FRANKLIN, Tenn. – Here are 5 Things to take away from Tuesday’s first-round action at the NCAA Women’s Championship:
1. New champion? Ummmm… We have been hearing it for years. The women’s game is getting deeper, and there are more teams that can compete at an elite level. But, is that true?
This week at the Vanderbilt Legends Club, 18 of the 24 teams in the field will be attempting to win their first national championship. It’s likely that out of the six teams that have won championships – UCLA, Southern Cal, Arizona State, Duke, Florida and Purdue – one will be your winner this week. The favorite? UCLA.
The Bruins have lost to only five teams all season long – twice to Arizona, which is not in the field this week – and have four players ranked in the top 60 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings.
So, if it’s not top-ranked UCLA or even No. 3 USC, then who are the likely candidates? The obvious choice is Alabama, and possibly LSU. After that, don’t count on many contending with four rounds of championship play needed.
Sure, you have Virginia and North Carolina near the top, but those two schools have not won an event all season – making it unlikely that a first victory would come on the biggest stage.
2. Welcome to the finals: Quick, which are the two schools making their maiden appearances in the national championship.? Hint: They are names from major conferences and have played well in recent years.
Would you have guessed North Carolina State and Colorado? N.C. State has played in 10 of the last 11 regionals; Colorado, three of the past four. But, neither had been able to advance.
If you look at the coaching staff for the Wolfpack, it’s no surprise they are here. Page Marsh is in her 12th season guiding N.C. State, and this past year she brought in a couple of veterans who undoubtedly would bring experience and knowledge.
In a time when the majority of assistants are fresh out of college, Marsh added 26 years of head-coaching experience to her staff.
Todd Selders is in his first year as the assistant coach, and Sally Austin is in her first as the volunteer assistant. Selders spent 10 years as the head coach at SMU, and Austin was the head coach at North Carolina for 16 years.
Both schools are off to good starts. Colorado, No. 10 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, is tied for 11th, and North Carolina State is T-14.
3. Duke talk: Duke has won five national championships, second to Arizona State’s seven titles. But, only two Duke players have been named National Player of the Year. Liz Janangelo was the first Blue Devils golfer to earn the honor, in 2004, and then Amanda Blumenherst won the award three consecutive times, from 2006 to ’08.
This year, there should be one more added to that list.
Junior Lindy Duncan clearly is way out in front of the competition and has just about sealed up the honor with a late-season run. Duncan, who won the ACC title and finished third at last week’s East Regional, has finished at par or better in nine of her past 10 rounds.
On the year, she has recorded nine top 10s in nine starts, and is on her way to another good showing this week. Duncan made eagle on her final hole today to finish at 2 under and is tied for ninth.
4. Still worth a mention: Purdue has established itself as an elite program in the past decade, winning the championship two years ago and narrowly missing a consecutive title last year before settling for a runner-up finish to UCLA.
However, this year the Boilermakers come to the finals without the “keep an eye on” label. Or do they? Purdue has ended the season well, with a second-place finish at the Big Ten Conference Championship and a third-place showing at the Central Regional.
The Boilermakers, finishing on the front nine at the Legends Club’s North Course, had a chance to insert their name into opening-round discussions, but failed to capitalize. Unlike what Duke did in the morning wave, going 5 under in its final five holes, Purdue finished 1 over on that same stretch.
5. Up and down
• Up: North Carolina had a great start, finishing in the morning wave with a 2-over 290 total. The Tar Heels, who have not won a tournament all season, are just four shots back of the lead.
• Down: It would have to be the scorecard error by Virginia’s Elizabeth Brightwell. She signed for a 4 on hole No. 4, when she actually had a 5. That mistake cost Virginia six shots. Let’s hope those six – or five, had the card been correct – are not the talk on Friday afternoon.