Genesis Invitational

Riviera Country Club

The Loop

USC women hold halfway lead at NCAAs

__ATHENS, GA.—__The USC Trojans took control on the second day of the NCAA Women's Championship with a course- and tournament-record 12-under 276, good for a 36-hole total of 16-under 560 that has them 12 shots ahead of defending champion Alabama. Anchored by freshman Annie Park, whose precision putting carried her to a five-under 67, the women in gold and cardinal added a round of 69 from Kyung Kim and two 70s from Sophia Popov and Rachel Morris to complete a historic day.

"We got off to a great start, hitting great shots, making birdies," said USC women's coach Andrea Gaston, who felt like more of a spectator than a coach for most of the round. "With a start like that, the momentum can really help the rest of the team."

That was certainly the case on a day when the greens at the University of Georgia GC firmed up, but friendlier pin positions allowed for slightly more aggressive play on certain approach shots. Having a round in the books seemed to make some players more comfortable in Round 2. A Tuesday 67 by San Jose State's Regan de Guzman led the field by two shots, but on Wednesday, Alabama's Stephanie Meadow, Vanderbilt's Jenny Hahn, Tulane's Maribel Lopez Porras, and USC's Park all shot 67.

"I'm just trying to be committed and relaxed over every shot," said Meadow, whose eight-under 136 leads the individual race by one shot over Park. "I set a goal this week and it was all mental."

USC may have a commanding lead, but the experiences that some of Trojans have dealt with recently may prove more beneficial than the 12-shot cushion.

In both 2010 and 2012, USC finished second at the national championship by a single shot. In this format, a significant number of strokes can be made up in only a few holes, a fact Gaston knows just how to deal with.

"Three of our players know what it's like to lose by a shot," said Gaston, referring to

sophomore Doris Chen and juniors__ __Morris and Popov. "It's a very demanding course and the hole locations will get really tough out there. You have to remain in the moment."

Alabama coach Mic Potter wasn't disappointed with his team's play thus far and found comfort in the strength of his players.

"I think I feel pretty good. We are capable of shooting what Southern Cal shot today," said Potter, noting that the Crimson Tide came from behind to win three events earlier in the season. "But now we have to be more aggressive. We have to let it go and free things up."

Dan Brooks, who coached his Duke squad to three consecutive titles from 2005-07, wasn't intimidated by USC's record-setting day. Led by freshman Celine Boutier's two-under 142, the Blue Devils are in third place, 15 shots back at one under.

"We've gone low before—in fact we've gone low his spring," he said. "I was very happy with my team because we got into some trouble early. But there was no panic. We played our final holes really well."

Anything can happen with 36 holes still to play. Last year at this time, USC trailed Alabama by 14 shots only to cut the lead to two after 54 holes before a back-and-forth final round ended with a one-shot Alabama victory. Drama looms with two days remaining.