Men’s golf finishes third at MAC Championship

Michael Cascino and Reece Nilsen compete in final college tournament

Wes Sanderson

Graduate student Michael Cascino plays a hole at Poppy Hills Golf Course in Pebble Beach, Calif., on November 9. NIU finished 17th out of 19 teams at the Saint Mary’s Invitational which ended Nov. 11. (Wes Sanderson | Northern Star)

FromKALB –NIU Men’s Golf closed spring play with a third tie at the Mid-American Conference Championship on Sunday. The Huskies hosted the tournament at the White Eagle Country Club in Naperville.

NIU’s 32-over-par finish is tied with Bowling Green State University as the two teams split third-place honors. They finished 11 strokes behind conference runners-up University of Toledo.

Junior Zach Place led the way for NIU with a top 10 individual ranking. The third-year Huskie tied with Eastern Michigan University senior Cougar Collins and University of Miami Ohio sophomore Danny Fisher for seventh place. All three hit seven over par in the tournament.

“Zach has come a long way in three years at NIU,” head coach John Carlson said in an NIU Athletics Press release. “His length off the start is now matched by his precision and iron game. I’m really proud of the way he’s played the last two weeks to carry our team.

Huskies finish fourth on Friday

An assortment of bogeys, double bogeys and triple bogeys put all of NIU’s competitors above par after the first nine holes. Place’s normal score of one over led the Huskies halfway through the first round.

The second half of the round saw NIU add three strokes to his net stroke count, taking it from nine over par to 12 over par. Placed shaved a shot off his score to improve to a tie at the end of the round. Nilsen maintained his two-over-par score from the midpoint as the round ended.

The Huskies finished the opening day of the tournament in fourth place in the team standings. They finished five strokes behind third-place Kent State University and one stroke ahead of fifth-place Ball State University.

Place was in the top four in the individual standings at the end of Friday. He was tied with four other competitors at par and a score of 72.

Saturday’s stumble to the fifth

Three Huskies showed improvement between points midway through the first and second rounds. Graduate student Michael Cascino experienced the biggest change after hitting two over par on the first nine holes of round two. Senior Tommy Dunsire cut three shots from his tally and rookie Ben Sluzas reduced his shot count by two.

A performance regression of three Huskie golfers increased the nominal NIU score from six over par to 15 over par. Dunsire had the biggest struggle after hitting four bogeys and a double bogey in the back nine.

Late-inning mishaps dropped NIU one spot in the team standings to fifth place. The Huskies were passed by Bowling Green for fourth place.

Three Huskies were in the top 10 at the end of the second round. The spot fell to a tie with Ball State redshirt rookie Ali Khan for seventh at five over par. Sluzas and Nilsen both jumped in a six-over tie for 10th at seven over par.

Tied in the top three

NIU saved its best showing for the end of Sunday’s third round. The highest shot count among the five competitors in the NIU lineup was four over par. Dunsire bounced back from his second-round hiccup with a team-best score of one under par in the final round.

“Tommy (Dunsire) showed a lot of resilience this week,” Carlson said. “He drove the ball very solidly and he is going to have a lot of momentum for his summer campaign. We are looking for him to lead this team on and off the golf course next year.

The Huskies’ third-round team score of five over par lifted them two spots in the standings. NIU finished the tournament tied with Bowling Green for third place.

“We drove the ball better today on the holes we needed and putted under pressure like a champion team would,” Carlson said after Sunday’s final round.

Kent State became the conference champion for the 28th time in program history. The Golden Flashes finished 17 over par, four strokes ahead of Toledo, to claim their sixth straight conference title.

Only one place for an individual champion

Three golfers were tied for the highest score of the tournament at the end of the final round. Toledo sophomore Jamie Tofte Nielsen, Miami-Ohio senior Jack Ebner, and Kent State grad student Josh Gilkison each had an over par by the end of the tournament.

The trio entered the playoffs for the individual title. Tofte Nielsen and Gilkison edged out Ebner to advance to the second playoff hole. Gilkison defeated Tofte Nielsen to win the MAC Individual title.

A last farewell

Sunday’s final was the last for two NIU competitors. Cascino and Nilsen played the last holes of their college careers. Both finished with a final score of two over par, 74.

Cascino finished the tournament in a three-way tie for 28th at 14-over par. Nilsen finished in a three-way tie, battling for 12th at nine over par.

“Today was a great way to end a season with two seniors, Michael Cascino and Reece Nilsen, who embarked on their professional careers in a great way,” Carlson said.

The upcoming off-season

NIU will have the rest of the spring and summer to replace their starting talent and prepare for another MAC title run in 2023.