SUGAR GROVE, Ill. – Led by sophomore Janet Mao and three student-athletes in the top nine, Northwestern (301, +13) sits atop the 2017 NCAA Women's Golf Championships leaderboard after the first 18 challenging holes at Rich Harvest Farms.

The weather was intrusive, with heavy rain and 20 mile per hour winds throughout the morning and into the early evening. The rain subsided over the course of the round, but the bitter cold and wind remained. Because the field numbered 24 teams plus individuals, Round 1 tee times were split into the morning and afternoon on Friday. When the early group wrapped up, no team was better than 23-over, with five of the 12 at +30 and up.

RELATED: Day 1 recap and reactions | Leaderboard

Mao had one of the day's biggest highlights early in the round when, after a bogey on No. 1, she stuck her approach to 15-feet on the 459-yard, Par-5 No. 2. The sophomore sank the putt for an eagle three and also birdied No. 9 to finish the front side of Rich Harvest Farms at 1-under. She then drained a 13-foot putt for birdie on No. 17, one of only six birdies surrendered by that hole all day. The Johns Creek, Georgia, native finished the day at 1-over, just one stroke back of co-leaders August Kim (Purdue) and Elodie Van Dievoet (Michigan) in what was a great day of golf for the Big Ten Conference.

Lau played the back-nine at 1-under after birdies on No. 13 and No. 15 to finish the day at 3-over and tied for ninth, while junior Hannah Kim stuck her approach from the fairway mere feet from the hole on No. 18 and finished with a birdie to also get to 3-over.

Northwestern is scheduled to tee off Saturday's second round at 9:36 a.m. ET paired on the No. 10 tee with Miami (Fla.) and Kent State, the same playing partners as Round 1.

The NCAA Women's Golf Championhips begin with three days of stroke play (18 holes per day), with the field cut to 15 teams after Sunday's action in preparation for one final day of stroke play on Monday to determine the individual medalist and the match play bracket. The top eight teams after four days will advance to match play, with quarterfinal and semifinal matches.

Last season, Northwestern earned a ninth-place finish at the NCAA Championships, hosted at Eugene (Ore.) Country Club, the best result in program history. The Wildcats missed a top-eight invitation to match play by just a single stroke. Fletcher and Miller return all five golfers from that lineup this year in Sugar Grove, one that was the youngest of any team at last season's event.

In each of the program's last four appearances in the NCAA Championships, it has posted the best finish in Northwestern history. The Wildcats earned 15th-place results in 2013 and 2014, a 10th-place finish in 2015 and then a ninth-place standing last spring.