Freshmen improve before fourth invite

The Rutgers women’s golf team takes to the tournament green for the fourth time this season at the Lehigh Invitational this weekend in Bethlehem, Pa.

The Scarlet Knights look to build momentum from their recent success at home in the Rutgers Invitational, where they took second place and posted a season-high 16.9 strokes per hole team average.

The Knights continued to stress mental game and fine-tune individual mechanics during the last two weeks.

“This past week we’ve had a lot of great practices where we worked on our short game — improved that a lot — and worked more on accurate shots,” said sophomore Kortnie Maxoutopoulis. “So we have a lot to build on [in tournament performances].”

Much of the team’s overall improvement during the course of the season can be attributed to the Knights’ freshmen, who have acclimated to college and consequently became more productive on the team’s scorecards.

“We’ve had three of our tournaments completed, so we have quite a lot of experience in college tournament play,” Maxoutopoulis said. “As far as this tournament coming up, I think we have the experience and the potential, and we’ve just got to hone in on that, focus and do the best we can out there.”

The Saucon Valley Country Club, where the tournament is held, was the site of the U.S. Women’s Open in 2009 and is notable for having fescue grasses and thick rough. Colder weather conditions than from the beginning of the season will also likely test the Knights’ mental fortitude.

“The rough is a little bit longer, so we might be hitting more shots out of the rough,” said senior co-captain Brittany Weddell. “When we get there we [will] play a practice round, so we’ll have a better idea of what the course and the conditions are like.”

Rutgers placed third among eight teams at the invitational last fall with a 628 final score, 14 strokes better than host Lehigh.

Maxoutopoulis paced the Knights in the event as a freshman, carding a 152 to finish among the top-five golfers. She has been at the top of the Knights’ scorecards all season long and needs to continue her strong play for Rutgers to prevail on the road.

Weddell and fellow senior co-captain Karen Cash posted respective scores of 157 and 156 at Lehigh last fall.

Fall 2011 winner Brown University will not compete this time, but another familiar face for the Knights is Seton Hall, which was the only team to beat Rutgers at its home invitational.

The Knights know it is another unique road test, but having navigated through arguably the nation’s most difficult collegiate course in Yale only four weeks ago, they are up for the challenge.

“It’s going to be a balance,” Maxoutopoulis said of Lehigh’s course difficulty. “It’s going to be a lot more competitive than Bucknell but a little less competitive than Yale, so I think we have very equal comparison to the other teams that we’re going to be playing. So we definitely have the potential to play well and to compete.”

The first round of action begins tomorrow, with the second and final round concluding the following day.

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