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Vagaries of match play can't keep USC women from their No. 1 ranking

By Ryan Herrington

Could match play unfairly level the playing field among college golf's top women's teams? That's the fear some have when the NCAA Women's Division I Championship committee agreed to add match play to help determine the team winner at nationals starting in 2015. If a certain team is the dominant force in stroke play thanks to its depth, but finds the vagaries of match play working against them, is that really how you want to determine the best team in college golf?

Yet the USC women did they best to prove that the vagaries of match play don't always work against the best teams. Playing at the Liz Murphey Collegiate last month in Athens, Ga., (sight of their 2013 NCAA title), the Trojans finished fourth in the 18-hole stroke-play qualifier, yet marched through the match play bracket to win their eighth title of the 2013-14 season. When you're good, you're good, no matter what format you play an event (and kudos to Georgia and coach Josh Brewer for deciding to try match play, providing a nice chance for top teams to give the format an early look before it goes into place next season).

After knocking off Arkansas in the championship match, USC remained the unanimous choice of the 20 voting coaches in the latest Golf World/WGCA women's Division I college coaches' poll. 

poll-women-d1-top-0421-518.jpgpoll-women-d1-bottom-0421-518.jpgA few tidbits from the latest D-I poll:

* The Trojans have been ranked No. 1 for 15 straight polls dating back to October 2012. It's the longest such streak since Golf World resumed the poll in 2001-02.

* Jumping from No. 10 to No. 6, South Carolina once again broke its own school record for its highest ranking.

* N.C. State fell out of the top 25 for the first time since October 2011.

Lynn University remained the unanimous No. 1 team in the latest Division II coaches’ poll. The Fighting Knights claimed their eighth team title of the 2013-14 season at the Bash at the Beach en route to receiving all 19 first-place votes. After the voting closed, the squad claimed its ninth victory, winning the Sunshine State Conference title by four strokes. The team takes this momentum into the NCAA postseason where it will try to defending its 2013 national title.

poll-women-d3-0421-250.jpgWashington U. of St. Louis held strong to the top spot in the latest Division III coaches’ poll. The Bears earned 16 of the 20 available first-place votes after winning four of their eight tournament starts. After the voting closed the squad claimed its fifth victory of the 2013-14 campaign with at the Illinois Wesleyan Spring Fling.

Methodist remained No. 2 in the poll, earning three first-place votes, with UT-Tyler hang in on to the No. 3 spot in the poll. Claremont-Mudd-Scripps moved up to No. 4 spot, earning the other first-place vote, with Williams rounding out the top five.

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News & Tours

USC women stay atop Golf World D-I coaches' poll

By Ryan Herrington

USC continues to make history as it remains ranked No. 1 in the Golf World/WGCA women's Division I coaches' poll. This marks the 13th straight poll that the Trojans have claimed the top spot, the longest such streak since the poll was resumed in 2001-02.

The last time coach Andrea Gaston's squad, which earned all 23 available first-place votes, did not hold the top spot was October 2012. The team's 13-straight No. 1 rankings exceeds the previous mark of 11 set by Duke from March 2003 to September 2004.

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News & Tours

USC women's win streak ends at 8, but squad is still No. 1 in college poll

By Ryan Herrington

The USC women can no longer boast of being undefeated in 2013-14 after losing to UCLA by six strokes Tuesday at the Allstate Sugar Bowl Intercollegiate. But that doesn't make the Trojans any less formidable than they were three days earlier. The defending NCAA champions still have the deepest lineup in women's college golf, and while their win streak ends at eight straight events dating back to last spring, they'll remain the favorite in every tournament they play between now and nationals in May.

While the most recent tournament finished after voting closed for the first spring edition of the Golf World/WGCA Division I college coaches' poll, USC would not doubt have still held the top spot in the ranking. Arguably the only difference might have been a few more first-place votes for UCLA, winners now of three team titles in five starts.

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News & Tours

Format finalized for NCAA Women's D-I Championship

By Ryan Herrington

NCAA logo.jpgSeven months removed from announcing it would incorporate match play to determine a national champion starting in 2015, the NCAA Women's Division I golf committee has finally determined just how it will do it.

On Wednesday, the NCAA Division I Championships/Sports Management Cabinet announced it had approved the recommendation from the women's golf committee to use the "4-2" format model: four days of stroke play, the first three determining the eight teams that advance to match play with the last used to crown a individual medalist, followed by two days of match play with the quarterfinals and semifinals played on one day and an 18-hole championship match played the next. This is the same format being used this spring by the men at the NCAA D-I Championship.

Related: College Golf's TV Issues Are A Good Problem To Have

The women's committee proposed this model Jan. 13 after holding a teleconference in which members weight its merits against a format that would have had only three days of stroke play -- which would have determined the schools to advance to match play as well as an individual champion -- with the three rounds of match play then contested over the next three days. (This was the format that the men used the past three seasons.)

The decision to follow the 4-2 plan was made in part based on feedback the committee got from coaches at the end of 2013 after both plans were explained during the WGCA Annual Convention. Of 191 coaches who answered a WGCA survey, 101 favored the 4-2 option compared to 87 for the 3-3 format and three abstaining votes.

