Stars align, Notre Dame scores 1st nationals berth
Lance Ringler's College Golf Page
Everything came together nicely for the Notre Dame women’s golf program last weekend. The Fighting Irish took advantage of senior leadership, a total team effort and playing on their home course to advance to the NCAA Championship for the first time in program history.
Notre Dame, the No. 9 seed, finished fifth in the 54-hole NCAA Central Regional played at the Warren Golf Course at Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., to secure its trip to the national championship. This year marked the fourth consecutive season Notre Dame head coach Susan Holt had taken her program into the postseason.
“Really, really excited,” Holt said following the final round. “When I came here five years ago I felt like the indoor facility that we have and this golf course, Notre Dame just showed much commitment to golf. I left Tampa because I thought you could be successful and five years later here we are and it’s exciting to see it all come together.”
Holt will be no stranger to the final. She twice took her teams at South Florida to the championship, but this year Holt will look to better her coaching performance. South florida placed 23rd in 2001 and finished in last place the following year.
A pair of seniors have been along for the entire journey - So-Hyun Park of Seoul, South Korea and Katie Conway of Wading River, N.Y. Park, who was a highly sought-after player in her junior career, was the first Notre Dame player to be selected as an All-American. She accomplished the feat as a freshman.
“Park wanted to go somewhere where she could make a difference,” Holt said. “For the two of them, I could not be any happier, because they have had a lot to do with the progress.”
The two seniors finished at the bottom of the lineup for the Irish at the Central Regional. But, that’s alright this week.
“It was our ultimate goal to make it to finals and it did not happen our first three years,” Park said. ”I don’t know, we just struggled at regionals the last three years. Playing at our home course was an advantage and I think we just knew what to do and we put it together this tournament.”
Notre Dame will join Coastal Carolina this year as the only two teams to be making an appearance at the NCAA finals for the first time.
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Had it not been for a few birdies coming down the stretch, Wake Forest might have missed the national championship for the second consecutive season. The Deacons were tied for 14th place heading into the final round and needed a 5-over 293 in the final round to claim the eighth and final spot. Wake Forest finished four shots better than Duke, which placed ninth.
Wake Forest’s head coach Dianne Dailey had fallen and broken her humorous bone just below the shoulder on the Sunday before the regional announcement. Doctors wanted her arm to heal properly and didn’t think it be a good idea if she traveled with the team to Indiana.
Assistant Coach Robin Walton filled in as acting head coach and Gary Petit, who is assistant director of media relations at Wake Forest, served as the assistant coach. Petit played collegiate golf at the Division III level.
Dailey is expected to be with the team in Texas for the national championship.
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Five questions with Tennessee junior Erica Popson, from Davenport, Fla., who has won the last four tournaments on the Lady Vols’ spring schedule, including the SEC Championship and the NCAA West Regional:
1.) You’ve won your last four tournaments. Which do you consider to be the best accomplishment?
Probably the SEC Championship, just because it’s such an important tournament to me and it was so close at the end.
2.) You lost to Vanderbilt’s Marina Alex in a playoff at last year’s SEC Championship. How much did that up the ante this year?
It just hurt so bad to lose last year after coming so close and it was my birthday last year ... so I didn’t want to be in that feeling again. It was one of the things my coaches talked to me about the night before. You don’t want to feel like that again, so let’s see how it feels to win and it just felt so awesome.
3.) You encountered some nasty weather at the West Regional, but still won by five shots.
I didn’t really ever have to play in the cold and rain and all that stuff, but especially in Tennessee, we practice a lot in crappy weather like that so it’s just really helped me grow as a golfer. That helped me a lot. Last week, the weather was bad ... but don’t hang on the negatives, no matter how crappy the weather is, you just have to come out and play good, just stay positive. Everybody has to play out there, whoever is the most mentally tough is going to come out on top.
4.) You fought a wrist injury last year, are you fully healed now?
I had a thumb/wrist injury, more thumb, and I still have it, but it’s gotten a lot better. I’ve been doing a lot of rehab. It was really bad I’d say probably February last year, I couldn’t even really hold a golf club, but I’ve come a long way doing rehab and stuff like that so it’s gotten a lot better. I still have to limit my practices, I can’t just go out and beat balls so I’ve had to work on my short game a lot more, spend more time working on my mental game and then hit balls when I’m able to. I put so much time into my hand and tried to get it better that it feels so good when you know that even though you put so much time into it and you put so much time into your short game, all that stuff pays off in the end.
5.) With the end of golf season approaching, what else will you do this summer to relax?
I’m pretty excited when I get home I think I’m going to hit up Universal and go see Harry Potter again. I went over Christmas break and I went last summer when it first opened and that was pretty exciting. I have a season pass to Universal so I’m definitely going to go ride some rollercoasters with some friends back home and I’m really looking forward to doing that.