Vanderbilt put the finishing touches on a nine-stroke victory in the NCAA Women’s Central Regional, then started focusing on a strong, four-letter word.
The regional was the Commodores’ fifth victory of the season, giving team members reason to say they have a chance to overtake No. 1 Duke in the NCAA Division I Women’s Championship May 18-21 in Opelika, Ala.
“I definitely think we have a shot,” said Vanderbilt sophomore May Wood, who wasn’t her sharpest in shooting 2-over-par 73-72-70–215 to finish second individually, three shots behind Arizona sophomore Erica Blasberg. “There’s no doubt in my mind that we can beat Duke.”
Former LPGA player Martha Freitag has coached Vanderbilt, ranked No. 4 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, to its first Southeastern Conference and NCAA regional titles this spring. She credits the success to her players’ hard work in the weight room and on their short games over the winter break. She’s hoping the momentum can carry over to a national title.
“The great thing is they don’t just hand Duke the trophy,” Freitag said. “Anybody can be beaten any given week.”
Freitag figures UCLA, California, Vanderbilt and Ohio St. have the best opportunity to knock off an unusually gifted Duke team that has five players ranked in the top 16 individually in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings.
“It’d be a heck of a national championship if you took out Duke,” Freitag said. “Having all five in the top 15 is crazy good. But I think we can give them a run. I don’t think we have to max out to beat them, but we have to be close. We have to play well and just hang around, hang around, hang around.”
Vanderbilt shot 41-over-par 298-307-288–893 and won the team title by nine over Arizona. Another four shots back at 906 was Michigan, followed by defending NCAA champion Southern California at 910, Baylor at 915, Purdue at 917, New Mexico at 918 and Texas A&M at 926. Those eight teams advance to the 24-team NCAA finals.
Blasberg shot 1-under 212 (68-73-71) to win by three over Wood and by six over Baylor sophomore Josefin Svenningsson (75-72-71–218). Blasberg’s opening round tied the University Golf Course women’s record, and was matched later that day by Texas A&M junior Kyla Neal.
It was the first victory of the spring for Blasberg, nicknamed Skip because she didn’t know how to skip on the first day of conditioning workouts last year. Blasberg won three of four college starts in the fall and thought about turning pro after this school year until she missed the cut in two LPGA events.
Texas A&M claimed the eighth and last team spot after anxiously waiting several hours for afternoon contestants to finish.
The Aggies finished one stroke out of the eighth regional spot last year, and that pain was on their minds here. Nicole Melton, the team’s top player, wrote “one shot” on the palm of her left hand in the final round to remind her of last year and to help her focus on each shot.
“It was hard watching and waiting all day because last year kind of scarred me,” said A&M coach Jeanne Sutherland, whose team will head to nationals for the first time since 1997. “I remember the mood in the parking lot last year. They were just devastated. When you miss by one, you can look back over 54 holes and find 10 places where you could’ve saved a shot. But now I’m just ecstatic.”
The same could be said of Baylor, the lowest seeded team (No. 18) to advance. The Bears’ 297 was the best second-round total by five shots.
“We had the talent to do it; it wasn’t luck,” Baylor coach Sylvia Ferdon said. “We haven’t had an outstanding year according to the record, but I kept telling the team we were in the top 25 in so many (statistical) categories. I told them coming here, ‘If you shoot your numbers, there’ll be a spot for us.’ ”