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Oklahoma State, Ole Miss chasing first NCAA title in women’s final

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – The blue bloods have left the constructing.

USC, winner of three NCAA girls’s golf staff titles, bowed out early with an uncharacteristic efficiency in which the Trojans beat only one staff and missed the 54-hole minimize.

Another three-time nationwide champion, UCLA, ended up final among the many 15 groups who superior to Monday.

Arizona State, the file holder for many NCAA titles with eight, snuck into match play, however the hosts solely caught round for the quarterfinals.

Stanford, which hasn’t missed match play because the format was launched at nationals in 2015, dominated stroke play and continued its streak of enjoying NCAA Tuesdays, however the Cardinal fell in the first spherical to Arizona.

The Wildcats, three years faraway from their third NCAA triumph, then joined seven-time nationwide champion Duke, the reigning titleholder, in being eradicated in the semifinals.

With a lot {hardware} gone from Grayhawk Golf Club, it’s solely becoming that Wednesday’s final of the NCAA Division I Women’s Golf Championship will match two groups that haven’t solely by no means gained a nationwide title but in addition had by no means even made match play till this week. Oklahoma State swept Duke, 5-0, and Ole Miss held off Arizona, 3-2, to achieve the championship bout in the desert.

“You come here for the first time and I think sometimes you kind of get wide-eyed,” Oklahoma State head coach Greg Robertson mentioned, “but they just kind of put their heads down, did their thing and played their game.”

Added Ole Miss head coach Kory Henkes: “It’s a great opportunity for our program, to play at this high of a level. I think, ‘Why not us?’ We’ve worked hard like every other team here, so why not Ole Miss?”

Highlights: Ole Miss tops Arizona in women’s semi

With Grayhawk internet hosting its first of three NCAA Championships this 12 months and Omni La Costa Resort and Spa following with three straight nationwide tournaments in San Diego, expertise will quickly change into a good greater issue. But for now, what the Cowgirls and Rebels lack in NCAA match-play expertise, they greater than make up for in different areas, particularly in the team-chemistry division. Scan the sector this week and also you’d be hard-pressed to search out two extra tight-knit squads, particularly in the midst of a pandemic that has harassed social distancing over being social.

“You’re trying to build a team, get a team working together and getting close to each other, but then at the same time you’re telling them to stay away from each other,” Robertson mentioned. “That makes it tough, but somehow they’ve really gelled.”

For each NCAA finalists, it’s been a protracted season. Each started play in the autumn and competed in a number of codecs and below many alternative units of protocols. The Cowgirls needed to overcome constructive checks and contact-tracing conditions whereas the Rebels fortunately averted all however one scare, however each groups suffered notable accidents. Oklahoma State’s Isabella Fierro re-injured her proper wrist and missed some occasions. Ellen Hume starred for Ole Miss in the autumn however has made little influence this spring whereas battling bicep tendonitis and was subbed out after one spherical at Grayhawk.

Hume’s substitute this week, freshman Smilla Sonderby of Denmark, didn’t arrive on campus till January. Oklahoma State freshman Maddison Hinson-Tolchard of Australia began midseason, as nicely. Neither participant teed it up in convention championships and mixed for simply two regional rounds, although Sonderby was the quarterfinals hero for the Rebels on Tuesday, incomes the deciding level on the 21st gap in a win over Texas.

Unsurprisingly, staff constructing has been a fluid state of affairs for each head coaches.

For the Cowgirls, it’s been management by committee. All 11 gamers on the roster are right here at Grayhawk, with the 5 non-active gamers paying their very own option to Scottsdale. They bond nightly over dinners, the place Robertson bans cell telephones, and snigger at Robertson’s dad jokes that he writes atop their pin sheets earlier than every spherical.

