No. 2-ranked Arizona State women aim for nationals return – and a ring

ASU golfer Monica Vaughn ASU

No. 2-ranked Arizona State women aim for nationals return – and a ring

Women

No. 2-ranked Arizona State women aim for nationals return – and a ring

Two years ago as a sophomore, Arizona State’s Monica Vaughn qualified for the NCAA Championship and finished fifth. She had plenty to celebrate, just not many to celebrate with.

Her teammates? They were back home in Tempe, Ariz., after the Sun Devils’ streak of 23 consecutive NCAA Championship appearances was ended, leaving Vaughn to compete as an individual at Concession Golf Club in Bradenton, Fla.

“I didn’t realize how different it would be to play without my team,” Vaughn said. “It was not as fun.”

A year later, Vaughn was one of the teammates left behind as Linnea Strom represented the Sun Devils as an individual at the NCAA Championship in Eugene, Ore.

With Arizona State failing to advance out of regionals in two straight seasons, Vaughn, who was a freshman on Arizona State’s last team to make it to the NCAA Championship, was understandably disappointed.

“There’s nothing like going to nationals as a team,” Vaughn said.

Which is why Vaughn, now a senior, and her team don’t plan on missing out on a NCAA Championship berth for a third straight year. This year’s team, ranked No. 2 by Golfweek and three times a winner this season, is too talented to not make it to Rich Harvest Farms next month.

“This is one of our best teams,” said Arizona State head coach Missy Farr-Kaye, who spent 13 seasons as an assistant with the Sun Devils before being named head coach after the 2014-15 season.

“I’ve been telling them all along that every one of them is capable of winning a golf tournament. When you have that kind of depth and they start to believe in themselves as much as you believe in them, cool things can happen.”

Freshman Olivia Mehaffey is part of ASU’s strong team this year.

In the Sun Devils’ last event, the Ping/ASU Invitational, junior Roberta Liti, the team’s No. 5 player for much of the season, picked up her first individual victory. Liti will be joined in Arizona State’s postseason lineup by four teammates, all ranked 56th or better by Golfweek. The Sun Devils’ top three players – Strom (13), Vaughn (18) and freshman Olivia Mehaffey (38) – are also ranked in the top 14 of the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking.

And since the team added assistant coach Michelle Estill, who played on the LPGA from 1991 to 2006, in November, the Sun Devils haven’t finished worse than third in five spring starts.

This team isn’t just talented. They are tight-knit to boot.

“We all get along so well,” Vaughn said. “We do things outside of golf as a team – team dinners, lunches…”

And spontaneous trips to the zoo. Yes, to give her players a reprieve from a long season, Farr-Kaye took them on a Spring Break field trip.

“We had a day off and we went and had a great time,” Farr-Kaye said. “Some people might go, ‘Why aren’t you practicing?’ And you know what? We needed a day to relax and do something fun.”

Keeping things light and stress-free has been a goal for Arizona State. That could help the Sun Devils as they prepare for a pressure-packed stretch, beginning with the Pac-12 Championship on April 24-26 in Tucson, Ariz.

The last time Arizona State won a Pac-12 title was in 2009. The Sun Devils went on to win their sixth NCAA Championship, and first since 1998, later that spring.

“Everyone is really on the same page this year,” Vaughn said, “and I think we’re more driven this year to win a national championship because we know it’s the best opportunity that we have.”

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