5 Things: Jayhawks bond; Flashes' leader; more
From Campbell to USC, the spotlight has focused on the winners and several of the qualifiers in each of the regionals who will compete in the women's NCAA Championship. But a few notable storylines still need to be told.
Here are 5 Things to know beyond the headlines from the women's regionals:
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1. ROCK, CHALK, GAELIC: Trace Kansas’ national championship berth – the first in 24 years – all the way to Ireland. For the Jayhawks, this historic season began with a team trip there in August that brought new perspective on the game.
“It became their goal to go to nationals,” head coach Erin O’Neil said of that bonding experience. In the process of meeting that team goal, the Jayhawks hit more milestones.
When Kansas qualifed for the 1990 NCAA Championship, it was by winning the automatic-qualifying spot out of the then-Big Eight Conference. That was before the current regional system was put in place in women’s college golf. Kansas’ trip to the NCAA Central Regional this year was its first regional appearance in program history.
“We decided, 'Why not go all the way?' ” O’Neil said. Kansas’ 35-over 899 at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla., was good for a tie for fifth, which put the Jayhawks safely inside the top eight, the number of teams to advance from each region.
Despite being a Big 12 foe of Oklahoma State, which hosted the regional at Karsten Creek, Kansas players never had seen the difficult track. O’Neil had, however, and put her team’s focus on short game and course management in the days leading up to the regional.
O’Neil knew that if her players could eliminate double bogeys, they would have a better shot at advancing. The Jayhawks, which entered the tournament with a No. 14 seed, didn’t count a single double in their second-round 290, which was their lowest team score of the tournament by 10 shots. It allowed them to climb from T-16 to T-10 entering the final round.
“It can happen out here,” O’Neil said of big numbers.
History can happen, too.
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2.) RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT TIME: In her first year at Kent State, Wad Phaewchimplee showed flashes of brilliance. A freshman from Thailand, her story is about putting all the pieces together at just the right moment. It resulted in a career-best round to open the NCAA Central Regional at Karsten Creek.
Phaewchimplee had five birdies and an eagle at the par-5 ninth on her way to a 7-under 65 in Round 1. That gave her a three-shot lead right out of the gate, and subsequent rounds of 73-71 gave her a five-shot individual victory and an individual NCAA Championship berth.
“It’s a pretty hard course, the fairway is narrow almost every hole and the green is kind of fast,” Phaewchimplee said.
Phaewchimplee initially came to the U.S. to play for head coach Devon Brouse at Purdue. When she didn’t make it through the admission process, Brouse suggested she follow former assistant Greg Robertson to Kent State. Phaewchimplee has been a blessing for Robertson in his first season with the Golden Flashes. In addition to her work on the team, Phaewchimplee is in hot pursuit of a perfect GPA to end her freshman year.
“She’s just one of those individuals that really excels in everything she does,” Robertson said. “She got to Kent State and I couldn’t be happier.”
Despite Phaewchimplee’s contribution, the team fell one shot short of a playoff for the eighth and final spot. Robertson points to a few hiccups coming down the stretch, but has no regrets.
“The one thing I do with (my players) is I let them play, and I’m not afraid to let them be aggressive,” he said.
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3. AN ADMIRABLE INAUGURAL SEASON: For Clemson, a national-championship berth would have had a nice ring to it. The Tigers were so close at times in the NCAA West Regional they could smell it, but in the end, a missed opportunity to advance could spell motivation for a young team.
“You know at regionals you have to have three consistent days, especially with the parity of college golf now,” head coach J.T. Horton said. “… We were two shots out after the first day and then got a little bit behind the eight ball.”
Clemson teetered around the eighth position at the start of the final round at Tumble Creek Club in Cle Elum, Wash., but tough conditions just weren’t susceptible to scoring on Day 3. With too much ground to make up, Clemson posted a 27-over 315 and at 65-over 929, finished 13th.
The Tigers fielded five freshmen in Washington while traveling west for the first time in their short existence – they’d only made it as far as New Orleans in the regular season. They’ll need that knowledge next season, when Horton expands the schedule to include stops in Oklahoma, California, Puerto Rico and Mississippi.
“When you have five or six freshmen in the lineup, it was important to get their feet wet, stay close to home,” he said.
The West Regional was also Clemson’s last tournament with standout Ashlan Ramsey in the lineup. Ramsey, who had been an early favorite for Player of the Year, announced plans to turn professional mid-spring, and after a T-39 at Tumble Creek, boarded a plane back east. Ramsey will play the LPGA’s Kingsmill Championship (as an amateur) this week in Williamsburg, Va.
Though her regional finish wasn’t quite what she’d hoped for, Ramsey chalks it up to a swing change that had plagued her spring. During a busy college season, she wasn’t as able to get to swing coach Todd Anderson with much frequency.
“I don’t think my mindset changed,” Ramsey said of her decision to turn pro. “I tried really hard to stay in the team mindset.”
Ramsey amounts to a tough loss for a young program, but the entire dynamic changes for Clemson next year now that the team has banked experience.
“It just means that players are going to have to be ready to go and be ready to step up,” Horton said.
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4. POSTSEASON POWERHOUSE: Add to South Carolina’s list of recent postseason accolades a runner-up finish at the NCAA East Regional. The Gamecocks have twice won a regional in the last five years, but this year, couldn’t quite match Vanderbilt’s 24-under winning total. Still, South Carolina’s 10-under 54-hole total is only one shot higher than the program-record 11 under it used to win the Ping ASU Invitational a month ago.
After that Ping ASU victory, head coach Kalen Harris spoke of an evolving Gamecocks team. Any player can go low for South Carolina on any given day.
“Our team has evolved into a real team,” Harris said that week. “We really have the depth and everyone contributes.”
Most notably at regionals, South Carolina climbed from 11th after the first round to its runner-up spot after the third round. Harris chalked that up to conservative play around Southwood Golf Couse in Tallahassee, Fla. South Carolina won the Florida State Match-Up there in February, which marked its first regular-season victory under Harris, but the course was set up a little differently for regionals.
“The important thing now is we’re through and we’re going to the finals,” Harris said from Southwood.
It’s the tournament for which Harris and company have been waiting.
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5. CYCLONE WARNING: When Iowa State advanced to the NCAA West regional in 2010, it was for the first time in 14 years. That week ended in a 10th-place finish, five shots short of a national-championship berth, but it marked a resurgence in Cyclone women’s golf.
Four years later, Iowa State finally has a spot at the NCAA Championship, and will be the only team in the field competing for the first time. For Iowa State seniors Sasikarn On-iam and Prima Thammaraks, college golf has come full circle.
“It was really important; they had been to regionals all four years and they knew what to expect,” head coach Christie Martens said. “The excitement of regionals, they really wanted to make the next step. I’d say they made it their mission.”
Iowa State climbed from eighth to a tie for sixth in the final round and finished at 45-over 909. Martens and her team enter unfamiliar territory later this month at the NCAA Championship. She expects the team to respond well.
“Now that we’ve crossed this hurdle, it’s kind of, 'Let’s see how great we can be,' ” she said.
It’s also the first time a team from the state of Iowa has made it to the NCAA Championship since the regional format was introduced in 1993, which had the Cyclone nation stirring.
“You don’t realize so many people are following until you start hearing from everyone,” Martens said.