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Men’s golf ties for third at MAC Championship

Michael Cascino and Reece Nilsen compete in final college tournament

Wes Sanderson

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

DeKALB — The NIU men’s golf closed out spring play with a tied-third finish in the Mid-American Conference Championship Sunday. The Huskies hosted the tournament at White Eagle Country Club in Naperville.

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

Junior Zach Place led the way for NIU with a top-10 finish on the individual leaderboard. The third-year Huskie tied with Eastern Michigan University senior Cougar Collins and Miami University at 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 in an NIU Athletics news release. “His length off the tee is now equaled by his precision and his iron play. I’m really proud of the way he’s played these last two weeks to carry our team.”

Huskies end Friday in fourth

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

The round’s second half saw NIU add three strokes to its net stroke count, raising it from nine-over par to 12-over par. Placed shaved a stroke off of his score to improve to even-par by the round’s conclusion. Nilsen maintained his score of two-over par from the midway point to the end of the round .

The Huskies ended the opening day of tournament action in fourth place on the team leaderboard. They finished five strokes behind third-placed Kent State University and a stroke ahead of fifth-placed Ball State University.

Place was among the top four on the individual leaderboard by Friday’s end. He was tied with four other competitors at even-par and a score of 72.

Saturday’s stumble to fifth

Three Huskies showed improvement between the midway points of the first and second rounds. Graduate student Michael Cascino had the largest change after hitting two-over-par in the first nine holes of round two. Senior Tommy Dunsire trimmed three strokes off his score and freshman Ben Sluzas reduced his stroke count by two.

A regression in performance by three Huskie golfers caused NIU’s par score to increase from six-over-par to 15-over-par. Dunsire experienced the greatest struggle after hitting four bogeys and a double bogey in the back nine.

The end-of-round mishaps caused NIU to drop one spot on the team leaderboard to fifth place. The Huskies were overtaken by Bowling Green for fourth place.

Three Huskies were featured in top 10 by the end of the second round. Place dropped into a tie with Ball State redshirt freshman Ali Khan for seventh place at five-over par. Sluzas and Nilsen both jumped into a six-way tie for 10th place at seven-over-par.

Tying within the top three

NIU saved its best performance for last in Sunday’s third round. The highest stroke count between the five competitors in NIU’s lineup was four-over-par. Dunsire rebounded from his second-round hiccups with a team-best score of one-under-par in the final round.

“Tommy (Dunsire) showed a lot of resiliency this week,” Carlson said. “He drove the ball very solidly and he’s going to have a lot of momentum going into his summer campaign. We’re 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 enabled them to jump up two spots on the leaderboard. NIU wrapped up the tournament tied with Bowling Green for third place.

“We drove the ball better today on holes that we needed to, and made putts under pressure like a championship team would,” Carlson said following Sunday’s final round.

Kent State came away as the conference champions for the 28th time in program history. The Golden Flashes finished at 17-over-par, four strokes ahead of Toledo, to claim their sixth straight conference title.

Only room for one individual champ

Three golfers were tied for the best score in the tournament by the end of the final round. Toledo sophomore Jamie Tofte Nielsen, Miami-Ohio senior Jack Ebner and Kent State graduate student Josh Gilkison each had hit one-over-par by the tournament’s conclusion.

The trio entered a playoff for the individual title. Tofte Nielsen and Gilkison edged out Ebner to move on to the second playoff hole. Gilkison beat out Tofte Nielsen to claim the MAC individual title.

A final farewell

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

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

“Today was a great way to finish off a season with two seniors, Michael Cascino and Reece Nilsen, getting a send-off into their professional careers in a great way,” Carlson said.

The offseason ahead

NIU will have the remainder of the spring and the summer to replace its departing talent and prepare for another run at the MAC title in 2023.

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