May 8, 2013
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- For just the second time in school history, the South Carolina women's golf team is heading to the West Coast for regional play as it is set to tee off on Thursday in the 2013 NCAA West Regional in Stanford, Calif.
The 54-hole event runs through Saturday at the par-71, 6,267-yard Stanford Golf Course. The Gamecocks, who enter the tournament as the No. 12 seed, will be playing for their third regional title in four years and the program's 13th all-time berth to the NCAA Tournament. The top eight teams and two individuals not on those teams from each of the three regional sites will advance to the NCAA Championship, which will be held May 21-24 at the UGA Golf Course in Athens, Ga.
After watching her team battle to a third-place finish in challenging conditions at the SEC Championship, South Carolina head coach Kalen Harris will look to keep the momentum going in Stanford.
"Every regional is tough," said Harris, whose team won the NCAA East Regional last season. "Everybody seems to play their best golf, and that's what we need to do too. We can't worry about the other teams that are there. We need to focus on our own game, which is the approach we take every year. This is the time to stand up and be tough and elevate our game.
"The golf course at Stanford is a challenging golf course and a very good golf course. It's a good draw for our group in terms of being the most difficult of the three regional courses, which suits our game the best. We are going to go take care of our business and let the other teams fall where they are going to fall. Hopefully, that will be good enough at the end of the week."
Harris is keeping the SEC Championship lineup in tact for this week in hopes of a repeat performance. Sophomore Justine Dreher, who led Carolina with a tie for third finish at the SEC Championship, will occupy the No. 1 spot. Freshman Sarah Schmelzel, an SEC All-Freshman Team selection, is in the No. 2 spot after finishing tied for eighth at the SEC Championship, while junior Suzie Lee, senior Meredith Swanson and freshman Mary Fran Hillow will also tee it up for the Gamecocks this week.
Despite having two freshmen and a sophomore in the lineup, Carolina will have plenty of postseason experience on the course in Stanford. Dreher, Lee and Swanson all played key roles in leading the Gamecocks to the NCAA East Regional title and a fifth-place finish at the NCAA Championship last season, which is the highest national championship finish in school history.
"It's great having that experience," Harris said. "Winning the East Regional last year was a great experience for them. That success is something they can build off of this year and help the freshmen with. They are going to have good karma coming in and lofty goals, and (winning it all) is what we have set out to do again in the West."
If the Gamecocks are going to repeat as regional champions, they will have to go through a West Regional field that features 17 teams ranked in the Golfstat Top 50, including nine in the top 25. Top-ranked Southern California is the top seed, followed by No. 6 Arizona, No. 7 Vanderbilt, No. 12 Purdue, No. 14 Stanford (host), No. 18 Georgia, No. 19 Baylor, No. 24 Texas A&M, No. 25 Pepperdine, No. 30 LSU, No. 32 Denver, No. 37 Ohio State, No. 40 Oregon, No. 43 UNLV, No. 48 California and No. 49 Florida State. Miami, San Jose State, Harvard, Kent State, Northern Arizona, North Dakota State and Long Island round out the 24-team field. Nine of the teams in the field (Southern California, Pepperdine, Denver, UNLV, Harvard, Kent State, Northern Arizona, North Dakota State and Long Island) earned automatic bids after winning their respective conference championship. Carolina has faced 16 teams in the regional at least once this season and has compiled an 11-26 head-to-head record against those teams.
The Gamecocks are making their 15th-straight trip to the NCAA Regionals and their 20th overall. Carolina has a strong regional history under the guidance of Harris. The Gamecocks claimed the program's first regional title in 2010, winning the East Regional in Greenville, N.C. Harris led Carolina to its second regional championship last year, as the Gamecocks captured the East Regional title in State College, Pa., behind top-20 performances from Katie Burnett (T-3rd), Amanda Strang (T-14th) and Dreher (T-19th). Carolina has had three individual regional champions all-time in Burnett (2010), Bénédicte Toumpsin (2008) and Siew Ai Lim (1995).
Carolina will tee off in the first round on Thursday at 7:30 a.m. PDT on the 10th hole and will be paired with LSU and Denver. Live scoring will be available through Golfstat.
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