NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — Seniors on the Merrimack College women’s golf team simply don’t know any other way. For their entire careers, they’ve been Northeast 10 champions. Starting today at Haverhill Country Club, the Warriors will have an eye on a fourth-straight league title in the 2017 NE10 Championship, a two-day tournament that will conclude on Monday.
Merrimack was picked by the league’s coaches to finish second in the tournament, behind only Franklin Pierce. Although it’s worth noting that the Warriors were picked to finish second last season as well, and they instead won the championship by a whopping 21 total strokes.
“(Winning the NE10 championship) has been one of our goals, it’s one of our goals every season,” said senior Alessandra Ricigliano. “It’s a little different having the tournament in the fall, but it’s still a championship.”
The league title is determined in the fall, but NCAA Super Regionals and other tournaments will also be played in the spring. The Warriors got back to work as a team this fall before classes even began on campus.
“It’s a little strange to be back and playing before we even go back to school, but we have a great team and it’s fun to be together,” said Ricigliano. “Golf is a sport where, most of us are playing all summer. So it’s not like we have a lot of warming up to do when we get back to campus. We know we have to be ready to hit the ground running and because we’re coming off the summer, we’re all playing a lot.”
This year’s NE10 Championship will emanate from the Warriors’ home course. While Ricigliano admits that is an advantage, every other team (along with the Warriors) had a practice round on Saturday and elements could change the way the course plays.
“You never know what the course is going to be like,” she said. “It’s an advantage for us because we know the layout, but so many things can be different from round to round.”
The rain earlier this week shouldn’t affect conditions today and tomorrow, with the weather projected to be sunny and in the 80s both days. But wind could make a hole play drastically different, for example.
Junior Krystal Knight is having one of the best seasons in the young program’s history. Earlier this season she tied for the lowest single-round score in program history with a 70 at last weekend’s Le Moyne Invitational and she has been named NE10 Player of the Week twice (the award has been handed out three times this season).
Ricigliano set the program mark with a 70 in the first tournament of the season in Hanover, N.H. on Sept. 4.
“We’re playing really well,” Ricigliano said. “The program has come a long way since I got here. Watching it grow and getting to be a part of it has been a huge honor.”
The program was brand new when Ricigliano was a freshman. A few years in, Ali Reed made NCAA Regionals and now the Warriors are regular attendees.
“I think people are starting to realize what Merrimack golf is,” Ricigliano said. “When I first came here, I didn’t know what Merrimack was, but I was lucky enough to get in touch with the coaches and here I am.”
Over Ricigliano’s time at Merrimack, the campus has exploded with new training and sports medicine facilities. While the golf team obviously doesn’t play home matches on campus, it’s still facilities that can attract top talent. This year’s roster includes golfers from New York, California and even New Zealand.
“Even though we’re not on campus — you can’t put a golf course on campus — those facilities have been really important for us,” Ricigliano said. “The coaches in the weight room are awesome and always helping us and the sports medicine improvements have been great, too. I think if you’re looking at a school and you see stuff like that, it lets you know that they’re doing things right.”
The golf team hopes it does things right this week, hoisting the NE10 trophy for a fourth time.
Tee time today is set for noon, with the tournament concluding at 8:30 a.m. on Monday.