After finishing in the top five in their season-opening meet, the Wildcats headed back to Illinois with a lot of optimism for the future. After their second meet of the year, it sure seems like that optimism was well worth it. Northwestern finished sixth overall in the 14-team Windon Memorial Classic in Northfield, Illinois earlier this week. The Wildcats put two players in the top 10 at the meet, and if the rest of the team can step up their play, the ‘Cats will be a formidable opponent all year long.
The meet had an extremely auspicious beginning for Northwestern. The squad raced out to a 13-under 271 in the first round, a mark that put them just two strokes back of eventual winner Purdue, which shot 269 on the opening day. Four different Wildcats — sophomores Ethan Tseng and Daniel Svärd, junior Cameron Adam and graduate student James Imai — all shot two under par or better on the first day, with Tseng and Imai both shooting four-under 67s, putting them in a tie for fourth after Day One.
Day Two saw another impressive performance from the ‘Cats. While the score slightly regressed to a nine-under 275, three different players still managed to shoot under par. Tseng, playing the meet of his life, shot a blistering 5-under 66 to lead the team, and first-year Niall Shields-Donegan had the best round of his collegiate career with a 2-under 69. The rest of the pack played better on the second day as well, but come day’s end Northwestern was still sitting in a tie for third, seven strokes back of Purdue.
It was in the third round that the Wildcats’ team came back to earth a little bit. After three scores in the 60s on both of the first two days, Northwestern put up just one in the third and final round of the meet. Adam’s score of 69 and Tseng’s 70 were enough to salvage an even-par 284 for the day, but that score was only good enough for seventh on the day. Worst of all, of the six teams ahead of Northwestern, four were either behind the Wildcats or just barely ahead when the day began. The end result was an impressive 22-under 830 that was still only good enough for a disappointing sixth-place finish. However, the team clearly showed that it could compete in any meet this year, with four players going under par.
The leader of that pack was, of course, Tseng. The sophomore went under par in all three rounds, including the team-best 66 in Round Two, en route to a 10-under 203 for the meet. The end result for Tseng was a tie for fourth overall at the meet, six spots behind Purdue’s Herman Sekne (who set a course record) and just two spots behind Drew Salyers, the runner-up from Indiana. The meet was a huge boost for Tseng, who is getting a chance to show what he can do after limited action last year.
Adam also earned a spot in the top 10 thanks to his brilliantly consistent play. After an opening round 68, he carded back-to-back 69s to finish at 7-under with a total score of 206. The junior, who finished tied for 15th in the season-opening meet, has now placed in the top 15 at both meets so far this year, the only Wildcat to do so. After Tseng and Adam, the rest of the squad put up a very solid performance. Svärd, coming off a Big Ten Freshman of the Year debut season, had his best round in the opener and struggled in the next two, but still finished with a 1-under 212 for the meet. Imai did Svärd one better, finishing with a total of just 211 for the meet. As for Shields-Donegan, the freshman, he was just four over par for the meet with a 217, a nice improvement from his eight-over par debut earlier in September.
Individual play saw a lot less success for Northwestern. The three competitors in individual play, senior Christopher Zhang, sophomore Akshay Anand and first year Jeremy Chen combined for just one round at even par for the entire meet — Zhang’s 71 in the final round. None of the three finished better than 3-over par, and Zhang, whose 216 was the best individual effort, finished tied for 63rd. However, the team play will be the key for Northwestern this year, so the individual play struggles aren’t too much of a worry yet.
Now that the season is really kicking into gear, it will be a quick turnaround for the team. Their next meet will involve a jaunt to South Bend, Indiana, to take part in the Fighting Irish Classic hosted by Notre Dame on Sunday. Northwestern will look to make sure its opponents, which include Big Ten foes Iowa and Indiana, go back from whence they came without finishing in the top five. One of those spots, ideally, will be held by the Wildcats.