Baldry: Campbell could be this year's Cinderella
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – John Crooks has been coaching at Campbell University longer than most of his team has been alive. He has led the Fighting Camels (love that mascot) for 21 years, and he’s second only to Duke’s Dan Brooks in victories (64) among active college coaches.
Campbell is practically a fixture in these East Regional fields, qualifying 15 of the past 20 years. But here’s the catch: Campbell advanced to the NCAA Championship only once, in 1997.
The Camels get the most-improved award here at Penn State for dropping their score 23 strokes from the first round to the second. Campbell, the 20th seed, beat the entire field with a second-round 290 and sits tied for 10th after two rounds. The top eight advance to the national championship in two weeks at Vanderbilt Legends Club in Franklin, Tenn. The Camels are four shots out of the magic number.
Three Camels improved their scores by nine strokes. Teresa Urquizu posted yesterday’s low score (73) but was dropped today. Senior Michelle Koh turned in a bogey-free 69. Kaylin Yost birdied four consecutive holes on her front side before making double bogey on the 18th (her ninth) thanks to a wayward drive. She finished with a 71.
After Thursday’s disappointing round, the Camels hit the range for an hour. Three days ago, Crooks said, Koh was afraid to draw it back with her wedges.
“Last night she just found something,” said Crooks, who had her hitting hooks on the range before the first round just to put a Band-Aid on the situation.
Campbell has a 27-hole practice facility in Buies Creek, N.C., and Crooks had the team play from 6,700 yards during the past 2 1/2 weeks, which is about 500 yards longer than usual. When the team played its first practice round at the Blue Course, one of the players said she thought the course would be longer.
“That was music,” Crooks said.
Crooks, a handy player himself, won the U.S. Junior and played his collegiate golf at Houston. He led Campbell to three titles this season, including the Big South Conference championship.
Crooks has been saying in the team van that the Camels need an eraser, someone who can post a low number to remove some of their mistakes. Koh delivered that today.
On Saturday, the Camels will need one of those jumbo erasers to make a run at their second NCAA Championship, leapfrogging teams like Arizona State and Washington and holding off the likes of Oklahoma State and Michigan State. But it’s not out of the realm of possibility.
Campbell and other mid-major programs don’t make many championship appearances. It would be a rare Cinderella story for the women’s game.
Let’s hope the slipper fits.