By Lisa Antonucci
Palo Alto, Calif.
It was a nail-biter right for several schools May 9-11 at the NCAA Division I Women’s West Regional. For Lorena Ochoa, it was anything but, as the Arizona sophomore easily won her eighth individual title in nine starts this season.
Among the teams trying to advance to the NCAA Championship were Southern California, which competed with only four players; and Washington, which stood in danger of not making it to nationals despite being the host for the May 21-24 event in Auburn, Wash.
After opening with a 22-over-par 310 at Stanford Golf Course, the Huskies stood just out of the top eight in ninth place. They moved up one spot after a 303 the second day and finished tied for sixth after a final-round 291 (904 total). It was a far cry from their two earlier performances this season at Stanford, where their worst score had been a 297. Washington finished fourth at Stanford last fall and won a tournament there in April.
“Obviously, everyone was unhappy about our performance the first day,” said Washington coach Mary Lou Mulflur. “But I gathered them up and said, ‘Well, you do like to do things the hard way, so I guess we’re just going to have to do this the hard way.’ ”
Mulflur said the thought of playing host to the national championship and not competing in it was definitely in the back of her players’ minds.
“There was no use pretending,” said Mulflur. “Everyone knows this is it. Instead of being afraid, I told them they need to relish these moments, relish the pressure, to think back on the times when they did what they set out to do and see what they can do this time.”
Mental toughness also was the hallmark of Southern Cal’s performance. Trojans coach Andrea Gaston said she didn’t get word until two days before her team was to leave for regionals that senior Leila Chartrand would not be able to participate. All season, Chartrand has been battling severe pain in her back and legs caused by sciatica.
“I told them, ‘You can do this,’ ” said Gaston. “In reality, they’ve been doing this all year – playing with only four. But the team chemistry is the best it’s ever been.”
Southern Cal opened with 309-307 and stood ninth going into the final round, but finished with 292 (908) to secure the eighth spot, six shots ahead of ninth-place San Francisco. Junior Mikaela Parmlid led the way for Southern Cal with a final-round 68, while junior Becky Lucidi birdied holes 13 through 16 to shoot even par.
“They have been working so hard,” said Gaston. “I bet many people thought the odds were against us, so to make it feels so good.”
Earning top honors were Pepperdine and UCLA, which tied for first at 19-over 883. Also advancing to the finals were California (889), Arizona (890), Stanford (901) and Arizona State (904). UCLA fired the low score of the tournament with an even-par 288 in the final round, while the Waves of Pepperdine – the only non-Pac-10 Conference team to advance – never wavered from the top spot all three days.
“We felt like we had something to prove,” said UCLA coach Carrie Leary. “We didn’t play well here at all a few weeks ago, and then had a good tournament at the Pac-10s. But we haven’t won a tournament all year, so to finish with a win at the West Regional is more than we could ask for.”
Leary said the key for her Bruins has been playing with teams such as Arizona and Arizona State this spring. She said being paired with some of the country’s top-ranked teams has given her players the confidence to compete with the best.
Ochoa returned to her winning ways at Stanford, shooting three consecutive 70s for a 6-under 210 and a five-shot victory over Parmlid and Pepperdine junior Katherine Hull.
“I feel good,” said Ochoa, whose only individual loss came 21⁄2 weeks earlier at the Pac-10 Championship, where she finished second. “I wanted to shoot low, especially for my scoring average, but I just didn’t make any putts. Almost, almost, almost – I was around the hole all day. But I hit my driver the best in my life. I missed only three fairways in three days.”
Earning their way to nationals as individuals were New Mexico State junior Alena Sharp and New Mexico sophomore Kristi Larsen. Sharp shot 72-72-74 to finish tied for fifth, while Larsen shot 70-75-75 and tied for eighth.