NCAA women's golf: Kent State leads Arizona by eight at East Lansing Regional

Nick Novelli

NCAA women's golf: Kent State leads Arizona by eight at East Lansing Regional

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NCAA women's golf: Kent State leads Arizona by eight at East Lansing Regional

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As soon as the ball left the clubface, Michaela Finn turned to her coach and said “That’s as good as I can hit this 4-iron.”

Finn couldn’t have been more spot on. The ball landed 6 feet short of the hole on the 18th, took a couple hops and fell into the cup. The closing eagle from 167 yards at Forest Akers West Golf Course helped Kent State build an eight-shot lead over 2018 NCAA champs Arizona at the East Lansing Regional.

“I think they’re a confident group,” said Kent State coach Greg Robertson. The Flashes’ finished the regular season with a program-best scoring average of 288.15 and a record-tying six tournament titles.

REGION SCORES: Auburn | Cle Elum | Norman | East Lansing

The top six from each region advance to the NCAA Championship, held May 17-22 in Fayetteville, Ark.

Junior Pimnipa Panthong’s 4-under 68 led Kent State to a 6-under 282. Finn and Thitapa Pakdeesettakul added 71s while Karoline Stormo and Chloe Salort posted a pair of 72s.

Freshman Pakdeesettakul is the only newcomer to a lineup that advanced to match play at last year’s NCAA Championship. In fact, the Flashes made it to match play in both 2017 and 2018.

“I think honestly top to bottom Nos. 1-8 on our team, even the three that aren’t here have worked extremely hard and their golf games have really kind of pushed these five that are playing,” said Robertson. “It’s really all kind of started with Karoline, her work ethic and the success she’s had just filtered through the team.”

Stormo has won four tournaments this season and holds an 71.70 scoring average.

Panthong, the rock of the past two seasons, hasn’t been as spectacular in her third year.

“Maybe today was the start,” said Robertson of her five-birdie round.

Stanford’s sluggish start

No need for the Cardinal to panic, but one of the postseason’s most consistently strong teams sits in a share of eighth place after Round 1, four shots back of sixth place. Only one Stanford player, Mika Liu, broke par in the opening round. The top-seeded Cardinal have won regionals for three consecutive seasons and advanced to the NCAA Championship nine straight times.

LIVE BLOG: Follow the regionals

“The challenge of regionals is that you’re always competing against some schools who are free-swinging,” head coach Anne Walker said at the start of the event. “For a lot of them, they’re pleased to be there and have nothing to lose. For a team like us coming off a good year, we can’t play defensively; we have to play conservatively to limit big mistakes and we’ll be OK.”

Chip shots

Host school Michigan State finds itself narrowly inside the cutline after the first round. Haylin Harris led the way for the Spartans with a 69 and sits in second in the individual race. Paz Marfa and Sydney Naro posted four double-bogeys between them. … This marks the third time MSU has hosted a regional tourney at Forest Akers and the first since 2002. … Indiana hasn’t advanced to an NCAA Championship since 2007. The Hoosiers find themselves in a share of fourth after Round 1. IU’s tie for second at the weather-shortened Big Ten Championship was the program’s best finish since 2004.  … PGA of America President Suzy Whaley’s daughter, Kelly, opened with a 70. The University of North Carolina senior is currently in a share of third individually while her team struggles at the bottom of the board. The top three individuals not on an advancing team qualify for the NCAA Championship. … Day 2 of the three-day event is on Tuesday.

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