Arguably one of the reasons the 4-2 format received the majority of votes among the coaches surveyed is that it is format preferred by representatives of the Golf Channel, which will be televising the women's championship from The Concession Golf Club in Bradenton, Fla., in 2015. Golf Channel is slated to broadcast the final three days  of the event, which means that under the 4-2 format it will be showing the crowning of the individual champion on the first day of its telecast and the team champion on the third and final day.

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News & Tours

Danielle Downey remembered gratefully by her Auburn coach

By Stephen Hennessey

There wasn't a need for a phone call or a knock at the door. Danielle Downey was allowed in Kim Evans' house at any time. She had the garage code. And utilized it nearly every day.
When Evans -- the Hall of Fame women's golf coach at Auburn -- was diagnosed with ovarian cancer last May, she relied on Downey, a former player back working for her alma mater, to attend to more than simply her golf team. Try walking Evans' dog. And bringing over groceries or a meal. Or simply stopping by to make her smile.
Downey was always there for Evans, which made the news of Downey's death in a single-car accident the evening of Jan. 30 that much more difficult to accept. Downey was 33.

"She was a special kid," Evans said Monday before flying out to attend services in Downey's hometown of Rochester, N.Y. "I'm going to miss her dearly. And the Auburn community will miss her." 

Downey at the 2002 NCAA Championships, where she finished tied for runner-up. Courtesy: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
Evans said the accident occurred less than half a mile from Downey's home in Auburn, Ala. Initial reports stated that Downey lost control of her car, which then flipped multiple times. Downey was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.

A report from the Auburn Department of Public Safety, released Monday evening and reported by the Associated Press, showed that Downey had alcohol in her system at the time of the crash.
In the early morning hours of Jan. 31, Evans happened to be awake when she received a call from associate head coach Andrew Pratt. Evans phoned Downey's father, Michael, who immediately drove from Tampa, Fla., to Auburn. Michael Downey stayed with Evans as they made arrangements.
"For me, I'm celebrating her life," Evans said. "I'm glad I was able to get to know her and her family for the time that we had her."

Evans recruited Downey as high schooler in upstate New York to come to Auburn in the late 1990s. Downey made her mark as a player by winning the SEC title in 2000 and finishing tied for second at the 2002 NCAA Championship, still the best individual showing by a Lady Tiger at nationals in school history.

A year later Downey turned professional and made it onto the LPGA Tour from 2006-'10. When her playing career wound down, she stayed on the pro circuit caddieing for Sarah Kemp (full time) and Laura Davies until calling Evans a little more than a year ago to tell her, "It's time I hang it up, coach."

Evans offered Downey the chance to help administratively with the Auburn golf teams, but her role on campus took a different dynamic when Evans' illness was diagnosed on the eve of the 2013 postseason. Downey stepped in as the interim coach while Evans met with doctors to determine her treatment, overseeing the squad as it claimed a sixth-place finish at NCAAs, its best result in the last eight years.
Every morning and every night during the championship, Evans said she and Downey spoke. And there were multiple text messages throughout the day to keep the 20-year head coach up to date on her team's status. 

And then through the summer, Downey continued to assist Evans. She even drove Evans to multiple chemotherapy treatments and to her first blood transfusion.
"She was a blessing," Evans said. "Occasionally, she'd call and say she was coming over. But most times she didn't have to knock. She was family for me."

Last fall, Downey took the role of Director of Golf Operations for both the men's and women's golf teams, and along with Pratt, helped guide the team with Evans finishing her cancer treatments.
As Evans spoke on Monday, she had just gone through the 190 text messages she received about Danielle last weekend. Which she didn't mind at all. To her, it was a fitting tribute to a player and friend she'll always remember.
"Someone asked if I needed help answering them, and I said, 'Heck, no.' I want to answer every one of them," Evans said. "I can't wait to talk about Danielle, and say thank you to them for reaching out.
"I still need to look at my emails and thank them for reaching out. And I'm still writing thank-you notes for what people did for me all last year. I have lots of thank yous, which I certainly don't mind doing because I am very thankful. And especially thankful for Danielle."
Evans says her own health has progressed as her doctors predicted. And she should be on schedule to coach the team in Puerto Rico later this month as the spring season begins.

A memorial service for Downey is scheduled for Feb. 13 at Auburn Arena.

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News & Tours

Final fall women's college coaches' polls

If you're a school not ranked No. 1 in the final Golf World/WGCA women's Division I, II or III coaches' poll, optimism might be a fleeting concept as the first half of the 2013-14 season has wrapped up. Given how entrenched USC, Lynn and Methodist appear to be in their respective polls heading into winter break, why bother with the spring campaign and lets simply hand out the NCAA trophies right now?

Of course I say this in jest. Talking to some coaches of teams chasing the No. 1s in each of the divisions, they appreciate the level dominance their opponents have shown in the fall. Yet at the same time the chasers believe they have played well enough that on any given week they could be victorious over all comers.

