No sleep 'till Thursday: Laura Ianello, Arizona ready for NCAA title clash

No sleep 'till Thursday: Laura Ianello, Arizona ready for NCAA title clash

College

No sleep 'till Thursday: Laura Ianello, Arizona ready for NCAA title clash

STILLWATER, Okla. – As evening fell on Karsten Creek, an emotionally-charged Laura Ianello told a Golf Channel reporter “I want to get these girls in bed; I want to get them fed.”

Back home in Tuscon, Ianello’s two daughters were as close to the TV screen as they could possibly get, touching the image of mom’s face.

“Oh, she’s talking about us!” 4-year-old Natalie excitedly exclaimed.

They must hear that phrase often when mom is at home.

Alas, Ianello was referring to her big girls, the Wildcat fivesome who pulled off the improbable to advance to the NCAA Women’s Championship final, beating UCLA and Stanford. It marks the first time a No. 8 seed has advanced past the quarterfinals, let alone to the championship match.

“This team is rolling on a lot of momentum,” said Ianello, referring to the dramatic eagle from transfer Bianca Pagdanganan that put Arizona in a playoff for the eighth and final spot.

Ianello, a 38-year-old Arizona grad, played for the Wildcats from 1998-2003 as Laura Myerscough. In 33 career collegiate appearances, Ianello posted a 75.92 stroke average to go with eight top-10s and four top-20 finishes. She competed in three U.S. Women’s Opens, was a runner-up at the U.S. Women’s Amateur and represented the U.S. in one Curtis Cup and two World Amateur Team Championships. Ianello spent three years inside the top 10 of the Golfweek Amateur Rankings and played five seasons professionally.

That never-give-up mentality she has impressed upon her players in Stillwater was on full display when she roared back from a 5-down deficit at the 2002 Curtis Cup to win, 2 up.

As a college recruit, Ianello knew on her second official visit where she wanted to sign. She went home and told her father, Jerry Myerscough, that she was going to Arizona, even if he had to pay the tuition. When Marisa Baena holed out for eagle to clinch the 1996 NCAA Championship for Arizona and then turned professional, Ianello got her scholarship.

“She was going anyway,” said Jerry, “but at least it saved me some money.”

Jerry owns a number of restaurants, including four Arby’s, in Charleston, Ill., but has been hitting the road with his daughter for tournaments more than half her life. Jerry has walked the hilly terrain of Karsten Creek this week while Ianello’s husband, Jeff, is in New York on business. He choked up when word came down that the Wildcats had advanced to the championship match.

Jeff Ianello, an executive vice president for SeatGeek who last year was listed in Sports Business Journal’s Forty Under 40, will fly in for the final round on Wednesday. A nanny sent Ianello the video of her two daughters – Natalie and Joanna – in front of the TV. It immediately melted the heart of the weary coach.

Motherhood has helped Ianello find a different perspective at work, lightened the mood when things went south.

“As you get a little older and you have your own children, you realize the most important things in life aren’t necessarily winning,” said Ianello, “it’s about making sure these young women turn into good adults. … Making sure you’ve at least led them down a path to be good human beings. Like a mom.”

In January, Ianello and associate head coach Derek Radley took the team on a retreat to the local Hilton in Tucson, where the team stayed together in a casita and engaged in various team building exercises, like putting together Oprah Winfrey-style vision boards. Ianello said it was mostly a get-to-know-you session for freshman Yu-Sang Hou. Having a strong player come in midseason can be threatening, Ianello said.

“I think they needed to to get to know her personally before they saw her golf game,” she said. “That’s what that did and they loved her from Day 1.”

On Wednesday, Hou will take on Alabama’s best player, Lauren Stephenson, in the afternoon’s opening match. Ianello felt good about how the final matchups went down. She figured Alabama would put its three first-team All-Americans out first again and wanted to make sure that Pagdanganan was somewhere in the first three slots. She’ll take on Cheyenne Knight in the third match.

Pagdanganan transferred from Gonzaga to Arizona this season and felt like she grew close to her new coach fairly quickly. She appreciates that Ianello is straight to the point, funny and firm.

“She really tells you want she wants from you,” said Pagdanganan. “She doesn’t sugarcoat anything.”

Like on Tuesday, when Ianello was operating on three hours of sleep and her weary players weren’t much better off. Ianello told them that it’s “go time.” Everyone can sleep on Thursday.

“Win or lose tomorrow,” she said, “this has been a hell of a ride.”

Latest

More Golfweek
Home