How far back does déjà vu apply? At the 2019 NCAA Women’s Championship, it can be as short as a few days, or as long as a year.
For the third time in 72 hours, thunderstorms interrupted play at Blessings Golf Club in Fayetteville, Ark., forcing the NCAA D-I Women’s Golf Committee to once again tinker with the schedule. Instead of whittling down the remaining teams from eight to four to two on Tuesday as planned, only the match-play quarterfinals could be completed by day’s end due to the six-hour delay.
Half the action didn’t mean half the drama, however. All four of the quarterfinal contests were decided by 3-2 margins, the first time that’s happened since the addition of match play into the national championship five years ago, with three of the top four seeds losing.
Winning close matches is something Arizona has become accustom to, having done it through their NCAA title run a year ago at Karsten Creek. The defending national champions carried over the good vibes on Tuesday when they faced Pac-12 rival USC, the No. 1 team in the country entering nationals. The Trojans grabbed two points from Malia Nam and Alyaa Abdulghany, while the Wildcats’ Bianca Pagdanganan and Y.C. Chang won their matches.
Once more, Arizona relied on Haley Moore, who won the deciding point in last year's championship match against Alabama and was 3-0 in match play a year ago. The senior from Escondido, Calif., came from 3 down when play was suspended by the storm to win over Gabi Ruffels, making a 12-foot birdie on the 18th hole for a 1-up triumph.
Looking to fill their airtime during Tuesday’s rain delay, Golf Channel showed last year’s championship match. That gave Moore the chance to see her victorious moment once more.
“I think watching the replay gave me some confidence because I know that a win can happen even if you don’t start off well,” Moore said. “Sometimes you just need a spark, and I think seeing that and knowing that my team is behind me no matter what happens was awesome.”
“I’m so proud of her,” said Arizona coach Laura Ianello. “Because nobody deserves it more than her. She works really hard, and she battled today. … She got to relive the moment [from 2018], which was really cool.”
Arizona will square off on Wednesday against Duke, who prevailed over Stanford in their quarterfinal clash. The two schools split the first four points, with the overall match resting on the outcome of Blue Devil senior Virginia Elena Carter versus Cardinal junior Ziyi Wang. Carter, the NCAA individual champion as a freshman in 2016, had a 3-up lead with three holes to play, only to see the match go to extra holes. On the 24th, Carter finally prevailed with a birdie in the gloaming.
“We saw a lot of changes on this course so it can be hard to get back in the rhythm of things,” Carter said. “When you’re making good shots and then have to stop for such a long time it can be hard to get back to it. I don’t think I played as well in the afternoon as I did this morning so I’m happy to get the win.”
Host Arkansas, led by NCAA individual champion Maria Fassi, saw its dream of winning on its home course come to an end when Wake Forest’s Jennifer Kupcho, the No. 1 ranked amateur in the world, defeated Razorback Kaylee Benton, 1 up, in the deciding match to allow the Demon Deacons to prevail.
Wake Forest will face Auburn in their semifinal on Wednesday after the Tigers survived a long Tuesday at The Blessings. First, coach Melissa Luellen’s team had to wrap up the weather-delayed third round of stroke-play qualifying to officially secure the eighth and final spot in match play. Then the Tigers found themselves 3 down in four matches against No. 1 seedTexas, only to flip the script. As sunlight was quickly fading, Mychael O'Berry won the 17th and 18th holes to upset UT's Sara Kouskova, 1 up, (after being 3 down with five holes remaining). Then redshirt freshman Brooke Sansom sealed the third and deciding point over the Longhorns when she beat Emilee Hoffmann with a birdie on the 20th hole of their match.
“It was an amazing moment. 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,” Luellen said. “For a freshman to have nerves of steel like that and Mychael O’Berry owning those last four holes, it was awesome.”
The rescheduled championship means that the semifinals and finals will now be played on Wednesday. The good news? The forecast calls for mostly sunny skies.
Semifinals (all times local):
7 a.m. – Semifinal #1 - Duke vs. Arizona, first tee
7 a.m. – Semifinal #2 - Wake Forest vs. Auburn, 10th tee
2:25 p.m. – Winner Semifinal 1 vs. Winner Semifinal 2