OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After the second round of the NCAA Women’s Championship, Southern California is in second. And after taking a second to let that sink in, sophomore Lizette Salas didn’t have a second thought about her feelings.
“We’re tired of it,” Salas said.
The defending national champs have finished second five times this season without posting a victory. When the last putt dropped at each event sealing the Trojans’ runner-up fate, either UCLA or Arizona State was ahead of them.
It’s been a similar story through two rounds at Caves Valley.
USC improved six shots on Day 2 and moved from fourth to second Wednesday after a 7-over 295. Still, they were looking up at cross-town rival UCLA. The Bruins, No. 2 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, sprinted ahead on the heels of sophomore Maria Jose Uribe’s stellar 66. First-round leader Denver took a dip, scoring 10 shots worse than its opening 294 and fell to third. Top-ranked Arizona State struggled for the second day in a row, but ended in a tie for fourth, 11 shots back.
“Our goal is to improve every day,” USC coach Andrea Gaston said. “We’re getting there.”
Despite playing the bridesmaid role throughout the season, Gaston isn’t weeping over the results. The third-ranked Trojans graduated Dewi Schreefel, the 2006 NCAA individual champ, and third-team All-American Paola Moreno after winning the national championship last year in New Mexico. Just two players – junior Belen Mozo and Salas – remain on the national championship squad this year.
“It was a dream year last year,” Gaston said. “Even though we’ve been great this year, I think we are like underdogs because we haven’t been able to win.”
Freshman Jennifer Song and Salas have plugged the gap in the Trojans’ lineup. Both are contenders for player of the year and are ranked No. 2 and 3, respectively, in Golfweek’s rankings. Song finished runner-up at the Pac-10 Conference Championship and NCAA West Regional, and is pacing USC at the national championship, as well. She is tied for sixth after rounds of 72-73. Salas is tied for 14th.
“They still have a lot of strength in their roster,” UCLA coach Carrie Forsyth said. “I’ve been pretty impressed with what they’ve been able to do.”
Forsyth, however, wasn’t completely pleased with her own squad. Despite shooting a second-round best 293, the Bruins were sloppy coming in. The team was 4 over on their last four holes of the round – Nos. 6-9 – and got stuck in Caves Valley’s thick rough. More focus will be needed in Round 3, Forsyth said, if the Bruins hope to maintain their lead.
“These fairways are wide,” Forsyth said. “You’ve got to pick a target and swing. We have to be more aggressive.”
Despite improving four shots, Arizona State coach Melissa Luellen wasn’t thrilled about her team’s performance either. Freshman Carlota Ciganda, who won the Pac-10 and NCAA West Regional titles, made six bogeys and a double en route to a 76. Juliana Murcia and Jaclyn Sweeney each had 77. The Sun Devils’ lone bright spot was defending NCAA champ Azahara Munoz, who followed a 78 with a 71, and moved from T-60 to T-16.
“We saw some frustration out there,” Luellen said. “We let it get to us. But we’ll learn from it and make a bunch of birdies tomorrow.”
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While the morning wave of teams ate lunch on Caves Valley’s pristine patio, North Carolina, the first team off in the afternoon, was having a feast of its own.
The action was relentless. Sydney Crane birdied her first three holes. Catherine O’Donnell, the first-round co-leader, birdied two of her first four. Lauren Hunt was 1 under after three and Allie White had four straight pars.
All of a sudden, the Tar Heels were leading the national championship.
“I looked up at the scoreboard and said, ‘Holy crap, we’re really in it,’ ” White said.
The momentum didn’t last, however. O’Donnell came home in 42, White made triple bogey on the par-4 16th, and Crane bogeyed three of her last six. The Heels fell into a tie for fourth after a 13-over 301.
“We stumbled, but we played pretty well,” coach Sally Austin said. “If you hit your bad shots, you have to recover and make bogey.”
Still, North Carolina wasn’t pouting. The Tar Heels didn’t make the national championship last year, and to be in the mix after two rounds this year has been special.
As White said with a smile, “It just feels like you’re at the Masters.”
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Short shots: Pepperdine freshman Lisa McCloskey played Nos. 8-16 in 4 under and shot 69, the second-best score of the day, to move into a tie for second individually. The Waves went 14 shots better in Round 2, the biggest stroke improvement of any team in the field. . . Duke finished a shot better than Pepperdine in the afternoon wave and moved into the top 12 for Round 3. . . . Wake Forest senior Nannette Hill also moved into second with a 71. “I’m playing pretty smart,” she said. “It’s about pacing yourself around [this] course.”