"We have a tremendous amount of respect for USC and what they've accomplished," said UCLA women's coach Carrie Forysth. "But I think we are confident that our team is capable of winning every tournament we enter. That hasn't changed this fall."

With that, here are the final fall polls. Read into them what you will as schools gets some rest before the spring season calls.

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News & Tours

Familiar feel to latest college women's poll: USC No. 1

By Ryan Herrington

I promise there is some surprise in the latest Golf World/WGCA women's Division I coaches' poll. It's just not with team that's ranked No. 1.

USC returns to the top spot, winners of its first two fall events and in the middle of a school-record five-tournament win streak dating back to last spring. However, the Trojans weren't the only school to receive first-place votes.

Indeed, where the interesting news comes from this time is that five other programs in addition to the Women of Troy had at least one coach pick them as the best team in the land.

See for yourself ...

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News & Tours

USC women keep top spot in coaches' poll

By Ryan Herrington

The name of the school atop the latest Golf World/WGCA women's Division I coaches' poll should come as no surprise, USC claiming all 21 first-place votes after starting the 2013-14 season with an impressive comeback victory at the Dale McNamara Fall Preview.

However, take a look at the rest of the top 25 and you'll see a few new names and a few names occupying a few spots for the first time in school history.

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News & Tours

USC women start 2013-14 at No. 1

By Ryan Herrington

Defending NCAA champion USC starts its title defense as the No. 1 ranked team in the Golf World/WGCA 2013-14 preseason women's Division I coaches' poll. The Trojans claimed the school's third women's golf championship when they won by a dominating 21-strokes at the University of Georgia GC last May.

All five starters return to Los Angeles, including last year's national player of the year Annie Park. Additionally, USC brings in the U.S. Girls' Junior champion Gabriella Then and five-time AJGA All-American Karen Chung as to challenge for starting spots as freshmen. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the Trojans claimed 26 of the 29 available first-place votes.

No. 2 in the poll is Alabama, the 2012 NCAA champs who bring back senior Stephanie Meadow, Golf World's No. 1 player to watch for the season, and sophomore Emma Talley, the reigning U.S. Women's Amateur champion.

Duke claimed the No. 3 spot, having finished runner-up to USC at nationals last May. Rounding out the top five are UCLA and Arizona State, both of whom picked up first-place votes (the Bruins getting 1, the Sun Devils getting 2).

Women's D-I preseson 1-10.jpg11-20 Women's D-I preseason.jpg21-25 Women's D-I preseason.jpg
Women's Also receiving votes.jpg
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News & Tours

Match play proposed for NCAA women's championship

By Ryan Herrington

The seemingly inevitable took another step toward becoming reality earlier this month when the NCAA women's Division I golf committee forwarded a recommendation to the NCAA Championship/Sports Management Cabinet that match play be incorporated into the NCAA Women's Championship to help determine the team winner starting in 2015.

Carol Reep, associate director for championships and alliances at the NCAA, said the women's golf committee made its decision to back the change during its summer meeting in early July. Reep was on hand at last week's U.S. Girls' Junior Championship in Fort Wayne, Ind., where she spoke during a meeting of women's coaches and outlined the proposal.

The plan, which the cabinet will review during its next meeting Sept. 10-11, calls for the women's championship to follow an identical six-day platform to the men's championship. Teams would play 54 holes of stroke-play competition with the low eight schools advancing into a match-play bracket where en route to crowning a champion.

The individual championship would follow the new 72-hole structure recently approved for the 2014 men's championship, with the low 36 players and ties after 54 holes of stroke play competing in a final 18 holes of stroke play that would proceed the start of team match play to determine the individual winner.

While the men's championship has 30 teams competing, the women's championship will continue to have 24 schools in the field. However, how they qualify for nationals would change as the proposal also calls for expanding from three regional championships to four. Each regional would have 18 teams and six individuals competing, with six schools and three individuals qualifying for the NCAA Championship.

The decision to move toward match play reflects the changing landscape of college golf, says Reep. In December, Golf Channel announced a partnership with the NCAA that would have the cable network take a proactive, year-round role in promoting the sport, including televising the men's championship annually beginning in 2014 and the women in 2015. Having these two flagship events in consecutive weeks played under different formats, however, has the potential of confusing fans that the game is trying to attract. Given the sometimes confounding nature of the play-five/count-four stroke-play format—along with the potential for less than dramatic blowout similar to what happened last May when USC cruised to a overwhelming 21-stroke victory—match play makes for the TV-friendly alternative. 

That the women might one day follow the path of the men and adopt match play has been a point of discussion since the men made the switch for the 2009 NCAA Championship. Opinions seem split, with arguments from women's coaches who are against the change not unlike those of men's coaches who have raised concerns that match play doesn't always identify the best team, not to mention the disconnect in using a format that's hardly every played during the regular season.

To that end, however, at least one prominent event appears ready to experiment with match play next season in preparation for the format's likely inclusion at NCAAs. Georgia women's coach Josh Brewer said via Twitter that the Liz Murphey Collegiate Championship will use the format when played in the spring of 2014.
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