Sports

Cardinal women's final test is the NCAA golf finals

 

The first order of business for the Stanford women's golf team upon arriving in the Bradenton, Fla. area Wednesday in preparation for the NCAA championships, which begins Friday, was to find somewhere to eat.

The second was to find a quiet place to complete homework assignments or, in the case of sophomore biology major Quirine Eijkenboom, take a chemistry exam.

"It's a balancing act," Cardinal coach Anne Walker said. "When you come to Stanford, you know that. The difference is the experience of being a student-athlete more so than the competition. They've all played under the gun. They are all high achievers who are not satisfied with good enough."

Last year's 18th-place finish, for example, wasn't good enough, especially after winning the Pac-12 title over then top-ranked USC. With basically the same group returning, the team talked a lot about changing preparations leading up to the final event.

Taking exams and finishing projects ahead of the NCAAs was part of the equation. Eijkenboom's exam was the major academic event of the week. The team can focus on the task at hand, which began with Thursday's practice round.

"It's the most important day of the week," Walker said. "That's when you collect all your notes, where you want to play the ball. If you screw up, it makes for a long week."

Stanford is fortunate enough to have several players with experience of the course at The Concession Golf Club, including junior Mariah Stackhouse, sophomore Casey Danielson and freshman Shannon Aubert, a two-time Florida state champion.

"There's a lot of action and you have to be fully aware of what you are doing," Aubert said of the course. "There is no time for mistakes. The fairways are wide open, with undulating greens. It plays fast."

Aubert opened her Stanford career by placing third at the Annika Intercollegiate and seventh at the Stanford Intercollegiate. She as one of three Cardinal golfers among the top 11 at the NCAA St. George Regional in Utah, in which Stanford finished second, behind USC, and ahead of Pac-12 rival California.

Junior Lauren Kim has been Stanford's most consistent golfer this season. She's been the Cardinal's top finisher seven times (in 11 events), including five of the past six. Stackhouse and Aubert have led the way twice each. At the recently concluded regional, Danielson scored lowest on the first day. Aubert was lowest on the second day and Kim as lowest on the final day.

Stackhouse, 25th at the Pac-12 championships and 58th at the regional, shot rounds of 71 and 69 on Monday at the Druid Hills Golf Club in Georgia to place fifth, two strokes out of second, in a U.S. Open qualifier. Danielson placed second in a qualifier at Windsong Farm Golf Club in Minnesota.

Stackhouse has played in two U.S. Open tournaments, in 2011 and 2013.

The Pac-12 has six teams, and individuals from three other schools in the conference, at the national event.

USC has placed either first or second seven times since 2003. UCLA has been first or second five times over the same span. Arizona, owners of two national titles, Washington and California are also participating.

Seven-time national champion Arizona State, Oregon State and Washington State each have an individual golfer. Pac-12 teams have won 15 national titles since 1990. The NCAA began sponsoring the championships in 1982.

Defending champion Duke is looking to become the first repeat champions since the Blue Devils won three straight between 2005-07.

The championship features a format change this year, with match play featured. All teams and individuals will complete three rounds of stroke play, with the top 15 teams, along with the top nine individuals not on an advancing team, will advance for one additional day of stroke play to decide the top eight teams and the individual national champion.

The top eight teams compete in match play over a three-day span, beginning Tuesday, for the overall championship.

"It makes for a long week if you make that far," said Walker, who thinks her team has a good chance of doing just that.

"We see teams from the Pac-12 all the time," she added. " We see we can compete."

A fact not lost on Aubert during her first year on the college circuit.

"It's great to be surrounded by such good teams," she said. "It helps us to prepare and it is motivating. It's a good way to measure ourselves."

Aubert is surrounded by talented golfers every day, something else she appreciates.

"I just think we have the greatest girls," Aubert said. "We are all different and yet we are all the same. They've helped me with school, with adapting or they are just there if you want to grab lunch and talk. I feel lucky to be golfing with such a great group."

They will be golfing for a national title this week. Aubert likely hopes her luck continues.

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