won’t leave it wondering where it’s stacking up as the tournament unfolds, something that has to be key when considering the fact that only the top three teams punch their tickets to next week’s state finals at The Legends of Indiana G.C. in Franklin.
“I think teams play better with better competition,” Lindgren said. “I think that’s an advantage when you’re playing with a pair of teams that are capable of shooting 330 or better. That’s better than shooting with a pair of teams that are going to shoot 390. I think the pace of play is better. I think the level of concentration is better. I think our main competition [in finishing in the top three] has to be Lake Central, although Twin Lakes won its sectional with a 348 and Culver Academy won its with a 349. Unfortunately, we’re not paired with Lake Central, but being paired in the lead group with the two best teams, I think is an advantage for us.”
Battle Ground and Green Acres both feature large greens and wide open fairways. One major difference in the two courses is the layout of the bunkers. Green Acres features bunkers on both sides of its greens, while Battle Ground only has bunkers on a single side of each green.
Northwestern enjoyed a fairly balanced scoring attack on its way to its third straight sectional title, getting 83 from both Ashton Martin and Olivia McClure, an 88 from Ava McClure, an 89 from Alexis Hungate and a 97 from Karlie Shaw. The 343 was not their best score of the season, and the Purple Tigers know they’ll need to better it to snag one of the three advancing spots.
“I think we’ll be happy if we shoot a 339 or lower, assuming the weather conditions are decent,” Lindgresn said. “I think the third place team is going to have to break the 340 mark, so that’s the goal. We’ve shot in the 330s twice this year, but we’ve also shot in the 340s many times. We need to eliminate the three-putts, and eliminate the mistakes of hitting into the traps on the wrong side of the green.”
Sectional runner-up Western and third-place Peru will also take part in regional action, which gets under way Saturday at 11 a.m. Natalie Newlin, Minka Gill and Shelby Schave all carded 87s for Western in sectional play, while Mallory Zorn and Emma Long both shot 88s for Peru.
Kokomo senior AnneMarie Balsbaugh will take to the BattleGround course as an individual after snagging medalist honors in the Western sectional with a 76. She’ll enter Saturday tied for the third-lowest qualifying score in the field, behind Valpo’s Harley Dubsky (71) and Lafayette Jeff’s Samantha Hatter (74). Twin Lakes’ Taylor Hornung also carded a 76 in leading her team to a sectional title. Dubsky finished third in the state as an individual a year ago, while Hatter finished in a tie for 17 th.
“It feels really good to have a chance to leave the year like this,” Balsbaugh said. “It think [advancing to state] is only realistic if I put my mind to it and go into it thinking it’s realistic. I think I have just as much of a chance as anyone as long as I’m on my game and trust everything I’ve worked for all season. My very first high school tournament was at Battle Ground, and I got DQed for hitting a lost ball. Hopefully I’ll get over that and play to my strengths there.”
Maconaquah’s Courtney Turcheck also advanced to the regional round after carding an 89 and beating out teammate Brandi Jones in a playoff for the final spot.
The top five low individuals on non-advancing teams also earn passage to the state finals, with all ties for fifth place having to be played off at the regional level.