CARBONDALE — The SIU women's golf team won its first Missouri Valley Conference championship since 2007 on Tuesday, moving up from second place at the start of the day to win by seven shots over Northern Iowa with a rookie head coach.

Danielle Kaufman, a Nashville, Illinois native who was hired last year, led the Salukis to the NCAA regionals without a single player under par and was named the MVC coach of the year. The Salukis finished +41 at the Sand Creek Country Club in Chesterton, Indiana. Its 905 total was the second-lowest total in school history in a 54-hole MVC tournament.

"Everybody had a part in this. It's been awesome," Kaufman said in a press release from SIU. "I'm proud of what each and every one of these girls did. They fought for every shot."

Kaufman, a former golfer at SIU who coached Rend Lake College to a top-15 finish at the 2018 NJCAA national championship, became the first rookie head coach to lead her squad to the MVC title since 2008. Illinois State's Darby Sligh led the Redbirds to the league championship that year.

Lili Klekner-Alt, a junior from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, was SIU's top individual finisher after she tied for fifth place at +10. Klekner-Alt shot 6-over-par Tuesday to earn all-conference honors.

"Lili really pulled it together and came out fiery and ready to go today," Kaufman said. "We had a small talk as a team yesterday on maintaining our composure, getting those pars and limiting doubles and triples. Everybody was ready to play today."

Sophomores Emilyee McGiles (+11) and Moyea Russell (+11) tied for eighth place. Erica Kerr finished tied for 12th after shooting a 5-over 77 on the final day. Jackie Biggs tied for 19th place after an 8-over 80.

SIU will find out its postseason assignment Wednesday, April 24, at 4:30 p.m. during the NCAA Selection Show on Golf Channel. The Salukis will either play in Opelika, Alabama, Cle Elum, Washington, Norman, Oklahoma or East Lansing, Michigan.

Northern Iowa (+48) rose up from seventh place at the start of the day Tuesday behind Sydney Eaton to finish second. Eaton tied for medalist honors at the MVC tournament at 4-over with Missouri State's Abby Cavaiani after three rounds. Cavaiani won the MVC individual championship on the second hole of a sudden death playoff.

Bradley (+50) was third, followed by Indiana State (+51), Drake (+52) and Missouri State (+59). The Bulldogs shot 30-over-par on the final day of the tournament to fall out of first place. Host Valparaiso was last at +101.

The title was SIU's eighth overall, and its fourth in the MVC. The Salukis won the Gateway Conference women's golf championship four times, but none of them were as improbable as this year's title. SIU won the league championship after winning only one other tournament all season, its own invitational at Hickory Ridge Public Golf Center, and had only one senior/graduate student (Biggs is a graduate student). 

"We were prepared for anything," Kaufman said. "We know what it takes and how to finish. That's what we did today."

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On Twitter: @THefferman


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