Bianca Pagdanganan (Arizona Athletics photo)
STILLWATER, OK (May 20, 2018) – Bianca Pagdanganan didn’t have to bring textbooks to the NCAA Women’s Championship. Finals are long done at the University of Arizona, so given the extra room for carry-on items, Pagdanganan brought her personal mascot: a giant stuffed unicorn named Sprinkles.
There’s significance in this for the Arizona junior. Pagdanganan transferred from Gonzaga at the beginning of the year, and promptly won her first tournament with the Wildcats. The team started calling her The Unicorn.
“She is a long ball-hitter for such a tiny thing that she is,” Arizona head coach Laura Ianello said in explanation. “The thing about Bianca, she is just pure joy to be around.”
Ianello couldn’t say enough good things Sunday afternoon about Pagdanganan and the impact she has had on this Arizona team. Ianello calls this a squad of “good human beings.” They’re less focused on individual results and more on the team. A big part of that comes from the new kid.
“Her main goal at the regional was, ‘I just want to be with the team!’” Ianello said.
Pagdanganan is playing the national championship for the third consecutive year after qualifying twice as an individual while at Gonzaga. She double-bogeyed her final hole in Sunday’s third round, but despite that remains at 6-under 210 and in a tie for second individually. It’s an exciting storyline, but Pagdanganan is still very much focused on the team.
Arizona drew a spot in the morning wave, which is a good thing for the third round. At 16 over and in solo third, the team is well clear of the shuffle that will happen around the 15th spot on the leaderboard this evening. That’s where the first cut falls. Tomorrow, the Wildcats need to be in the top 8 if they want to make match play. The last time they did that was in 2015. Two years ago, Arizona was one shot out of a playoff for the eighth and final spot on the bracket. Last year, Arizona didn’t qualify for the NCAAs.
While no player on this team knows what national-championship match play is like, there’s still plenty of experience in general. And plenty of aggression.
“Coach told us you shouldn’t try to over-power the course,” Pagdanganan said after her round. She thinks Ianello took special care to mention it to her because Pagdanganan has a tendency to go for things.
Junior Haley Moore has that tendency, too. She closed her opening nine (she started on No. 10) with an eagle after leaving herself an easy 6-footer from 180 yards.
Three under by the time she reached No. 8, her next-to-last hole, Moore snap-hooked driver off the tee three times trying to get one in the fairway. When Ianello saw the third shot she started running back to the tee. Luckily, the first ball was eventually found, but Moore had to take an unplayable. She ended up making triple bogey.
“It was just not the right time to hit three bad drives,” she said.
There were certainly hiccups on Sunday, but that’s Karsten Creek. Post-round, Ianello lamented the fact that her team got it to 6 under with two holes to play but finished at even par. It would have given Arizona more cushion going into the final round of stroke play, but the finish was by no means devastating.
Ianello thinks a lot of players have underestimated the impact of even par at Karsten Creek. She also knows that many of the players who played this course as juniors for the AJGA’s Ping Invitational brought back a few demons. Moore is one of them.
“The ladies played great today, they really did. You can’t harp on the bad stuff that was out there, just focus on the good,” Ianello said.
This Arizona squad includes three upperclassmen, but also a very new face in freshman Yu-Sang Hou. Ianello brought in Hou mid-season when she received abrupt news over the holidays that senior Krystal Quihuis would not return for the second semester. Hou brought a sweetness that has made her a good fit – not to mention the fact that she’s among the top 70 amateurs in the world.
Ianello likes the maturity that comes with her team’s experience. Moore and junior teammate Gigi Stoll played the U.S. Women’s Four-Ball in the days before NCAA Regionals. Both players, along with Pagdanganan, also played a one-day 36-hole qualifier for the U.S. Women’s Open between regionals and nationals. It’s a lot of golf to mix in with the end of the academic year.
“Coming into here, I was just getting a little tired, but I’m keeping my energy up,” Moore said. “Today was definitely my best round.”
Ianello gave players her blessing to continue competing and she thinks they appreciated the freedom. It’s a result of trust, and that’s good for everyone. The bond is strong.
“I know that my teammates and I can do it…I know that we can still keep plugging,” Pagdanganan said of knowing one good round stands between Arizona and the match-play bracket. “I just find all my teammates really inspiring.”
ABOUT THE NCAA Division I Women's Championship
30 teams and 6 individuals not on a qualifying
team make up the field for the championship of
Division I women's golf.
After 72 holes of stroke play, the individual
champion is crowned, and the low 8 teams advance
match play to determine the team champion.
View Complete Tournament Information