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TOP TEAM: Michigan State (4-under 284)
TOP INDIVIDUAL: Jennifer Kupcho, Wake Forest (4-under 68)
IN POSITION: Alabama (289), Georgia (293), Northwestern (293), Baylor (296), Tennessee (297)
CHASING: Arizona (298), Princeton (300), Augusta (302), North Carolina (302)
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CINDERELLA SPARTANS DOMINATE EARLY: Michigan State pulled a stunning come-from-behind victory at the Big Ten Championship – winning after trailing favorite Northwestern by eight shots heading into the final day – and now it’s time to take even more notice. The 14th-seeded Spartans – yes, the 14th seed – are leaders by five through 18 holes in Athens. Michigan State had three finishes of 13th or worse in the fall and no showings better than fourth heading into its penultimate event of the regular season. Ever since, though, the Spartans have been a different team. Michigan State captured the Lady Buckeye Invitational and followed up with that victory at Big Tens. Now this five-shot lead (at 4 under) through 18 holes. What’s been the difference of late? Star Sarah Burnham has really found her groove (consecutive runner-up finishes) and veteran Katie Sharp has also stepped up (top-16s in last four starts).
But the freshmen are also culprits. Paz Marfa Sans has produced her two best finishes of the season in her last two starts (T-37, T-25), but Allyson Geer has been the biggest newcomer story for Sparty. Geer started up with the team in the spring and needed some time to find her footing, but her last two starts have produced top-5 finishes.
For the first round at regionals, Burnham (T-2, 3 under), Sharp (T-5, 2 under), Marfa Sans (T-7, 1 under) and Geer (T-24, 2 over) were Michigan State’s counting scores. It’s tough for a 14 seed to keep this up, but considering the way the Spartans have been playing, don’t be surprised if they do.
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KUPCHO LEADS, BUT WAKE FOREST STRUGGLES: It’s been a rough ride for the Demon Deacons this spring. Injuries have beset the group and touted freshman Mathilda Cappeliez quit the team during the spring. And now another highly touted recruit in freshman Sierra Brooks is also leaving the team, as Wake Forest has announced she’s transferring. It’s actually gotten to the point where, in April, Wake Forest added on Monica Schumacher, who was competing for the university’s club team, to complete for its starting varsity roster. The sophomore was the fifth starter in Wake’s last-place finish at ACCs. So far, Wake Forest’s struggles continue, as the sixth-seeded Demon Deacons open in 20-over 308 to sit solo 15th.
There’s still a positive, though … sophomore Jennifer Kupcho is the solo leader in the individual race at this regional. As the team has struggled, Kupcho – a contender for the ANNIKA Award Presented by 3M – has continued to hold steady. She’s finished second-T3-second in her last three starts. A seven-birdie 68 on Monday boosted her to a one-shot lead. Kupcho, who’s won two times in 2016-17, advanced to the NCAA Championship as an individual last year. So far she’s in position to do the same.
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SHORT SHOTS: Alabama, the region’s top seed, is in fine position: Solo second at 1 over. The Crimson Tide is led by Lauren Stephenson, who is T-2 at 3 under. … Host Georgia, the No. 2 seed, is 5 over and tied for third with No. 3 seed Northwestern. The Bulldogs are led by Jillian Hollis (T-5, 2 under), while the Wildcats have a pair tied for 11th at even par. … Baylor, the 2015 NCAA Championship runner-up, opens its return to regionals after missing out in 2016 with an 8-over 296 – good for fifth place and in position to advance with 36 holes to go. … Eighth-seeded Tennessee is in the sixth and final position to qualify. The two top-six seeds outside the line to advance with two rounds to go are No. 4 Arizona (seventh, 10 over) and No. 6 Wake Forest as mentioned above. … Clemson’s Alice Hewson is the third player tied for second at 3 under, but her 10th-seeded Clemson squad has some work to do at 16 over and tied for 11th.