After going 29 years without an NCAA title, the Stanford women's golf team has a chance to repeat.
Earning hard-fought 3-2 wins Tuesday against South Carolina and Duke, the Cardinal meets Washington on Wednesday in an all-Pac-12 final for the national championship. The first match is set for 2 p.m.
"We feel very fortunate to have played some wonderful golf," said Anne Walker, Stanford's Director of Women's Golf. "I couldn't be more pleased with this group of student-athletes. I really think it will come down to the last hole and I'm looking forward to being in that position with these guys."
The Huskies advanced by upsetting USC and stroke-play champion UCLA in a playoff.
Last year, Stanford captured the crown by defeating Baylor at the Concession Golf Club in Bradenton, Florida. All but one current player -- freshman Sierra Kersten -- competed. Seniors Lauren Kim, Mariah Stackhouse, junior Casey Danielson and sophomore Shannon Aubert, will try for another.
"I think it's important for us to realize that it's not about defending, it's about winning the 2016 title," Stackhouse said. "When we step on the tee tomorrow, that's our goal."
After finishing second in the 72-hole medal play portion of the championship, Stanford squared off against South Carolina in the morning quarterfinals.
Stackhouse embraces pressure and responded again. In last year's final against Baylor, she won the last two holes with birdies against Hayley Davis to force sudden death, then clinched the NCAA title by winning the first hole of a sudden-death playoff.
On Tuesday, Stackhouse came to the par-4 18th hole with a 1-up advantage against talented French-born freshman Marion Veysseyre. With national TV cameras rolling again, Stackhouse crushed her drive down the center of the fairway, then flushed a pitching wedge from 128 yards to two feet for a conceded birdie to claim the deciding point.
"A par is going to halve you this hole most times," said Stackhouse. "My goal was just to hit in the fairway and hit it on the green. It was fun."
Stackhouse helped Stanford overcome an early deficit, as the Gamecocks led in three matches, trailed in one and were all square in the other. She triggered the comeback, overcoming a 2-down hole after eight by winning nine, 10, 12 and 13, and tied the par-3 11th with a birdie.
"She has been here before and hit great golf shots," said Walker.
Kim earned the first point with a solid 6 and 5 victory, followed by Danielson, who prevailed 4 and 3. She was even in her match at the turn, then pulled ahead on 10 with a birdie, won 11 with a par, 14 with a birdie and 15 with a par.
Kersten gave Stanford an inspirational lift. Off first against junior All-American Katelyn Dambaugh, she fell 4-down after 10, but fought back. Kersten won 11, 12, 14 and 16, carding a pair of birdies. She had two long birdie chances to square the match at 17 and 18, but Dambaugh held on for a 1-up win.
"Just amazing and what makes Sierra special," Stackhouse said.
In the afternoon semifinals against Duke, Walker sent Stackhouse out first to set the tone and she responded with a 3-and-2 victory against Gurbani Singh.
"I loved being in that position," she said.
Kersten drew Celine Boutier, former NCAA Player of the Year, and pulled out a huge 4-and-2 win for Stanford's second point. Danielson delivered the knockout blow in a tight battle against Leona Maguire, parring the tough 18th hole to prevail 1-up.
"It was really good competition," Danielson said. "We stayed patient and played one shot at a time. We were waving at each other and you could just feel the energy, which is really fun."
Danielson is now 5-0 in match play at the NCAA Championships.
Teammates marveled about the toughness and resiliency of Kersten.
"I'm so proud of her," said Kim.
Walker has nothing but respect for Huskies.
"Washington plays with a lot of heart and plays really hard," she said. "They never quit. But I'd like to think our group has just as much heart."