Freshman Rina Tatematsu is usually the punchline, however the proficient Thai embraces her “Wiley Coyote” nickname. Her golf bag looks like she’s carrying bricks, she wears her golf uniform for the following day to mattress and he or she has a crush on Oklahoma State hoops star Cade Cunningham, who used to stay in her residence constructing in the unit immediately beneath her. (After Tatematsu took down Duke’s Phoebe Brinker, 3 and a couple of, her smile widened much more when she noticed that Cunningham had retweeted a video of her basketball-themed handshake with Robertson on the first tee.)

Tatematsu wins ‘tough’ match to get Pokes to final

The Cowgirls’ model of the probably No. 1 NBA draft choose is sophomore Maja Stark, who entered the NCAA Championship with two wins and three different top-3 finishes. The tremendous Swede boasts one of the vital full video games in the ladies’s school sport, together with the supreme means to overpower golf programs.

“When you’re looking at live scoring and she’s 1 up or tied, you just have this feeling that she’s going to pull it off,” Robertson mentioned.

Stark obtained up on Duke standout Gina Kim early and by no means trailed. Her 4-and-3 victory included seven birdies and commenced what ended up being a rout, as Fierro, now wholesome and fist-pumping along with her proper hand, together with Tatematsu, Hinson-Tolchard and Lianna Bailey additionally earned semifinal factors.

On Wednesday, Stark will once more lead off for Oklahoma State, drawing Ole Miss veteran Kennedy Swann. The spunky fifth-year senior is the engine that makes this staff go. While fellow senior Julia Johnson is a top-10 participant in the nation, Swann’s positivity is most infectious.

“There were even people laughing at me today because I was smiling so much,” mentioned Swann, who took down Arizona’s Vivian Hou, 3 and a couple of, in the first match to enhance to 7-1 in school match play. After each gained gap, Swann would leap up and wave to Andrea Lignell in the group behind. Lignell, who performed 40 holes on Tuesday (successful twice), ended up taking down Gile Bite Starkute, whose extra-hole birdie clinched the Wildcats’ quarterfinal victory over No. 1 Stanford earlier in the day, on the final gap. Johnson, now 9-2 in match play for the Rebels, earned the deciding level with a 2-and-1 conquer Ya Chun Chang.

Swann, whose hobbies embody skydiving and whitewater rafting, has a lot of the staff hooked on Game of Thrones. They’ve watched episodes whereas cooking meals collectively all through the season. Henkes playfully jokes that Swann is an “annoying little gnat.”

“She’s going to bug you and she’s going to be persistent until she gets what she wants, and that’s what I love about her,” Henkes mentioned. “She sees something she wants and she’s going to do whatever it takes to get it.”

Whether it’s In-N-Out Burger for dinner Tuesday night or a nationwide championship on Wednesday, Swann gained’t accept something much less. Her teammates are totally behind her on the latter (they need Raising Cane’s for his or her pre-final meal).

“They really are all best friends,” Henkes mentioned. “We don’t have the drama, they really just pull for each other and love each other, and I think that’s the biggest key at the end of the season – a lot of times you’re tired and ready to go home, but they’re here to fight for their team.

“They want to win, so they’re just fighting their hardest for it.”

Highlights: Oklahoma State advances in NCAA semis

Henkes isn’t an enormous speech-giver. Same with Robertson. The influence of successful an NCAA Championship doesn’t should be overstated. The Cowgirls’ greatest NCAA end was second in 2004, and as a faculty Oklahoma State, winner of 52 nationwide titles, has by no means had a girls’s nationwide champion. The Rebels first certified for nationals 4 years in the past and are making their third look this 12 months.

“They know what’s at stake; I don’t have to give them any kind of speech,” Robertson mentioned. “They’re going to come out, play their game and see where it ends up.”

Oklahoma State and Ole Miss won’t be blue bloods in girls’s school golf, however that’s high quality by them.

“We all are really nervous, you know, but at the same time excited, and I think this excitement beats the nervous,” Tatematsu mentioned. “We enjoy the pressure.”

Added Swann: “The lack of experience, I think, is just an advantage. We perform well as the underdogs.”

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