No. 1 Trojans Aim For NCAA Women's Golf Title
While being an underdog may be the preferred path to the NCAA Women's Golf Championships, the USC Trojans are coming to Texas with targets on their backs.
USC is the #1 ranked team in the country and coming off their record-tying seventh NCAA Regional Championship. The spring schedule has seen them claim four tournament titles in six tries and finish no lower than second. They have earned their #1 ranking and come to the Championship round with a great deal of momentum.
"They're excited, they're having fun, they're very confident and enjoying the fruits of their labor," USC head coach Andrea Gaston said of her team. "They really don't put any additional expectations on themselves. More than anything we're going to go into this and say let's have some fun and don't try so hard because when you try too hard you can get in your own way and not perform at your best. Our hopes are to continue with the momentum, have some fun and see what happens."
What happened the last time the Trojans entered the NCAA Championship as the top ranked team in the country is they won the national championship in 2008. With three players ranked in the top six in the nation, this could be the most talented team, top to bottom, that Gaston has had in her 15 years at USC.
The Trojans are led by senior Lizette Salas, who is ranked #2 in the country, and freshman Sophia Popov, who is the 3rd ranked player in the nation. Lisa McCloskey is ranked #6, but will not play due to a dislocated rib that has plagued her for the last half of the season. Freshman Rachel Morris and sophomore Cyna Rodriguez move up to the third and fourth spots, while junior Inah Park steps into the fifth slot.
"I've never had the depth before," Gaston said. "Inah stepped up in the regionals and has been working hard. She's already had two national championship experiences under her belt where we finished third and second. I know she's got the ability to contribute, she's very capable."
Park filled in for McCloskey at the West Regional at the Washington National Golf Club in Auburn, WA and gave the Trojans a big boost by finishing in a tie for 11th with a 5-over 221. USC led from start to finish and posted a 10-shot win over Tennessee to claim its seventh Regional Championship, tying Duke for the NCAA record.
Salas finished second at 3-under and Popov was just two shots back at 1-under to finish third at the Regionals. Morris fired a very consistent 2-over 218 to place seventh.
"Overall, our team camaraderie is incredible," Gaston said. "The team loves being with each other both socially and on the golf course. We have fun together, we laugh a lot. We don't really place expectations on them. We just try to make each player accountable to themselves and to one another. Certainly they care about how they do individually, but they are so focused on the team and they can see so clearly how much more enjoyable it is when they accomplish something together."
And they have accomplished quite a bit, especially during the spring. After finishing no lower than third in their four fall tournaments, USC has racked up four wins and two second place finishes in their six spring events. They have won two straight tournaments, the Pac-10 Championships and the West Regional, heading into the championship round at Traditions Golf Club in Bryan, TX.
"It's exciting to be peaking," Gaston said. "I don't think we've necessarily shown our best, I think we can still do better. I know in 2008 our team surfaced as the #1 team by the end of the season and we certainly had a really good feeling about what our team was going to do at the national championship. It was obviously very exciting to win it. We're kind of in the same position this year. We are a target.
"In my 15 years this has been one of the best seasons we've had because we haven't finished outside the top three and we've already got four wins. It's been an unbelievable year. It would mean a whole lot to see us go out with a win at the national championship because it has been one of those dream seasons."
The 2011 NCAA Division-I Women's Golf Championship starts Wednesday, May 18. Click here for more championship information.