Coach-less Salukis prepare for conference tournament.

By Gus Bode

With or without you

The SIU women’s golf team is taking a rather unorthodox approach in preparing for this weekend’s Missouri Valley Conference tournament.

They are practicing less and doing it without a coach.

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Head coach Diane Daugherty will be in Daytona, Fla., until Friday attempting to qualify for the Senior LPGA, leaving team captains Alison Hiller and Kendra Hood to hold down the fort until the tournament begins with Saturday’s practice round in Normal.

Hiller and Hood have been leading a light practice this week for the Salukis, much lighter than one would expect from a team trying to reclaim the conference title it relinquished to Southwest Missouri State last year.

The captains are allowing individual players to work on what they feel needs improvement, with a little help from the course pro at Hickory Ridge and men’s golf coach Leroy Newton.

This week, since the coach has been out of town, we’ve just gone out and played nine holes, Hood said. After that, we’re on our own.

Players are allowed to practice as little or as much as they want on anything they want, if they choose to practice at all, despite facing the end of their season without a regional berth if they lose the tournament.

According to Hood, practice is overrated as a measure of a successful golfer, so lack of practice will not hurt the Saluki cause. It may even help.

Sometimes getting less practice helps more. Some people practice too much, burn themselves out and play worse, Hood said. The amount of hours someone practices doesn’t determine whether they’re a better player than another person. You don’t lose your golf swing overnight.

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Because of its recent play, the team does not feel pressure to overexert itself in practice. The Salukis placed second last week at the Illini Spring Classic and won the Saluki Invitational before that.

Hiller, the team’s best player, won the individual title in both tournaments and was named the MVC Women’s Golfer of the Week for the third time Wednesday.

SIU’s confidence was further elevated by a recent poll picking the Salukis to win the conference.

The poll, released Monday by the conference office, has SIU (44 points) edging Northern Iowa (42 points), and chief rival Bradley placing third (35 points).

It means a lot, knowing that many people favor us, but I know there’s a lot of other good teams in our conference, junior Jennifer Shutt said.

One of those teams is Northern Iowa, who SIU has not played. The team was a bit shocked that the Panthers earned more votes than Bradley, who they have not lost to this season.

Though they have not played Northern Iowa, the Salukis are not worried about them, or any other team. Hiller said mentality is crucial to a conference victory.

It’s do or die; this is it, Hiller said, stressing the importance of what could be the last match of her collegiate career. This is what will get us to the next level, so if we’re not confident, we might as well not go.

If Hiller is worried about team expectations, her co-captain is not. Hood stopped just short of guaranteeing the Salukis will win.

We’re very confident, Hood said. We know that if we play our best, and all the other teams play their best, we definitely have the best chance of winning.

Hood said the same about her coach, who she expects will come home carrying a Senior LPGA card.

If you know Coach like I know her, you know she’s a competitor and she plays to win, Hood said. I believe she will qualify.

Reporter Michael Brenner can be reached at [email protected]

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