The Pac-12 is justifiably known as the Conference of Champions. That its teams excel in national competition is undeniable; what is sometimes overlooked is the gauntlet that Pac-12 teams have to run in conference play just to reach the national stage.
During the week of the Pac-12 championships, the top three women’s golf teams in the country (not the conference, the country) were Washington, UCLA, and USC. Yet Arizona won the hotly contested Pac-12 championship (with upstart Oregon finishing second), and then, a few weeks later, Stanford won the national championship.
“That’s how it is in this conference,” says UA women’s golf coach Laura Ianello. “It may be almost as hard to win the conference championship as it is to win the national (title). The competition is fierce.”
It was the eighth Pac-12 title in Wildcat history and the first since 2010.
The ’Cats were led to the Pac-12 title by a squad that featured seniors Manon Gidali and Kendall Prince, junior Lindsey Weaver, sophomore Wanasa Zhou, and big-time freshman Krystal Quihuis, who would go on to be named Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, joining former ’Cats winners Erica Blasberg (2003) and Lorena Ochoa (2001).
After grabbing the conference crown, it was on to the NCAA Regionals in South Bend, Indiana. Playing in wet and cold conditions, the Wildcats safely finished fourth to move on to the NCAA championship round.
The new format for the NCAA women’s golf championship is an almost weeklong competition consisting of three rounds of medal play for 30 teams, then another special round of medal play by the surviving 15 teams, after which the top eight teams move on to single-elimination match play to determine the eventual champion.
“I love that they came up with a format that was TV-friendly,” says Ianello. “The Golf Network did a great job of showcasing NCAA women’s golf.”
During the first three rounds of the NCAAs, the ’Cats climbed as high as third place overall, but after the fourth and final round, they settled in at fifth and would meet fourth seed Stanford in the opening round of match play. Manon Gidali won her match, 3 and 1, but Kendall Prince and Lindsey Weaver lost their matches 2 and 1 and 2-up, respectively.
Wanasa Zhou’s match was tied after 18 holes. Had she been able to win, it would have tied the overall match at 2-2 and it all would have come down to the match featuring Quihuis. Instead, Zhou lost on the 20th hole, rendering Quihuis’s match moot. (Stanford went on to beat USC in the semis and Baylor in the finals.)
Ianello can’t wait for next season. “These girls realize just how close they came. They want to win it all next year.”