Spartans, Meikle Claim Big Ten Championships At Forest Akers West

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EAST LANSING, Mich. - Senior Rachel Meikle's smile hadn't vanished an hour after she had left the 18th green at Forest Akers West Golf Course on Sunday afternoon. Of course, she had good reason to smile. The fifth-year senior paced Michigan State to its first Big Ten title since 2001 thanks to a Big Ten Championships record 4-under-par 284 (71-69-73-71). Along the way, the medallist posted three under-par rounds in the four-round event and led the Spartans to a 13-stroke win over Purdue. The win was Michigan State's first title since 2001 and the third since the Big Ten incorporated women's athletics in 1982 (1982, 2001, 2007) and Meikle's individual title was the first for Michigan State since Emily Bastel earned medallist honors in 2000.

"A lot of dreams came true Sunday," Meikle said. "It all happened all at once. To be an All-Big Ten member (second team), winning a tournament, winning the Big Tens as a team, it's pretty unbelievable. It's hard to process everything all at once. I think it will sink in, hopefully, sometime soon."

Senior Mandi McConnell (Grand Blanc, Mich./Grand Blanc) finished in third place at 6-over-par with a 294 (74-75-72-73) and junior Sara Brown (Tucson, Ariz./Salpointe Catholic) took sixth with a 15-over-par 303 (77-77-71-78). Both were also honored on the All-Big Ten team with McConnell earning a slot on the second team and Brown landing her second straight first-team honors. Senior Heather Rose (Chillicothe, Ohio/Chillicothe) finished 14th at 21-over-par (78-81-74-76), her third top-20 finish at the event.

Michigan State, which came into the tournament ranked 22nd, entered Sunday with a 23-hole lead at 26-over-par. The team finished Sunday at 10-over-par, but 8th-ranked Purdue couldn't come back from such a large deficit, finishing the day at even-par and 13 strokes back.

"There's nothing more special than winning at home," Michigan State head coach Stacy Slobodnik-Stoll said, "not only for (former head coach) Mary Fossum, but for the whole community and for the whole athletic department. You only get to host the Big Ten Championships once every 10 years. It's just a once in a liftime opportunity to win it at home and for one of your seniors to be the medallist."

Playing in the final group of the day, Meikle (Ft. Wayne, Ind./Carroll) sunk a five-foot putt for bogey before she was surrounded by her teammates on the 18th green, helping her wrap up a 1-under-par 71 on Sunday. The senior started her final round with birdies on the par-5, 547-yard No. 2 and the par-4, 374-yard No. 3. After a bogey on No. 4, she posted a birdie on the par-4, 316-yard No. 5, helping her turn the corner at 1-under. She stuck an approach shot on the par-4, 352-yard No. 11 for an eagle, but a just her second double-bogey of the tournament followed on No. 12. She birdied her fourth hole of the day at the par-5, 475-yard No. 17.

The win was the first in Meikle's collegiate career, as the senior had finished as a runner-up twice, including at Indiana Invitational on April 9-10. She had finished in the top 20 at the Big Ten Championships twice, taking 18th as a sophomore and 14th as a freshman.

"I think one of the neatest things to me was on Saturday, I drove over to the driving range to try to get a handle on how she was handling the lead before the round," Slobodnik-Stoll said. "I asked her how she was doing. She said she was ready to go and she's just been in a great frame of mind all week. I looked at her golf cart and asked her if she had looked at her cart number. It was cart No. 1. Things like that just kind of happen. We locked eyes and I just knew at that point that nothing was going to stop her."

McConnell finished 1-over-par on Sunday, as she posted her best two rounds in the final two rounds, carding a 72 and 73. She posted a remarkably steady final round, posting 15 pars and notching a birdie on the par-4, 322-yard No. 4. She had two bogeys, but easily secured her highest-finish ever at the Big Ten Championships. She finished 12th as a sophomore and 17th as a freshman.

Brown posted a final round 78, helping her post her second straight top-10 finish at the Big Ten Championships after finishing runner-up as a sophomore. Brown had four bogeys and 13 pars, including the final seven straight to finish the round. The junior has finished in the top 10 in six of her 11 tournaments this year.

Rose posted a 4-over-par 76 to help her finish inside the top-20 for the third time in her career, as she also took 17th as a junior and fourth as a sophomore. The sophomore started the final round with a birdie on the par-4, 377-yard No. 1. She also had 12 pars in the round.

Sophomore Holly Niederkohr (Marysville, Ohio/Marysville) finished tied for 33rd at 30-over-par (79-79-79-81), posting a final round 81. Niederkohr had 10 pars in her final round.

Junior Jordyn Wells (Bethel Park, Pa./Bethel Park) finished tied for 39th at 32-over-par (79-79-81-81) after finishing the final round at 9-over-par. Wells posted eight pars and a birdie on the par-4, 394-yard No. 14.

Slobodnik-Stoll also earned her second career Big Ten Coach of the Year award at the ceremony at the conclusion of the championships. She also earned the award after leading the Spartans to the Big Ten title in 2001.

The Big Ten Conference handed out the first annual Mary Fossum Award, given to the player in the conference with the lowest stroke-average compared to par, to Purdue's Maria Hernandez. Slobodnik-Stoll, who played under Fossum at Michigan State and later served as an assistant under the coach, and Fossum presented the award.

"She's really been my mentor," Slobodnik-Stoll said. "She's just so important for Michigan State golf."

The Spartans earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Central Regionals with the win and will compete at the 21-team event on May 10-12 in Ann Arbor, Mich. The top eight teams at the event qualify for the NCAA Championships in Daytona Beach, Fla., from May 22-25.

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