Apparently nobody told Michigan State that it had no business challenging powerful Northwestern for the team title at the Big Ten Championship, which concluded Sunday at TPC River’s Bend in Maineville, Ohio.
Michigan State, after all, came into the tournament at No. 62 in the latest Golfstat rankings. Northwestern, the two-time defending league champion, was ranked 12th. Sure, the Spartans had creeped within eight of Northwestern with a 5-under-par 283 Saturday. But that could mostly be attributed to Sarah Burnham, a junior from Maple Grove, Minn., going out of her mind and making 11 birdies in a tournament single-round record of 9-under 63. That wasn’t going to happen again.
Well, that didn’t happen again. What did happen, though, was a 3-under 285 over the 6,357-yard, par-72 River’s Bend layout – with the Spartans tossing a 75 by Burnham – that caught and passed Northwestern as Michigan State claimed the Big Ten title with a 2-over total of 866. Northwestern slipped a little with a 7-over 295 that left it as a frustrated runnerup at 4-over 868. But the Wildcats didn’t really lose this, Michigan State went out and won it.
It was the Spartans’ first Big Ten title since 2014 and their sixth under head coach Stacy Slobodnik-Stall.
“It shows what our kids are made of – anything is possible,” Slobodnik-Stall told the Michigan State website. “I tried to emphasize to them before (Sunday’s) round to play one shot at a time. We can only control ourselves, so we have to take it one shot at a time.
“It says a lot about who our players are and as a team and their abilities. Today, we had to get the job done. When you come into the day having to come from behind, if you don’t play well, you don’t win. It was a gutsy performance. They wanted to win and they were willing to do what it took.”
No. 30 Ohio State, which had shared the title with Northwestern the last two seasons, finished alone in third at 13-over 877 after a final round of 1-under 287. No. 52 Wisconsin matched the Buckeyes’ final round of 1-under 287 to finish fourth at 20-over 884. No. 33 Michigan finished fifth at 892 after a final-round 293 and No. 24 Purdue finished sixth at 901 after a final-round 901.
No. 75 Penn State finished 11th in the 14-team field with a 934 total after a final-round 319.
The Spartans were led Sunday by Allyson Geer, a freshman from Brighton, Mich. who carded a 2-under 70 to finish alone in fourth in the individual chase at even-par 216.
Katie Sharp, a redshirt junior from Kendallasville, Ind., also broke par with a 1-under 71 that enabled her to finish in a three-way tie for fifth at 2-over 218. Carolyn Markley, a sophomore from Maineville, Ohio playing on her home course, also had a 1-under 71 that enabled her to finish tied for 25th at 228.
But probably the biggest score of the day came from Logan Otter, a redshirt freshman from St. Peters, Mo. She had opened with an 85 and added a 79 in the middle round, but her final round of 1-over 73 was Michigan State’s fourth counter of the day and enabled her to finish tied for 53rd at 237.
The team title was probably all the consolation Burnham needed as she came up just short of the individual title. Her final-round 75 left her at 5-under 211, a shot back of Michigan’s Elodie Van Dievort, a sophomore from Belgium.
And while Burnham’s 75 didn’t count Sunday, the otherworldly 63 she shot Saturday got the Spartans into contention. It probably worked in some odd psychological way to relieve any pressure from the rest of her teammates. I mean, low Michigan State round for the tournament was out of reach.
The Spartans also got a solid weekend out of another freshman, Paz Marfa Sans of Spain, who was one of the players tied with Markley for 25th at 228 after Marfa Sans carded a final-round 76.
Von Dievert, who had grabbed the opening-round lead with a 69, finished up with a 2-under 70 to capture the individual title at 6-under 210.
Following a shot behind Burnham in third was Minnesota’s Emie Peronnin, a senior from France who was rock solid all weekend, following up a pair of 70s with a final-round 72 to finish at 4-under 212.
Joining Michigan State’s Sharp in the group tied for fifth at 2-over 218 were Ohio State’s Jaclyn Lee, a sophomore from Canada who had a final-round 76, and Northwestern’s Stephanie Lau, a sophomore from Fullerton, Calif. who had a final round of 1-under 71.
It was a disappointing weekend for Purdue, but August Kim, a senior from St. Augustine, Fla., finished strong in defense of her Big Ten individual title. Kim had a final round of 2-under 70 to finish tied for eighth at 3-over 219.
Micaela Farah, a freshman from Peru, also had a strong showing at River’s Bend, carding a final-round 74 to finish tied for 17th at 8-over 224.
Marta Martin, a junior from Spain, finished tied for 35th at 230 after a final-round 76, Ida Ayu Indira Melati Putri, a sophomore from Bali, finished tied for 40th at 231 after a final-round 79, Covadonga SanJuan, a sophomore from Spain, finished tied for 49th at 236 after a final-round 80 and Linn Andersson, a junior from Sweden, finished tied for 55th at 238 after a final-round 79.
It was a tough weekend for Penn State’s young group. Sophomore Lauren Waller, the 2014 PIAA Class AAA runnerup at Canon McMillan, had a final-round 75 to lead the way for the Nittany Lions as she finished tied for 25th at 228.
Sophomore Jackie Rogowicz, a two-time PIAA Class AAA runnerup at Pennsbury, finished tied for 40th at 231 after a final-round 79. Freshman Madelein Herr, the 2015 District One Class AAA champion at Council Rock North, finished tied for 59th at 240 after struggling home with an 85 in the final round. Ashni Dhruva, a freshman from Katy, Texas, finished tied for 67th at 243 after a final-round 84. Graduate student Kate Granahan, a former Parkland standout, finished 70th at 244 after a final-round 81.
Sophomore Cara Basso, the 2012 PIAA Class AA champion at Villa Maria Academy, sat out the final round after struggling through a sore neck and shooting 86 in the second round.
The NCAA regional fields will be announced at 11 a.m. Thursday on The Golf Channel. If Michigan State was concerned that there was a chance it might be left out, the Spartans can rest easy. They’re in.