EAU CLAIRE, Wis.—Statement made.
With selections for the NCAA Championships field less than 24 hours away, No. 17 Carleton College made a large statement by topping five other nationally-ranked teams in winning for the second straight tournament at the Blugold Spring Invitational.
The Knights matched the school record (in relation to par) on the final day with a 314, the top score by a whopping 13 shots to finish the 36-hole event at 643, also the low two-round total in school history in relation to par. No. 19 Carthage finished second at 663, followed by No. 15 St. Thomas (670) and host UW-Eau Claire (676). The win came a week after the Knights won their own Carleton Invitational.
The story of the day was sophomore Grace Gilmore (Edina, Minn.). After a first-round 82, Gilmore fired the fourth-lowest round in school history, a career low two-over par 75. After a front-nine 40, Gilmore caught fire on the back nine. She drained a 40-foot birdie putt on the 12th hole, which kicked off a stretch of three birdies in four holes. She ended up posting a two-under par 35 on the back nine, capping the round with a beautiful par save to notch her first collegiate victory by three shots.
“I think everyone on the team knew that Grace was ready for a break-out round,” Carleton head coach Eric Sieger said. “She’s been hitting the ball so well and her short game is so good, and she was able to put everything together at the most opportune time.” She ended the round with four birdies, offsetting four bogeys and a double bogey.
She was hardly the only Knight to come through in the clutch, as the Knights were rock solid up and down the line-up. Taylor Wells (Jr./Rochester, Minn./Century) continued her very strong spring season, firing a five-over par 78 to end in seventh place, while Kelsey Moede (Jr./Lake Oswego, Ore.) added an 80 in matching her best round of the season in relation to par. She moved up 13 spots to 19th. Shannon Holden (Fy./Simi Valley, Calif./Royal) posted an 81 to end tied for third, and ended up clinching the MIAC’s lowest scoring average in the process. Geraldine Tellbuescher (Fy./Ashiya, Japan/Canadian Academy) tallied an 82 to place tied for fifth, her fourth straight top-five finish.
“At times this spring, Shannon and Geraldine have really carried us with their stellar play, but it was great to see our veterans step forward today,” Sieger said.
The teams battled the par 73 Wild Ridge Golf Course layout, fighting 20-30 mile-per-hour winds on Saturday but had much better scoring conditions on Sunday. Still, the Knights were the only team to break 320 in a field that included NCAA automatic qualifiers/conference champions Wartburg (IIAC), St. Thomas (MIAC), UW-Eau Claire (WIAC) and Carthage (CCIW). Only five players broke 80, and two of those wore the navy and maize of the Knights in Wells and Gilmore.
“For us to come out and play our best golf of the season, against that field, on a tough course, shows the caliber of players and team we are,” Sieger said. “It was absolutely amazing to see the confidence and composure each player possessed today—truly inspiring to watch such high-level golf knowing that we needed a low score. The ladies told me after the first round they were taking it low, and they went out and did just that.”
The Knights now await word from the NCAA Committee if they’ll receive one of the two at-large bids reserved for teams from conferences with an automatic bid but that failed to earn the AQ. The Knights finished one shot behind St. Thomas at the MIAC Championships back in October, but clearly have been the class of the conference and region in the spring.
“Having Taylor back and the continued growth of our first-year players have been key to us making this move this spring,” Sieger said. “To have played so well in those key events in California and St. Louis and winning these last two events, I couldn’t have dreamed that our spring would go so well. We hope it will continue in Florida next week.”