2002: College - Duke dominates East, but Vandy just as happy
BY JAY A. COFFIN
Baton Rouge, La.
The NCAA Division I Women’s Regionals are the most nerve-racking time of the season for players and coaches. Many say it is even more tense than the NCAA Championship.
It’s simple. Play poorly in the regional and go home. Play well, finish eighth or better and advance to the NCAA Division I Women’s Championship May 21-24 at the University of Washington. It’s the only time of year where finishing eighth is just as important as finishing first.
Duke shot 5-under-par 859 May 11 at the University Club to win the Women’s East Regional by 13 shots over Auburn. However, at day’s end, it was the battle for eighth place that drew all the attention, with two Tennessee schools – Tennessee and Vanderbilt – vying for the final spot.
With Vanderbilt in the clubhouse after shooting 13-over 301 (893 total), the Commodores sat for three hours awaiting their destiny, which was in the hands of Southeastern Conference foe Tennessee.
The Volunteers began the day tied for 16th, 17 shots behind Vanderbilt, but cut that deficit to two by the turn. Tennessee crept into seventh place, ahead of Vanderbilt, for a moment but faltered over the final three holes to finish 10th at 896.
Ranked No. 8 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, the Volunteers were the highest-ranked team in any regional not to advance. For Vandy, it will be the Commodores’ first NCAA Championship.
“I think we did a great job preparing all year because we played in really tough tournaments with great teams,” Vanderbilt coach Martha Freitag said. “That definitely helped us handle the pressure today.”
Duke, ranked No. 2, was never in jeopardy of losing its lead, shooting an even-par 288 (859 total) the final day to beat top-ranked Auburn, which shot 292 (872).
Finishing behind Duke and Auburn – the two favorites heading into the NCAA Championship – and qualifying for the finals were Wake Forest (875), Florida (878), South Florida (883), South Carolina (889), Georgia (892) and Vanderbilt.
The first-place Blue Devils were led by sophomore Leigh Anne Hardin, who won the individual title, shooting 71-67-72–210. For Hardin, it was her second college victory, her first in more than a year. She has struggled with her game – and her confidence – the past year after going through major grip and swing changes.
“It felt good to have pressure on myself in the end and come through,” said Hardin, who converted a 3-footer for par on the final hole to edge Auburn junior Celeste Troche by one shot. “It feels really good heading into nationals because our team is fired up. I know that I sure am. I have a lot more confidence now than I did before this tournament.”
LSU senior Meredith Duncan and Memphis sophomore Meaghan Francella are the two individuals that advanced without their teams. Duncan, the 2001 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion, shot 213 and tied for third with Auburn senior Courtney Swaim. Francella, who also advanced last year as an individual, shot 215 and tied for fifth.
Georgia, the 2001 NCAA champion, struggled in the opening round and entered the final round tied for eighth with Furman and Tulane. The Bulldogs hovered around eighth most of the day and finished seventh, one shot ahead of Vanderbilt and two ahead of ninth-place Tulane.
“This is by far the most nervous I’ve ever been,” said Georgia coach Todd McCorkle, who has coached the last two national championship teams – Georgia in 2001 and Arizona in 2000. “It’s much exceeded the two national championships. You go home if you don’t do well here. Ninth place might as well be 24th. But I think we really grew up and I learned that we can handle any type of situation.”
It’s the beauty of postseason pressure.