2005: More surprises likely in store at Sunriver

Alison Walshe sat in a Gainesville, Fla., Starbucks May 5 pouring over her philosophy notes while sipping a vanilla latte. The Tulane sophomore was making the most of a rained-out opening round at the NCAA Division I Women’s East Regional, where the Green Wave aimed to turn their postseason tide.

Sue Bower’s teams have been somewhat regionally challenged, missing the NCAA Championship by one, six and eight strokes in the last three years, respectively. An eight-hour study hall in the local coffee shop, however, eased Tulane’s stress levels heading into Day 2’s 36-hole marathon. The Green Wave entered the final round tied for fourth, and Walshe came ready to play.

“Alison, from the get-go, was in total command,” said Bower. “I’m exhausted.”

Walshe shot 1-under 69 on the University of Florida Golf Course to lead Tulane to a sixth-place finish in the East. The Green Wave will join Virginia, UC-Irvine, Missouri and Arkansas as schools making their first NCAA Division I Women’s Championship appearances May 17-20 in Sunriver, Ore.

No matter the region, no matter the weather, no matter the course – Duke and UCLA remain the cross-coast story line. Despite the fact that Dan Brooks’ Blue Devils carry a fragile roster of five and neither school escaped their regular seasons unscathed, the top two teams in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings will share the bull’s-eye in Sunriver.

But as the perennial pressure-cooker known as NCAA regionals proved again, anything can happen. Powerhouses such as Georgia, which entered the week No. 5 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, LSU (13), New Mexico (16), Wake Forest (18) and Texas (21) are out. BYU, Texas A&M and Purdue are in.

“There’s nothing given to anybody in this game,” said Missouri coach Stephanie Cooper, whose team finished third in the Central. “It’s not the bigger, faster, stronger team or the team with the most money or best facilities. . . . I would say it’s pretty wide open.”

Even for a program such as Virginia, where coach Jan Mann has led the Cavaliers to the NCAA Championship in only the program’s second year.

Mann admits the team goals were quite bold for such a young program: finish in the top 3 of the ACCs (check); receive a regional bid (check); and advance to the national championship (check-plus).

Never one to shy away from a challenge, Mann wasted no time in getting her team acquainted with the nation’s best. The Cavaliers’ schedule reads like that of a veteran program. In fact, Virginia has met top-ranked Duke six times this season.

“The old saying ‘If you want to be the best, you play against the best,’ I truly believe that,” Mann said. “It allowed the girls to see what they needed . . . what type of skills, how much they needed to practice, what they needed to do to become a good team.”

Virginia’s fifth-place regional showing caught more than one coach’s eye. It’s not often a team punches its ticket to nationals on its first try, especially with four sophomores and a freshman leading the charge.

“I can’t say enough about Jan,” said Brooks. “We voted her Coach of the Year in the ACC and it was a great selection because she’s really moved that program along unbelievably fast.”

Brooks, a nine-time ACC Coach of the Year, says he “sleeps like a rock” despite having a taped-up team of five that has traveled as a foursome twice already this season because of illness and injury.

“It’s just something we’ve grown accustomed to,” said junior Liz Janangelo. “As long as no one gets hurt rollerblading or trips while they’re running, we’re OK.”

The Blue Devils have remained atop the rankings despite their handicaps, winning seven times this season. Brittany Lang, ranked No. 2, says her putting stroke has never been better. And Janangelo, No. 3, says her swing is coming together at the right time.

A similar tune is being sung out West, where UCLA coach Carrie Forsyth says the closing 2-under 286 that vaulted the Bruins into a tie for first in the West Regional is the best round they’ve had all season.

Third-ranked Auburn, which outplayed a stacked Central field, can’t be counted out at Sunriver’s Meadows Course. Neither can Oklahoma State, Arizona State or Pepperdine. And when Duke’s streak of five regional victories was snapped last Saturday by Ohio State, even the Blue Devils heard the rally cry.

“Congratulations to Ohio State, they played really well and beat us outright,” Janangelo said. “Maybe (there’s) a little less pressure going into nationals. Duke’s not unstoppable.”

The Buckeyes couldn’t have said it better themselves.

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