There was little surprise at the top of the three NCAA regional leaderboards on May 11. Top-ranked USC won its ninth regional title, Duke notched its eighth – and first since 2007 – and Alabama, the defending national champion, easily won by eight shots.
Those three teams are at the top of the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, and the national champion likely will be one of those three. In fact, seven of the last 11 NCAA champions have won a regional title. Alabama still looks like the team to beat heading to the NCAA Championship May 21-24 at the University of Georgia Golf Course.
This past weekend was not about winning, however. It was about advancing to the national championship, the single act by which many programs define their season.
That brings me to my top 5 headlines from the NCAA women’s regional play:
1. Disappointing end: More low seeds are advancing than ever before. This year, eight teams from outside the top-eight seeds advanced, which ties the record. That amounts to some disappointment for several teams that saw their season come to an unexpected, screeching halt. The team that comes to mind is Washington. At the end of the fall season, the Huskies were ranked No. 1 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings and No. 2 in the coaches poll. However, the Huskies were sent to the Central Regional, which proved to be very unpredictable, and they missed nationals by two shots.
2. Every shot counts: On the opposite side of disappointment is fist-pumping excitement, and that was Oregon’s story over the weekend. The Ducks had missed advancing to the finals by a just single stroke each of the past two years. This year Oregon ended up on the other side of that one shot, finishing tied for sixth and a single shot clear of ninth place.
“If our experience hasn’t taught our team the importance of every single shot, I don’t know what will,” head coach Ria Scott said.
The Ducks will play the NCAA Championship for the first time since 2010.
3. Dreams come true: Talk about putting an exclamation point on your season. That’s exactly what junior Kris Yoo did to help No. 20-seeded Wisconsin become the worst seed to ever advance to the national championship. Wisconsin was a bubble team on selection day and quite possibly the last at-large team to get a spot in regional play, but that didn’t matter once the Central Regional began at the Jimmie Austin Golf Course in Norman, Okla. Yoo, who shot 80 in the second round, posted a bogey free 7-under 65 in Round 3 to set a school and course record and vault Wisconsin to seventh place, good enough for a spot in the 24-team national-championship field.
4. Texas finds a way: When Martha Richards left Vanderbilt to take over the golf program at Texas, the move garnered a lot of attention. That was largely due to the six-figure salary that was then-unheard of in the women’s game. While Richards’ teams have struggled to garner the billing of a top team during her Texas tenure, one thing is for certain: Her teams seem to peak during regional play. In her six years with the Longhorns, Richards’ teams have now advanced to five NCAA Championships and they have done so with an average seeding of 11.2. Texas’ best seed was the No. 6 slot in 2011, but the Longhorns didn’t qualify for nationals that year. This year Texas advanced as the No. 8 seed in the East Regional with a fifth-place finish.
5. Conference strength: There is no question that the SEC and Pac-12 are the top two conferences in women’s college golf, so it is not surprising that they lead the way with the most teams at the NCAA Championship. The SEC will send seven teams and the Pac-12 will send six. The Big Ten comes in third with four representatives in that national championship: Purdue, Michigan State, Northwestern and Wisconsin. Duke is the sole ACC representative.