Irish ready for return to tournament
Notes: No shortage of surprises as NCAA fields come together
The last time either a men’s or women’s golf team from Notre Dame qualified for a women’s golf championship, Ara Parsegian was the football coach of the Fighting Irish. That was 1966.
Since the NCAA began sponsoring a women’s golf championship in 1982, Notre Dame had never participated – until 2011.
|NCAA WOMEN'S DI CHAMPIONSHIP|
|• Field named|
|• Regional results|
|• Championship information|
Hosting the Central Regional on Warren Golf Course in South Bend, Ind., May 5-7, a pair of freshmen led Notre Dame’s Irish to a fifth-place showing and punched the program’s ticket to Bryan, Texas, for the Division I Women’s Golf Championships, May 18-21.
“Pretty much in shock, not so much that we made it, but the relief of it all,” said Notre Dame fifth-year coach Susan Holt. “[Going into the final round] I just wanted it to be over to be honest … but in a good way. I really felt [the team] worked really hard for this moment and for them to step up and show that they could get it done was nice.
“There were a lot of unknowns heading into [the final round] because it is uncharted territory for our program. This needs to become the norm for our program rather than the exception and I think this is a step in that direction.”
The Irish, one of 17 teams ranked among the top 50 competing in the three-round event, struggled to a 17-over-par 305 in the second round but responded with a 10-over final 18 holes. Freshman Nicole Zhang, a product of Calgary, Alberta, tied for eighth after rounds of 71-78-74 with fellow rookie Kristina Nhim, from Cypress, Calif., tying for 14th with rounds of 77-75 and a final-round even-par 72.
Seniors So-Hyun Park and Katie Conway, plus junior Becca Huffer, who shot a final-round 74, rounded out the Notre Dame five.
Before thinking about the historic trip to Texas, Notre Dame players had to focus of final examinations this week.
Another newbie to the NCAA pageant will be Big South champion Coastal Carolina. The 49th-ranked Chanticleers were fifth at the East Regional just 10 shots behind No. 3 Alabama. Coastal Carolina is the first school in Big South history to qualify for the NCAA Women’s Golf Championships.
“It’s a huge honor to represent the conference as we play for a national championship later this month,” said CC coach Katie Quinney last Saturday. "It’s very special for Coastal Carolina as well, but I also don’t think this will be our last time making the NCAA Championships. We have a very young team and I expect us to back in this position next season, too.”
The Chanticleers had three players in the top 20 – Jessica Alexander (3), Alicia Grier (T11) and Kaitlin Higginbotham (T20). Grier is the only senior among the starting five for Quinney.
The unranked Alexander, a sophomore and Big South Golfer of the Year, sandwiched 69s around a 78 to finish nine shots behind medalist Stephanie Meadow of Alabama.
Grier, the only senior in the lineup, finished at 2-over, while junior Kaitlin Higginbotham was 4-over.
Scouting around the Regions
• For the first time since 1997, the Duke Blue Devils, winners of three consecutive NCAA titles from 2005-07, will not compete at the Women’s NCAA Championships. The fifth-ranked Blue Devils finished ninth at the Central Regional, four shots out of eighth. For the first time since 1982, Duke failed to win a golf tournament this season. Lindy Duncan tied for sixth in South Bend and will tee it up in Bryan as an individual.
“It is one of those things,” said 27-year head coach Dan Brooks on the 13-year streak coming to an end. “I didn't know how many years it was, but I knew it was a long time ago when we didn’t go. It is alright; Lindy and I will get out there and see what we can accomplish.”
• No. 14 Tulane and No. 17 Texas failed to qualify.
• No. 2 UCLA held off No. 8 LSU to earn top honors in South Bend. No. 39 Minnesota finished third. No. 24 Stanford qualified for the 26th time.
• Arizona State, third in the East, qualified for a 29th time. In the same Daytona Beach tournament, Vanderbilt edged Florida State in a playoff to take the eighth and final spot. No. 16 Auburn failed to qualify.
• Individually, four players ranked outside the top 100 were second thru fifth behind Alabama’s Meadows. California’s Pia Halbig was the only other player besides Meadows under par.
• Top-ranked Southern California rolled in the West by 10 strokes. NCAA host Texas A&M snuck into the field by edging Oregon for the final berth. Tennessee’s Erica Popson shot 3-under par rounds to finish at 8-under and take medalist. USC had three of the Top 7 led by Lizette Salas’ 3-under total.
• No. 12 Georgia will not be in Bryan.
• Amy Anderson of North Dakota State competed as an individual in the West at Auburn, Wash. She shot two even-par rounds and a 5-over 77 in the third round to tie for 11th and earn one of the two individual qualifying spots. Twenty-one players ranked inside the top 100 finished behind Anderson, a sophomore from Oxbow, N.D. The former U.S. Girls Junior champion won five times in 2010-11 including the Summit League championship.
Scouting around DII and DIII
• Ashland and St. Edwards qualified for the Division II Championships (May 11-14 in Allendale, Mi.) for the first time in their program’s history. Ashland was third in the Super Region I with Erin Misheff taking medalist honors.
St. Edwards, located in Austin, Texas, finished second at the Super Region IV.
“This group is particularly special,” said head coach Jennifer McNeil said. “They have truly bought in and no matter how hard or ridiculous my request and they have done everything I have asked with no questions. This is just a very proud moment for me as their coach and I hope they take in every minute of it.”
Melissa Gonzalez, Wallis Spears and Jacy Benitez each finished among the Top 15 for the Hilltoppers.
• Six of the top 10 in DII teed it up at the Super Region II in Lakeland, Fla. No. 1 Nova Southeastern, winners of the past two women’s titles, ran away from No. 4 Rollins by 13 shots. No. 2 Florida Southern was third and earned the final NCAA spot. No. 6 Belmont Abbey and No. 7 UNC-Pembroke will stay at home. No surprise Nova SE’s Sandra Changkija was the only player under par and edged teammate Abbey Gittings for medalist honors.
• Augustana College in South Dakota won the Super Region III title by 37 strokes.
• North Central and Hanover will make their first DIII Championship appearance. Fourteen of the 19 teams who competed at the 2010 DIII Championships qualified again in 2011. Methodist has won 11 consecutive DIII titles.