Staying the course
Trapani rallies behind mother, coach in fight against cancer
ATHENS, Ga. -- Any time Auburn’s Victoria Trapani felt the University of Georgia Golf Course closing in on her during the third round of the NCAA Division I Women’s Championship, all she had to do was think of Coach Kim Evans and Billy Joel.
Evans always tries to put a song in Trapani’s head before rounds to calm her nerves. Prior to Thursday’s round, it was Billy Joel’s “These Are the Times to Remember.”
“I don’t remember all the words, but we were singing it and holding hands and then she said, ‘Go out there and play well,’ “ Trapani said.
And so she did. The fact that Trapani shot a 3-under 69 on a very difficult Georgia layout was impressive enough. The fact that she did it under the circumstances she did was beyond impressive and just about any other adjective that could be conjured up.
Trapani learned last December that her mother Kim’s breast cancer had worsened, so she took three months off from school and golf – only to find out shortly after her return that now Evans, who she says is like her second mom, has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
Evans learned of her diagnosis just before Auburn hosted the NCAA East Regional earlier this month. It prevented Evans from being able to get out to her own school’s golf course for that event, but she surprised her players by flying into Athens and spending some time with them at the NCAA championships. Evans was at the Georgia course for nine holes during Wednesday’s second round and spent a little more time with the team prior to the third round before flying back to Alabama per doctor’s orders early Thursday.
“It’s been really tough for me, especially with everything going on with my mom and Coach,” Trapani said. “But for Coach to be there just at the start [Thursday], it’s such an inspiration. It helped me have a good start. It also lets me know that there are a lot of other things worse that could be going on in someone’s life than just what’s going on in a round of golf. I try to keep it in perspective and not put so much pressure on myself over just a game.
“Yes, this is the national championship. I’m thankful to be out here and to be able to support my team. I’m happy about all of that. I’m glad I was able to make a difference [Thursday].”
Trapani’s score was second-lowest on an Auburn team that has been charging up the leaderboard since finishing the first day of the tournament in last place. Junior Marta Sanz shot a 4-under 68 and senior Carle Yadloczky added a 2-under 70 to give Auburn a 3-under team total that tied runaway tournament leader Southern California for the top effort of the day.
“The first day, the girls seemed a bit rattled,” said Danielle Downey, who began the season as a student assistant and now is serving as Auburn’s interim coach. “But I think Coach Evans flying in and the team seeing her out on the course really settled them. She gave them a couple tips and it seemed to work.
“Each day, we’ve gotten better and hopefully [Friday] will be our best day. We’ve bounced back two days in a row, and it’s good to see. It’s a sign of character and strength. When they’re down, they don’t stay down. They get back up and fight.”
No one has done that more impressively than Trapani, who shot an opening-round 80. She admitted it has been difficult to keep her mind on her game at times.
“My Mom has Stage 4 breast cancer that mestastasized into her lungs. I took three months off beginning in December and came back right after spring break and basically have been just trying to get my game back since then,” Trapani said. “I’m really happy with my results [Thursday], because I kept my head in it through the whole 18 holes – and that’s been tough for me.”
“It’s really hard, because Coach is like my second mom. So when I found out about her, I was doing well mentally, but then that was another setback.”
Auburn issued stickers to the players indicating the school’s support for Evans, but to Trapani they have a double meaning.
“In the back of my head, I think they’re for my mom, too,” Trapani said.
When Evans had to step aside, Downey had to step in as coach. Downey began the season as a student assistant, but not the usual kind. She had returned to Auburn at Evans’ urging to finish her degree after playing professionally for six years and then caddying for other pro golfers. She was promoted to assistant when Margaret Shirley, then Evans’ assistant, was forced to resign for her own health reasons in December.
“It’s been hard -- not because of our play or whatever,” Downey said. “I played for Coach and I love her like a mom. So it’s just been hard. I’m just trying to do whatever she wants me to do to help her, and trying to make her proud. We want to put up a good finish for her – so that when she goes to start chemotherapy next week, it’s just something good for her to focus on. And I know they’re trying their hearts out for her, but it’s been hard. I’m not going to lie.”
Of Downey, Trapani admitted she doesn't know what to call her.
“[Downey] was just coming back to get her degree and she got thrown into this," Trapani said. "But she knows a lot about the game and has taught us a lot, too. We’ve made the best of it.”
In the last two days, they certainly have. The War Eagles climbed from 24th to a tie for ninth heading into Friday’s final round.
“We refused to take last place,” Trapani said. “We all said, ‘There’s no way. We didn’t come here to take last place. We came here to prove ourselves.’ I think we’ve done that, no matter where we end up on the leaderboard now, just by our round [Thursday].”
In the end, these surely are times for Trapani and her Auburn teammates to remember.