While Minnesota finished 10th out of 14 teams in the Big Ten Championships over the weekend, the leader board doesn't tell the entire story. In reality, the team looked to have improved dramatically from their 11th place finish last weekend at the Lady Buckeye Invitational.
Minnesota played well on the first day of the tournament, posting a 299 on Friday, ending the opening round in seventh place. After rain caused the second round on Saturday to be canceled, the Gophers found themselves in sixth place on Sunday before a strong finish from some other teams dropped them to 10th.
"I think just being able to play in the Big Ten tournament as a freshmen and sophomores gives us a really big advantage going into the next few years," said sophomore Kate Lillie. "Especially since [the Big Ten Championships] will be at the same course for the rest of my college seasons. Being able to play that course multiple times gives us a huge advantage."
Because of the inclement weather, the tournament was shortened to 36 holes. In the final round, Minnesota bogeyed some key holes down the stretch to finish 6-over-par for the day. Meanwhile, every team ahead of them finished the round at or under par, causing the Gophers to drop three spots.
"I have a lot of young kids," head coach Michele Redman said. "Four sophomores and a freshman, and I think they learned a lot from that. That will make a big difference for us going into next year, I know it will."
The young team has shown improvement all spring and plans to continue getting better in the years to come. Of the six golfers in the lineup for the Big Ten Championships, five were underclassmen. Lillie and Grace Kellar, both sophomores who competed in the tournament last year as freshmen, led the team in scoring, shooting 148 (+4) and 149 (+5) respectively. Among individuals, Lillie finished tied for 24th and Kellar finished tied for 33rd.
"I definitely knew the course better and felt more confident," Kellar said. "It's a course that the more you play, the better you'll get."
Playing in her final tournament with the Gophers, senior Muyu Wu, the team's leading scorer in the spring season, posted an even-par 72 in the final round to finish 6-over on the tournament. Not far behind her, freshman Karen Zhang also shot even par in her final round to finish at 7-over.
Sophomore Jessica Lee impressed on Friday with a 2-over 74 on Friday and finished at 10-over with an 80 on Sunday. Fellow sophomore Joanne Free rounded out the lineup with an 18-over on the weekend.
Ohio State took home the conference championship with a 575 (-1). The top finisher among individuals was split between Ohio State senior Niki Schroeder and Purdue senior Ida Ayu Indira Melati Putri.
Redman said the team took a step forward this season toward competing for the conference title in the years to come.
"The more they continue to believe in themselves, the better they're going to get," Redman said. "They're starting to get confidence in themselves, and I know they see what they can do. I feel like we played a lot better this year at the Big Ten than last year, and I like where we're going. We're going the right way with the right kids."