Whit Webber improves at O'Brien Invite

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Whitman College’s Catelyn Webber shot a second-round 85 here Monday at the O’Brien Invitational women’s golf tournament to improve by three shots over her first-round 88.

But the Bellevue, Wash., junior was the only Missionary who took positive steps during the final round of the prestigious NCAA Division III get together as Whitman recorded a 343 score for its top four players and slipped from eighth place to ninth in the final team standings with a 679 total.

The Whits shot 336 in Sunday’s first round, and Missionary coach Skip Molitor was hopeful that his team could leapfrog as many as three schools that were within five shots or fewer as the second round began.

“We were hoping to move up,” Molitor said. “Instead, we reversed directions.

“But at this level of play, as far as the caliber of these teams, all of the spots are pretty difficult to jump over.”

Webber’s 36-hole tally of 173 left her in a tie for 37th place individually. Two of her Missionary teammates, Katie Zajicek and Kelly Sweeney, finished ahead of her in 15th and 31st places, respectively.

Zajicek followed up a first-round 80 with an 82 on Monday for a 162 score. Sweeney shot 88 on Monday after opening the tournament on Sunday with an 82.

Whitman’s fourth counting score belonged to freshman Alyssa Maine, who finished 86-88—174. Tate Head recorded a non-counting 91-88—179 and Caitland Holland, who was entered as an individual, shot 91-98—189

Molitor was particularly pleased to see Zajicek, a junior from Corvallis, Ore., get her season started on a positive note.

“Last fall, she was in the top 10 in the nation in scoring average,” Molitor said. “But during the spring she struggled. So it’s great for us to have her start this way. She can consistently post low numbers and I was pleased with her tournament.”

Methodist University won the team championship with a 633 score, seven shots better than second place Washington University of St. Louis. Centre College was third at 641, followed by DePauw Univeristy 649, Wisconsin-Eau Claire 659, George Fox 660, Allegheny College 668, St. Mary’s College 670, Whitman 679 and Gustavus Adolphus 680.

“The nice thing is that the team we finished ahead received one of the two at-large invitations to last year’s national tournament,” Molitor said. “Gustavos is a perennial power.”

George Fox, one of Whitman’s Northwest Conference rivals and the recipient of last year’s other national at-large invitation, is also considered a perennial power in Division III women’s golf. Whitman finished ahead of George Fox last spring and earned its first automatic entry into the national tourney.

George Fox will be a formidable opponent again this year because of its No. 1 player, Kelsey Morrison, who shot rounds of 73 and 76 at the O’Brien Invitational for a medalist-winning score of 149.

“She’s one of the very top players in the country,” Molitor said of Morrison. “She will be in contention for player of the year honors.”

Morrison finished four shots in front of DePauw’s Kelsey Smith, who followed up an opening-round 83 with a sizzling 2-under-par 70 on Monday for a 153 total.

Nevertheless, Molitor, who is now into his fifth season in charge of the program, is encouraged that his team of two seniors, four juniors, two sophomores and one freshman is poised to repeat as Northwest Conference champion and earn another automatic berth in the NCAA Division III National Championships.

“Last year was a fabulous year,” said Molitor, who noted that his entire lineup returns from a squad that placed 12th at last year’s national tournament.

“We are blessed with depth, and the main thing is that our ladies appear to be very determined to continue to improve. Getting back to nationals is very motivating, and I think we are motivated. However, the one thing you have to guard against is that just because you have everybody back, you can’t relax and lose that competitive edge.

“In golf, things can go south in a hurry.”

George Fox placed seventh at nationals last year, Molitor noted.

“George Fox is the primary favorite to win our conference this year, along with ourselves,” he said. “George Fox also has everyone back, and whenever the two of us get together in a tournament, it is a knock-down, drag-out affair.”

Molitor noted that Willamette and Whitworth are two other programs that are on the rise in the Northwest Conference.

Along with the six players who competed here, Whitman’s women’s golf roster includes two players who are currently rehabbing injuries. Junior Elaine Whaley underwent a wrist operation over the summer and sophomore Sarah Debs is recovering form a hip injury.

While the team’s strength is its depth and balance, Head and Zajicek enjoyed the greatest success last season. Both players were named to the all-West Region team.

Whaley earned first-team all-NWC honors and Sweeney was named to the second team. And Webber posted the team’s low stroke average.

Sweeney led the Missionaries at nationals, placing 32nd with a 72-hole score of 317. She shot a 1-over-par 73 in the first round that had her in second place for a time.

“Last year, six of our seven players were within two strokes of each other in stroke average,” Molitor said. “And we expect Allysa Maine to be right in the mix with them this year.”

Head and Holland have been selected as co-captains for this year’s team, the coach said.

“They have done a great job of providing leadership going into the year,” he said. “This is the first year we have had seniors and that is very exciting for the program.”

Molitor said the team would use the first two months of the season to prepare for the NWC Fall Classic Oct. 27-28 at the Tri-Mountain Golf Club in Ridgefield, Wash. It’s the only fall tournament that will count toward the conference standings.

“When we played our fall qualifying, we were not very impressive,” Molitor said. “Two of our girls, Zajicek and Webber, were in China for the summer and their games are not yet in top shape.

“We have two months to get our games in shape and position ourselves.”

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