Final Postseason Run Begins at ECC For Ducks' Program Changer
When Kelly Graves took over the Oregon women's basketball program in 2014, he set an audacious goal: "Four in four." That is, making the Final Four in just four years with the Ducks.
Graves came close – the UO women's basketball team made the Final Four in his fifth year as head coach. That team featured a couple of seniors, guard Maite Cazorla and forward Oti Gildon, who might not have been the Ducks' leading scorers, but whose contributions over four years had been invaluable – providing the program a level of credibility that paid dividends for years to come.
Fast forward and a remarkably similar storyline is playing out with the Oregon women's golf program. In just his fourth year with the Ducks, head coach Derek Radley has his program in position to challenge for a national championship this spring. And the team's foundation is a senior, Tze-Han (Heather) Lin, who might not by the program's leading scorer, but whose impact the last four years can't be overstated.
From credibility on the course to credibility with future recruits, Lin has helped Radley and assistant coach Monica Vaughn turn UO women's golf into one of the country's elite teams.
"She's everything to this program," Radley said.
On Monday, Lin leads the Ducks into the Pac-12 Championships, a three-day tournament hosted by Eugene Country Club. Oregon enters the event ranked No. 2 in the country, with a deep, balanced roster of players who followed Lin to Eugene, and have followed her lead in establishing a culture based on hard work and camaraderie.
When Radley and Vaughn took over in 2018, Lin already had been committed to Oregon. She stuck by the new staff through the transition, helped them recruit two more standout players from her native Taiwan, and now has the Ducks positioned to challenge for a conference title this week – and perhaps even a national title later this spring.
"They always told me, we have to keep believing in this team and believing in this program – we're going to do something special," Lin said. "I believed in them and they believed in me. And that's what brought us here now."
The rewards have gone both ways. Lin has helped Oregon unleash its potential as a program. Coming to Eugene unearthed in Lin a passion for college sports she didn't know she had – there's no bigger fan of UO football or Graves' UO women's basketball program. Fellow fans who would be star-struck at the sight of Justin Herbert or Sabrina Ionescu have a compatriot in Lin.
Lin watched from afar as Aaron Wise and the UO men's program won the 2016 NCAA Championship at the same course that will host this week's Pac-12 women's championship. She's seen photos on the walls of Eugene Country Club celebrating the accomplishment. And she has anticipated for four years the chance to follow in that team's footsteps, and win a championship in Eugene this week.
"It's going to be my first and last ever home tournament," Lin said. "So I'm very, very excited."
Lin is second on the team in scoring average this season, which has seen the Ducks post nine top-five finishes in nine events and win three tournaments. She has two top-five finishes individually, including at the Stanford Intercollegiate during the fall, where Lin shot a second-round 65.
Her compatriot Hsin-Yu (Cynthia) Lu leads the Ducks in scoring average at 72.48 strokes per round, a hair better than Lin's 72.55. Sofie Kibsgaard Nielsen averages 72.85, the Ducks' third native of Taiwan, Ching-Tzu Chen, averages 73.07 and Briana Chacon rounds out the lineup at 73.25. All five are ranked between No. 42 (Lu) and No. 105 (Lin) in the world amateur rankings.
That the team's returning all-American, Chacon, is fifth in the lineup in scoring average – yet also has three top-10 finishes in her last four tournaments – speaks to the depth that makes Oregon one of the most competitive teams in the country. Lin has been instrumental in harvesting a culture of healthy competition among the five – they push each other on the course, yet also know there's no pressure on any single individual to have to carry the team, because of their depth.
Week in and week out, they play for each other. This week, they play for their senior.
"I'm so excited for her, this team is so excited for her, and I know they're going to give everything they have to make this postseason special," Radley said.
Just as Graves, Cazorla and Gildon methodically played their way into the national conversation as a basketball program, Lin, Radley and the UO women's golf team has done the same.
As freshmen, Cazorla and Gildon helped Oregon reach the WNIT, before making the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament the next year and ultimately the Final Four in 2019. Lin and the golf team made NCAA Regionals her freshman spring of 2019 but fell short of the championship tournament; after COVID cancelled the 2020 postseason, the Ducks made the NCAA Championships last spring, but came up just short of advancing through stroke play into the eight-team match-play quarterfinals.
"We didn't know what to expect at that level," Lin said. "We were all new to it. After that experience … we're like, we really want to be that. That's really helped push us forward this year."
Throughout the regular season, the Ducks have looked like one of the elite programs in the country. Now they look to prove it in the postseason, beginning with this week's Pac-12 Championships at Eugene Country Club, kicking off the stretch run of Lin's impactful career at Oregon.
"We couldn't have done it without her," Radley said. "Kudos to her for taking this program and leaving it in an incredible spot moving forward."