The University of Arkansas women's golf team (Texas Sports Information photo)
AUSTIN, TX (May 9, 2018) - As expected, Arkansas cruised to the seventh victory of its historic season on Wednesday at the UT Golf Club in Austin, Texas. Just about everything else that unfolded at this NCAA Regional in the past 24 hours, however, falls under the category of unexpected.
The Austin Regional will go down in this season’s history books as the one with all the sickness. Five players withdrew from the tournament in the final two rounds, including three players from East Carolina, as a mysterious illness spread through the field. On Wednesday, Baylor’s Maria Vesga withdrew after seven holes because she was too sick to continue, but the team still managed to advance with only four players on the course. They rallied for an even-par 288 total in the final round, and at 5-over 869, earned the fifth spot on the leaderboard.
“It’s hard to put into words, because at 6 o’clock this morning I would be lying if I didn’t say my first thought was that we were going to have to forfeit today and that we were not going to have a chance to go, because two of our players weren’t going to be able to finish,” Baylor head coach Jay Goble said.
Baylor’s hero was Dianne Baillieux, who finished her round – with an even-par 72, no less -- despite being sick, too. Baillieux said Goble stuck with her the whole day, and that the biggest challenge was finishing the round after feeling weaker and weaker on the back nine.
“I started to become whiter and whiter,” Baillieux said. “And then on No. 13, I thought I would stop playing.”
This is Baylor’s fifth time advancing to the national championship. The team made it to match play in the NCAA finals last year, only to lose to Stanford in the first round.
Baylor was part of a three-way tie for third with Auburn and Florida. Auburn was the day’s biggest mover, climbing five spots up the leaderboard with a 2-under 286. Host Texas skated safely into the national championship above that trio, finishing the week at 15 under, and Oklahoma rounded out the top 6 teams with a 6-over total.
As for Arkansas, it’s hard to believe that a year ago at this time, the team was on the outside looking in. What a difference a year can make.
“We came here on a mission,” Arkansas head coach Shauna Estes-Taylor said. “We missed making it to nationals as a team last year, and this group has done a fantastic job this year. This is just a part of the journey and a part of the process. Now that we’ve taken care of this one, we will go back and take finals and start preparing for Karsten Creek.”
Arkansas frontwoman Maria Fassi won the individual title, her sixth this season, at 8-under 208. Behind her, Texas A&M senior Maddie Szeryk was the first advancing individual, followed by BYU’s Rose Huang and Houston’s Leonie Harm in a tie for fourth.
ROUND TWO RECAP
Dylan Kim of Arkansas
Carol Robertson, at the helm of a fledgling Virginia Tech team for the third year now, knows how this NCAA Regional game works. It’s not one good round but three that matter if you want to play in a national championship. The Hokies are more than halfway there.
Virginia Tech is building a potentially great story at UT Golf Club in Austin, Texas. This is the first time the three-year-old team has been to the postseason, and so far it’s holding steady among the top 6 teams. Virginia Tech followed an opening round of even par with a 5-over 293 effort on Tuesday to remain in a tie for fourth.
That’s the good news. The challenge is in how many other teams will be jockeying for position. Baylor, Oklahoma and Texas A&M are also at 5 over. Auburn is close behind, in solo eighth at 7 over.
“I can’t say I’m surprised,” Robertson said in an interview after Monday’s round. “If these girls get going, I know they’re super talented. . . . What we’re going to go with after today is great job, pat yourselves on the back, you guys did some great, brilliant, impressive work today, but it takes three days of that to get to a national championship.”
The other storyline in Austin has been the back-and-forth battle between top-seeded Arkansas and host Texas at the top of the leaderboard. Texas finished on top after Round 1, but Arkansas rallied on Tuesday with a 17-under 271 effort to take a commanding 11-shot lead. The Razorbacks are all but untouchable now, which has been pretty common for them in this six-win season. Arkansas slaughtered the par 5s in Round 2, going 18 under on those holes.
Arkansas’ big lift came from its No. 3 player, Alana Uriell, who posted a 7-under 65 that included only one bogey. Dylan Kim and Kaylee Benton added rounds of 4-under 68.
Behind Arkansas and Texas, Florida sits in solo third at 2 over. The Gators moved three spots up the leaderboard Tuesday, but are only three shots ahead of the crowd in fourth.
ROUND ONE RECAP
Sophia Schubert of Texas
If there’s anywhere you want to meet the top-ranked team in the nation – and the top-seeded team in an NCAA Regional – it’s in your backyard. That was the story of the day for Texas, which is hosting regionals at the UT Golf Club in Austin, Texas as the No. 2 seed this week.
The Longhorns played alongside Arkansas in the first round, getting a front-row seat to a team that has won six times this year and opened the regular season back in September with an NCAA record-tying 41-under team total. Texas not only kept pace on its home turf, but outscored the Razorbacks. The Longhorns posted 7-under 281 and lead Arkansas by three shots after Round 1.
Texas fared well on the par 3s, and it made all the difference. The team played those holes in 5 under, which was better than any other team. Texas also led scoring on the par 4s, whereas Arkansas fared best on the par 5s – to the tune of 7 under. The teams clearly play different games, but they’ve been two of the highlights of this year, each setting program records on their way to multiple-win seasons. They’ll play together again in the second round, along with Michigan State, too. As the third team in that marquee pairing, Michigan State was close behind at 3 under in the first round.
After the first day of regional play, Austin may have produced the most interesting regional leaderboard, or at least the one with the best storylines. After Michigan State, the next three spots on the team leaderboard belong to Virginia Tech and Baylor, tied for fourth at even par, then BYU and Florida, tied for six at 3 over.
Virginia Tech’s program is only in its third year of existence, and this is its first trip to NCAA regionals. The Hokies scored the No. 14 seed this week and entered the postseason ranked No. 55 by Golfweek. Virginia Tech is even keeping a live blog on its web site to document an experience that is historic for such a young team.
On the individual leaderboard, Texas A&M senior Maddie Szeryk came out firing in her final postseason run as an Aggie and leads the tournament. Szeryk started on the back nine, turned in 3-under 33, then made eagle on the fifth hole. She finished with 4-under 68 and is one shot ahead of four players that includes Maria Fassi of Arkansas.