ALBUQUERQUE--On the morning of the first round of the NCAA Championship, I often spend some time re-reading my game stories from past NCAA tournaments, hoping to jog my memory once again about what took place in recent years. In doing my due diligence this morning, I couldn't help but notice a recurring thread (besides Duke usually coming out on top after four rounds of play). Seemingly in each article there was a sentence eight or 10 paragraphs into the story that read something to the effect of:
"Southern California paced the field in Day 1, shooting a XX-over 2XX."
Counting them up, it turns out that four of the last five years the Trojans have been the leaders after 18 holes at nationals, including the last three seasons. How could it have been any surprise then to find them in the same position late Tuesday afternoon at the University of New Mexico Championship Course.
With a four-under 284, USC finished the day atop the leader board, five strokes ahead of Auburn and UCLA. Arizona State was fourth, six shots back, followed by Denver and Wake Forest tied for fifth (for full team leader board, click here to connect to Golfstat's live scoring). (The three-time defending champion Blue Devils finished in a surprising 18th place, 15 shots off the pace).
Two Southern California starters broke par: sophomore Belen Mozo posting a 69 and senior Paola Moreno shooting a 70, as the team played well enough to drop a 73 from 2006 NCAA medalist Dewi Claire Schreefel.
"Five times now huh," said USC coach Andrea Gaston about leading after 18 holes. "Well, we always want to start strong. That's a good sign, right?"
It is, of course, if you still wind up holding the lead after Day 4, something Southern California has done only once in this same time span, that being in 2003. This year's squad, however, appears to be different in that they're deeper than Gaston's previous groups, as evidenced by convincing victories at the Ping/ASU Invitational, the Pac-10 Championship and the West Regional.
"We're just trying to continue to improve each time we go out," Gaston said. "That's what we're hoping for. We have some momentum and confidence comes along with that."
If deja vu seemed to be taking place on team side, the same could be said with the individual competition. A year ago UC-Irvine's Selanne Henderson led the tournament with a 69 while fighting a 103-degree fever. This time around, Wake Forest's Nannette Hill took the opening-round lead with a school-record five-under 67 despite suffering from dehydration the previous 24 hours.
It started Monday when Hill complained of feeling extremely drained after her morning practice round. She retreated to her hotel room, where she slept all afternoon, sweating under the covers. She skipped the Demon Deacon team dinner and fell asleep for the night at 8:30.
On the practice range this morning preparing for her 8:40 a.m. start time on the 10th tee, the junior from Pelham, N.Y., still wasn't sure what to expect. "I couldn't even get the ball off the tee," she said. "Literally I've never hit the ball so bad in my entire life on the range. I actually told coach, 'I don't know how the hell I'm going to play today.' â¿¿ I really thought I could have shot some place in the 80s. That's how bad I felt."
"I wasn't sure she was going to be able to make it," said Wake Forest coach Dianne Dailey. "I kept trying to tell her that sometimes when you feel bad you really play your best."
Hill said she decided focused on just trying to play easy and swing smooth. Meanwhile she began to groove her putting stroke. She holed a 20 footer for birdie on the 12th, followed by a 10-footer for birdie on No. 15. On the par-5 18th, she lipped out for eagle from 40 yards out, making a four-footer to turn in three under. Birdies on the fifth hole (10 feet) and ninth (six inches) helped her tie the course record and take a two-stroke lead over a fivesome of players (for a full individual leader board, click here to connect to Golfstat's live scoring).