SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - The final regular season event of the 2016-17 women's golf season is Saturday and Sunday, in Springfield, Illinois, when the Pirates take part in the University of Illinois Springfield Invitational, hosted by the NCAA Division II Prairie Stars at Panther Creek Country Club.
UIS is one of seven NCAA Division II schools in the field, a group that includes nationally ranked UMSL (University of Missouri-St. Louis), as well as a local rival of the Pirates, William Jewell College. The field is heavy with teams from the Great Lakes Valley Conference, which includes UIS, Jewell and UMSL, as well as Lewis, Maryville, Drury and Southern Indiana, who will all be represented in the event.
Park is the only NAIA school in the field, joining NCAA Division III Fontbonne University as the lone schools from outside Division II in the tournament.
"It will be a good experience for our kids to play with some fresh faces," said Park coach Steve Wilson, who coaches in his final regular-season event. "We have seen a lot of the same NAIA schools, which is good, because that's who we will see in a week at our conference tournament. This level of competition will get us ready for what to expect next week at the conference tournament, too."
Senior Makenzie Shivers will be in her final regular-season event, for the Pirates, starting at the No. 1 position while trying to hold intact a scoring average of 79.2 strokes per round. Shivers has won three tournaments, including last week's Virginia McCoy Intercollegiate, adding wins in the fall at the Triangular at Eagle Bend and the Park Fall Classic. Shivers has been in the top 10 in seven of Park's eight events on the year, playing 14 rounds with four top-five finishes.
"Makenzie is certainly our leader and our No. 1, but I really like that she's been pushed a couple of times," Wilson said. "We have had some other kids really step up and play some quality golf, and that only helps our team number. I'm looking forward to watching Makenzie finish her last regular-season event strong and take some momentum in to the postseason next week."
Rachel Hoffman is one of those players to push Shivers, at times, in the spring, including a win in a loaded field of players at the Fulton Medical Center Invitational, in March, hosted by William Woods. Hoffman averages 82.6 strokes per round at the No. 2 position, while Leeah Shipley, last week's third-place finisher, will play the No. 4 position with an average of 86.9 strokes per round. Shipley's spring average is 83.3 strokes per round.
Genevieve Stelmacovich will play at No. 3, averaging 87 strokes per round, finishing sixth last week at the Virginia McCoy Intercollegiate at The Deuce. And at No. 5, freshman Lauren Birkeness will make her sixth appearance of her first year, averaging 95.6 strokes per round.
"Lauren is just kind of hitting the stride we would have liked to have seen earlier in the spring, but she missed some time due to illness and it set her back a little," Wilson said. "She had an extremely strong finish to the fall, and I think she's ready for that kind of performance this time around, as well."
The tournament begins Saturday at Panther Creek, with tee times starting at 11 a.m. Sunday, the event concludes with a shotgun start at 9 a.m.