Defending champs Arkansas, Maria Fassi headline loaded ANNIKA Intercollegiate field

Bruce Kluckhohn - USA TODAY Sports

Defending champs Arkansas, Maria Fassi headline loaded ANNIKA Intercollegiate field

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Defending champs Arkansas, Maria Fassi headline loaded ANNIKA Intercollegiate field

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Arkansas senior Maria Fassi is looking for a three-peat this week in Minnesota.

Fassi, who has won the last two individuals medals at the ANNIKA Intercollegiate presented by 3M, is looking to add a third straight title when this year’s edition of the ANNIKA gets underway on Monday. The Razorbacks are also the defending team champions of the 54-hole tournament at Royal Golf Club in Lake Elmo, near St. Paul.

In Arkansas’ first event of the fall, the weather-shortened Cougar Classic, Fassi placed eighth while the Razorbacks were third behind winner Florida and Vanderbilt.

The Razorbacks, ranked third in Golfweek’s preseason rankings, are one of 12 teams set to compete this week at the ANNIKA. That includes the top seven ranked teams: No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 UCLA, No. 4 Duke, No. 5 Stanford, No. 6 USC and No. 7 Arizona, also the defending NCAA champion. No. 10 Texas, No. 11 South Carolina, No. 17 Northwestern, Oklahoma State and Minnesota round out the field.

“This event offers a fantastic platform to expand my Foundation’s mission to establish greater playing opportunities for junior and college golfers alike,” said the tournament’s host, Annika Sorenstam. “It’s great to see many of the girls who played in our ANNIKA Invitational junior series return to play with their college teams. We’re excited to work with Golfweek to make the ANNIKA Intercollegiate a ‘can’t miss’ kick-off to the NCAA golf season.”

The Crimson Tide are led by senior Lauren Stephenson, the top-ranked player in Golfweek’s preseason rankings, one spot ahead of Fassi. Stephenson led the nation in scoring last season at 69.76. Two-time U.S. Women’s Amateur winner Kristen Gillman will also compete for the Tide.

UCLA also boasts a strong lineup that includes senior Lilia Vu and sophomore Patty Tavatanakit. The Bruins will not have freshman Bel Wardle, however, as she recently left team to return home to England.

Duke will play its first ANNIKA without two-time ANNIKA Award winner Leona Maguire, who graduated last spring. Former top-ranked junior Hannah O’Sullivan will not start for the Blue Devils, but freshman Gina Kim will compete in her first college event.

Stanford will be without standout junior Albane Valenzuela, but will have junior Andrea Lee in the top spot.

USC is a two-time winner of the ANNIKA, in 2015 and ’16, and will be competing for the first time under new head coach Justin Silverstain, who previously served as the men’s assistant and replaced Andrea Gaston, who left after last season to take the job at Texas A&M.

And then there’s the defending national champions. The Wildcats will compete with the same five players that won them the NCAA title last spring at Karsten Creek, including Haley Moore and Bianca Pagdanganan.

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