Letizia Bagnoli (Tim Cowie/Wake Forest)
Normally, Tuesday is a double-round day at the NCAA Women's Championship, but when thunderstorms rolled over Fayetteville, Ark., just after 10 a.m., players were pulled off the course for a delay that dragged on and on. Weather continued to roll through, and players spent a total of six hours killing time around the Arkansas facilities.
Still, it was a big day of match play as the semifinals were set. Catch up on the highlights below.
WAKE FOREST def. ARKANSAS, 3-2
Jennifer Kupcho def. Kaylee Benton, 1 up
Facing the home team in the match-play quarterfinals is a matter of perspective. Watch closely and you can learn the nuances of Blessings Golf Club, but that comes at a price. The home-course advantage is significant in Fayetteville, and Arkansas fans have been out in number all week.
Wake Forest head coach Kim Lewellen watched her players get a little more familiar with the golf course each day. The Demon Deacons had one of the strongest spring seasons of any team, winning three times in the four tournaments leading up to the national championship. Wake Forest played a lot more like that team on Tuesday than they did early week.
Lewellen knew it would be a tough match. She got roughly an hour of sleep on Monday night, but her message to the team was to be strategic and most important, commit to it.
“Watch what they do, see if it’s helpful. If it is, you need to commit to it and do it and don’t second-guess yourself on what you’re doing,” Lewellen said.
Wake Forest benefitted from an anchored lineup. After such a brilliant display of golf between Maria Fassi and Jennifer Kupcho at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, a follow-up match between Fassi and Kupcho would have been great theater, but it wouldn’t have been the best use of a powerhouse player.
Arkansas coach Shauna Taylor threw out Fassi first, but Lewellen matched her with Vanessa Knecht, a freshman who took Fassi to the 17th hole.
“I knew she was going to give every piece of her heart, 100 percent,” Lewellen said of her choosing Knecht for such a visible match.
Emilia Migliaccio brought in a 6-and-4 victory over Ximena Gonzalez in the next-to-last match and Kupcho clinched it. The big guns did exactly what they were supposed to do.
“To have Kup playing a tough competitor on the last hole, having to make this? You want her,” Lewellen said. “She’s been in that position, she’s going to be doing this for a living, you know she can handle that situation. That’s sort of what you want in the rear.”
• • •
ARIZONA def. USC, 3-2
Haley Moore def. Gabriela Ruffels, 1 up
A weather horn has maybe never sounded so good to Arizona head coach Laura Ianello as it did on Tuesday morning. The Wildcats had only played a handful of holes, collectively, in their quarterfinal match against USC but they were trailing.
“I think the break came at a perfect time because we were down, down, down and I didn’t see the momentum changing,” Ianello said.
Arizona, the defending champions this week, hardly internalized it or beat themselves up. In fact, Haley Moore and Ya Chun Chang took a nap on a bench. Ianello had to shake them awake for the 3 p.m. weather update, which turned out to be another delay. (Ianello made them do jumping jacks before the restart because “they were stone-cold asleep.”)
The other thing that happened during that six-hour weather delay is a sign of the new TV era for college golf. With no live coverage to show, Golf Channel cut to a replay of last year’s national championship. It was the Haley Moore show, and it’s hard not to get pumped up by that.
“That did give me some confidence because I did make some good putts coming down the stretch there and I was like, it could happen,” Moore said.
When play resumed at 4:15 p.m. CT, USC’s players went the other direction. The Trojans had difficulty with restarts all week, and it ultimately ended their run in match play.
If last year was the Moore show, then this is the Moore swan song. The 20-year-old walked across the stage before the national championship began. Ianello sat between her parents and bawled. There were tears in her eyes Tuesday when Moore closed out her match.
“I don’t know what the team is going to be like without her because she’s been such a huge force.”
• • •
DUKE def. STANFORD, 3-2
Virginia Elena Carta def. Ziyi Wang, 24 holes
There’s no quit in those Duke girls. Senior Virginia Elena Carta tied the record for longest match in the five-year history of NCAA women’s match play by going six extra holes against Ziyi Wang, a Stanford junior. Former Duke player Lisa Maguire set that record at the 2015 championship.
Carta is a senior with huge potential, on the golf course and off. She won the NCAA individual title as a freshman and finished runner-up at the U.S. Women’s Amateur a few months later. It has been a long road back to that point as Carta fought illness and injury throughout the middle portion of her career in Durham, N.C.
She was a Rhodes scholar finalist and spear-headed a pediatric fundraiser on the Duke campus over the past two years.
Carta won the second individual title of her career this fall at the Landfall Tradition. On Tuesday, she was Duke’s savior, even if she aged herself a bit by getting there.
“I had a lead, we lost that lead, and that’s why we went to extra holes,” Carta said.
At one point, Carta found herself shaking as the extra holes piled up – Wang was on a roll and charging – but she dug deep to calm herself. She just can’t put words to exactly how.
‘It was tough especially because I felt a lot of pressure, I didn’t want to disappoint my team,” Carta said.
• • •
AUBURN def. TEXAS, 3-2
Brooke Sansom def. Emilee Hoffman, 20 holes
If there were a comeback-of-the-day award given on Tuesday, it might go to Auburn. The Tigers were really the only team that had to come back near dawn and compete
for a spot on the bracket. They locked up the No. 8 seed then took on top-seeded Texas.
The outlook wasn’t good for Auburn most of the day, until the Tigers started flipping matches. Freshman Brooke Sansom was 4 down at the turn, but remarkably won Nos. 12-15 to square it. She led after a birdie at the par-3 17th, but lost 18. It took two extra holes to close it out.
“I just took it shot by shot,” Sansom said. “You can’t get ahead of yourself. I felt like I did that earlier in the match so I tried to remember what was important in the moment and go from there. It shows you it isn’t over until it’s over. You can’t give up, I sure didn’t.”
Auburn has never made it to match play at the national championship. Head coach Melissa Luellen didn’t sleep particularly well Monday night considering that her team had unfinished business at the course.
The closing moments more than made up for that.
“It was an amazing moment,” Luellen said. “I’m so proud of my young ladies and their fight, they never gave up. Brooke Sansom was four down and we had to flip a couple of matches. For a freshman to have nerves of steel like that and Mychael O’Berry owning those last four holes, it was awesome.”