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Revitalized Chacon Leads Ducks Into NCAAs

May 19, 2022

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Oregon women's golf team entered the postseason as one of the top teams in the country, despite some struggles this year by the Ducks' returning all-American.

The Ducks enter the start of NCAA Championship play Friday as a top contender for the national title in part because that returning all-American, Briana Chacon, appears to have rediscovered her game.

Two weeks ago Chacon's scoring average for the season was 73.30, behind the 73.22 she posted two years ago as a freshman, not to mention the 72.73 she averaged last season. That scoring average was third-lowest in UO history and helped Chacon earn all-conference status, as well as second-team all-American honors.

But buoyed by the first tournament win of her career, to help the Ducks win their NCAA Regional, Chacon brought her scoring average all the way down to 72.73 entering Oregon's NCAA Tournament appearance that begins Friday at 11:30 a.m. on the 10th tee at Grayhawk Golf Club.

"It was a challenge mentally," Chacon said of her 2021-22 season. "But I just knew that if I just kept pushing through and kept working hard, then I would get where I want to be."

The Ducks enter NCAA Championship play ranked No. 2 by Golfstat, behind only Stanford. The Cardinal boast three of the top 13 individuals in the country, but nobody else in the top 80. Oregon's highest-rated player is No. 12 Hsin-Yu (Cynthia) Lu, and all five Ducks are within 22 spots of each other — No. 21 Sofie Kibsgaard Nielsen, No. 22 Tze-Han (Heather) Lin, No. 32 Ching-Tzu Chen and Chacon at No. 34.

That ranking belies the confidence Chacon brought back to Grayhawk this week, for Oregon's second straight shot in the national tournament on the Arizona course. Chacon shot a season-low 65 in her opening round at regionals, then followed it with a 69 — doubling her total number of rounds this season under 70, from two to four.

UO coach Derek Radley said he could tell Chacon's confidence was back from the way she dealt with windy conditions at the regional in New Mexico. The wind presented a choice: a three-quarter swing with a bigger club, or a full swing with a smaller club.

"And every time she had that option," Radley said, "she chose to take less club and swing with confidence. So that was a big factor to me as a coach, to see that she's believing in herself right now."

Chacon's revitalization coincides with a reunion with her former swing coach. A year ago her coach, Greg Castleman, retired, and Chacon sought a new mentor. But after struggling through the fall season she re-connected with Castleman; they reunited early this spring to get Chacon back on track, and have continued to meet virtually since.

The results of all that work showed at regionals.

"I feel like I've finally gotten my swing down, and I was just hitting some really good shots," Chacon said. "And the putts were dropping. It was just one of those weeks where everything was kind of falling into place.

Thanks to Oregon's depth, Chacon could work through the spring without worrying that she was dragging down her team — the other four had her back. In New Mexico at regionals, Chacon returned the favor.

"This year we've done a really good job of always being there for each other," she said. "If someone had a bad round, we always knew there was going to be someone that could come through for us. So it took a lot of pressure of everybody."

Now as they enter the NCAA Championship tournament, the Ducks are loose, they're experienced and they're confident. Last year at Grayhawk, they came without two shots of advancing through the four rounds of stroke play into the match-play quarterfinals.

This time, match play is a primary goal. But it's not the only goal, not after Oregon won the first Pac-12 team title in program history, and followed it up with the first NCAA Regional win in program history.

"We're 2-for-2," Radley said. "We're going to see if we can complete the trifecta."

Radley's players are confident that have what it takes to get it done. Nothing is guaranteed, but the Ducks know a national title is within the realm of possibility — especially after what Chacon showed at regionals.

"Everybody's games are right where we need to be, and I feel like we're all peaking at the right time going into this week," Chacon said. "It would be unreal if we could do it. And I think we have a pretty good shot."