Top 10 women's college storylines from 2011
No. 1 UCLA wins NCAAs, then adds even more depth: The Bruins collected their third NCAA Championship trophy in program history last spring, barely preventing a title defense by Purdue. When UCLA returned from the off-season, it had a roster so deep that even the absence of two key seniors couldn’t stop this team from winning (see below).
No. 2 Bruins lose strong senior in Kono: The news that Stephanie Kono would have to turn professional if she were to earn her card at LPGA Q-School – which seemed likely from the beginning of the week – was the biggest story out of LPGA International this year. As predicted, Kono qualified and then reluctantly turned professional, abandoning hopes of earning All-America honors for the fourth time and helping her team to a second consecutive national title. It was an unfortunate series of events not just for Kono, but also for UCLA, but that’s the thing about having such a deep roster. The Bruins won the Fall Preview with Kono and fellow senior Brianna Do away at the second stage of Q-School. It’s not ideal to play the spring season without a player like Kono, but don’t think all hope is lost for a repeat at NCAAs without her.
No. 3 LSU freshman Austin Ernst impresses at NCAAs: She arrived wearing a pair of cheap plastic sunglasses with lime green earpieces, and left wearing an LSU purple bandanna and carrying the individual trophy. Not a bad national championship week for Ernst, who spent the majority of the season soaking up tips from senior teammate Megan McChrystal, the player to beat for much of the year. Ernst didn’t even travel with LSU at the beginning of the 2010-11 season, but earned her first win in February at the Central District Invite before going on to win the national championship. She began the fall 2011 season with a win at the Cougar Classic.
No. 4 Purdue turns around season on familiar ground: The first two events of the fall season weren’t pretty for the Boilermakers. They finished last among the 18 teams at the Mason Rudolph Fall Preview and 12th of 15 at the Windy City Collegiate Championship. Things began to look up, however, when Purdue returned to the Country Club of Landfall in Wilmington, N.C. – site of its 2010 NCAA Championship victory. Despite playing on a different course at Landfall, head coach Devon Brouse and the two remaining members of that championship team spent time that week reliving the championship, and after prevailing through inclement weather, the team won its first title of the fall.
No. 5 Oklahoma State soars to two-win fall, top-10 ranking: New women’s head coach Alan Bratton was quick to give away the credit after the Cowgirls opened the fall with victories at the Dale McNamara Invitational on Sept. 14 and the Windy City Intercollegiate on Oct. 4. They were a product of hard work by his team, Bratton insisted, and not some magic coaching strategy; he just helped his players realize their talent. Regardless of the secret, Oklahoma State went on to record two more top 5s to end the season, and is No. 8 in Golfweek’s rankings entering the spring.
No. 6 Baylor starts fast under new head coach: The Bears drew heavily from the leadership of three seniors during the fall season, finishing sixth at their first start before going on to win the next two tournaments. It’s also the first year in Waco, Texas, for new head coach Jay Goble, formerly an assistant at Florida, but the transition period seemed short. Already the team is looking forward to a postseason that could be one for the record book: Baylor never has won the Big 12 Championship, and the Bears have only one appearance in the NCAA Championship.
No. 7 Legends Club delivers at the Preview: Crowds were sparse at the 2011 National Championship at Traditions Golf Club, hosted by Texas A&M. The Aggies produced a strong home crowd, but general excitement was noticeably down from the previous year in Wilmington, N.C. It’s why the air of excitement and ease of viewing at the Mason Rudolph Fall Preview, hosted by Vanderbilt at the Legends Club south of Nashville, was a refreshing site. Vanderbilt head coach Greg Allen has plans to drum up big support for the championship. Here’s hoping it can be done.
No. 8 Na matches NCAA scoring record with 9-under 63: Grace Na’s range session on the morning of Oct. 24 left much to be desired – in fact, it left the Pepperdine sophomore “freaking out” before the first round of the Las Vegas Collegiate Showdown. Turns out, Na would go on to shoot 9-under 63 that day and tie the NCAA scoring record, a feat Arkansas’ Emily Tubert had accomplished at the same tournament the year before. With nine birdies – and a three-putt par on the final hole that prevented her from setting a record at 10 under – Na joined Tubert, Duke alumna Liz Janangelo and Pepperdine alumna Katherine Hull as the only players to reach 9 under in a collegiate round.
No. 9 North Carolina becomes a national contender: The Tar Heels ended their 2010-11 campaign with a runner-up finish at the NCAA East Regional and an eighth-place finish at the NCAA Championship. With a No. 5 preseason ranking, the Tar Heels earned three top-5 finishes in four fall starts, proving that they can be a national contender. Without a superstar on this roster, everyone relies on everyone else for a solid team effort. It’s been a successful formula so far.
No. 10 Amy Anderson continues to dominate at North Dakota State: Anderson qualified for her first NCAA Championship as an individual in the spring and finished T-12. She won her 13th collegiate title in 27 starts at the Campbell Fighting Camel Classic in November – her third win of the fall. Anderson, the 2009 U.S. Girls' Junior champion, has won five events in each of the past two seasons.