NORMAN, Okla. – The Michigan State women’s golf team is heading back to the NCAA Championships for the second straight year after a dramatic third and final round of the NCAA Central Regional on Saturday at the Jimmie Austin OU Golf Club.
Needing a top-eight finish in the 24-team regional, the ninth-seeded Spartans edged out eighth-seeded North Carolina State by one stroke and fourth-seeded Washington by two strokes for the eighth and final spot to nationals.
MSU shot a 4-over-par 292 on Saturday to finish at 20-over 884 (291-301-292) in the 54-hole tournament, securing the program’s 11th trip to the NCAA Championships. It also marks the ninth trip to nationals for the Spartans in the past 14 years, all under head coach Stacy Slobodnik-Stoll.
“I think the team was very motivated after not winning the Big Ten Championships,” said Slobodnik-Stoll. “I think we’re in a good place. It’s exciting to have a chance to compete for a national championship and try and reach our goal of finishing in the top 10 at nationals, which would be the best Michigan State has ever done.”
Junior Liz Nagel led the way with a career-low 68 (-4), which also marked the second-lowest single-round score in Michigan State history. Nagel tallied three birdies and an eagle in her round as she finished tied for 11th overall at 1-over 217 (72-77-68).
“It’s rewarding,” Slobodnik-Stoll of Nagel’s round. “We’re just so happy for her. It’s all there, and I hope she feels great about what she’s doing and where she’s at. There’s been a lot of ups and downs this semester.”
Sophomore Trisha Witherby shot the second-best round of the day for MSU with a 74, while senior Caroline Powers and junior Christine Meier counted toward the team score after they each carded rounds of 75.
The Spartans teed off at 8:30 a.m. ET and were in 10th place most of the round, but rallied down the stretch to put themselves in position for a top-eight finish. Over the final six holes, Michigan State carded a team score of 2-under-par to push past North Carolina State and Coastal Carolina.
On the final hole of the day for MSU at the par-5 18th, all four counting scores shot par; for NC State’s final hole at No. 9, the Wolfpack compiled a 1-over-par.
“The key was the final hole; 18 is a really, really tough hole, and all of the scores that counted got pars,” commented Slobodnik-Stoll. “That was a huge hole for us, we made it happen when we had to. My assistant coach Lorne (Don) keeps saying that he just can’t believe it comes down to one stroke. After all that, 24 teams, three days, it’s just amazing how tight it gets.”
Powers wrapped up MSU’s round with a 10-footer to save par, while Augusta James, the final player to shoot for NC State, carded a 5 on the par-4 ninth to give MSU the one-shot advantage.
Then the waiting game began.
With the other half of the field teeing off in the afternoon, the Spartans had to see if their score of 884 would hold up for eighth place.
The main threat was fourth-seeded and No. 10 Washington, who began the day tied for 15th but charged up the leaderboard with a strong final round. The Huskies sat at 3-under-par for the third round, just two shots back of Michigan State, when a weather delay started at 5:42 p.m. ET. Washington still had two players left on the course with a combined four holes to play with the delay began.
After a nearly two-hour delay, UW’s Ying Lou birdied her final hole to finish with a 68, but SooBin Kim went 1-over through holes 7-9, and the two-stroke margin remained the same. Lou finished tied for eighth overall and Kim tied with Nagel and three others for 11th. Washington finished with the third-lowest team score of the day at 285, but it wasn’t enough to reach the NCAA Championships.
“We did the same kind of thing, waiting all day, a couple of years ago in 2011 (when the team didn’t make the cut), and we were reminiscing about that a little bit, but it was a long day,” said Slobodnik-Stoll. “We got to the golf course at 6:45 a.m. and played our round. Liz played awesome, but we weren’t making a lot of birdies and all of the other teams were making a lot of birdies, and we weren’t feeling to great about things down the stretch. But things quickly changed. Some teams made some bogeys, and next thing you know, we were in.
“We had a seven-stroke lead over Washington and we ate lunch, but we still had to wait because they were still out there. But all of a sudden on the back nine the lead was being cut, cut, cut, and then the rain delay came. So that was another two hours. It was mentally exhausting to have to come back in our round, and then wait another six hours to see if we made it, but we’re glad we’re on the right end this time and it feels great. We’re thrilled we’re going to Athens.”
Overall on the individual leaderboard, Powers tied for 26th with a 4-over 220 (73-72-75) and Meier tied for 42nd with a 7-over 223 (74-74-75). Allyssa Ferrell closed at 228 (72-78-78) to tie for 73rd and Witherby tied for 93th at 233 (75-84-74).
Top-seeded Duke stormed past second-seeded and host Oklahoma with a final round of 12-under 276 to take first place. The Blue Devils (284-291-276—851) beat the Sooners (283-286-288—857) by six shots.
Ally McDonald of Mississippi State won medalist honors by shooting a 10-under 206 (69-69-68).
Mississippi State, Florida, Arizona State, UC Davis and Wisconsin also advanced to the NCAA Championships, which will be held May 23-26 in Athens, Ga., at the University of Georgia Golf Course.