Arkansas' Maria Fassi wins ANNIKA Award after dominant junior season

Bruce Kluckhohn - USA TODAY Sports

Arkansas' Maria Fassi wins ANNIKA Award after dominant junior season

Women

Arkansas' Maria Fassi wins ANNIKA Award after dominant junior season

For the first time in five years, the top player in women’s college is in the SEC.

Maria Fassi was announced as the 2018 winner of the ANNIKA Award Presented by 3M on Wednesday, marking her as the first SEC player to earn the honor in its five-year history.

The ANNIKA Award honors the player of the year in women’s college golf, as selected by college golfers, coaches and members of the golf media.

“I don’t have words to explain how excited I am and how grateful I am to be receiving this award today,” Fassi said on Golf Channel.

UCLA’s Lilia Vu and Wake Forest’s Jennifer Kupcho were the other finalists for this year’s honor. Vu, a junior gunning to become the third Bruins player to capture the award, won four times this season and also boasted a pair of runners-up showings. Kupcho, also a junior in 2017-18, triumphed four times as well – with an end-of-season surge by winning her regional and then the NCAA individual title.

Fassi, though, was virtually unstoppable this season.

The Arkansas junior dominated in 2017-18 as she won six times, including the NCAA Austin Regional. Fassi finished second at the SEC Championship (losing in a playoff), and prior to the NCAA Championship had no finishes worse than 12th on the season.

Her stellar play helped key in an historic season for Arkansas, one that saw the Razorbacks win seven times and capture their first SEC title in program history. They entered the NCAA Championship ranked second in the country and Fassi was No. 1 individually.

Nationals didn’t go as planned, though.

Fassi opened 81-78 at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla., and battled back with closing rounds of 73 and 75. But it only led to solo 66th individually, and Arkansas failed to reach match play at NCAAs for the first time.

It was a tough week in an otherwise otherworldly campaign.

Fassi continues a trend of international ANNIKA winners. The Mexico native makes it four straight victors who were born outside the U.S.

Following the inaugural winner in 2014 being American Alison Lee (UCLA), the honorees have been in 2015 Ireland’s Leona Maguire (Duke), England’s Bronte Law (UCLA) in 2016 and Maguire again last year.

With this year’s honor, Fassi earns an exemption into the Evian Championship.

She will return to Arkansas for her senior season and has already made it clear she intends to stay until the end, as the Razorbacks are set to host nationals in 2019.

“We have one mission left to accomplish, and we’re going to be working all year long to accomplish that mission next May,” Fassi said.

Fassi could also become the first back-to-back ANNIKA winner next season if she plays her cards right.

There’s much to celebrate but still plenty of possibility for this year’s honoree.

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