Following a solid sixth place finish last weekend at the Big Ten Championships, the Wisconsin women’s golf team earned a bid to the 2014 NCAA Regionals as the 16th seed.
Despite an already impressive season in which the Badgers earned an overall record of 89-47-1, UW head coach Todd Oehrlein’s team does not appear to be satisfied just yet as it has its sights set on making a big splash at the NCAA Regional. Just like last season when the Badgers surprised many by conquering regionals and moving on to the NCAA Championships, this year’s team is looking to do the same.
Despite being faced with the challenge of competing against some of the most dominant women’s golf powerhouses in the country such as top-seeded Southern California, Oehrlein isn’t phased by the tough competition.
Instead he’s excited with the opportunity for every team to compete with a clean slate on a neutral, level playing field.
“I told the team last night, once you make it, there’s 24 there, eight teams are going are going to advance. Everybody is number one in the country at this point,” Oehrlein said. “You play and you control what you can control.”
The NCAA Regional will certainly be the biggest stage the Badgers have played on all year and will require them to be at the top of their game when the tournament kicks off a week from Thursday, May 8. Oehrlein believes that his team will be fine handling that added pressure if they get off to a good start and get comfortable early.
“The nerves are going to be there. That’s the excitement, the energy, and so as a coach you just have to help your team settle in as quick as possible in that early round. Once you get settled in, it just becomes more like any other golf tournament.”
Pivotal to helping the Badgers “settle in” will be senior Kris Yoo, who has been the top golfer for Wisconsin this year and a big reason for this year’s success. Posting an average round of 73.45 in the 2013-14 season and making her third career NCAA Regional appearance, Yoo will be expected to continue her strong play and leadership to help the Badgers reach the National Championships.
“She drives the ball really well, very accurately, and just consistently, so she is always in great position,” Oehrlein said. “Kris is nationally ranked in the top 10 for total short game and in scoring situations and scoring shots, she’s very good”
When asked how she is feeling heading into the tournament, Yoo did not seem worried about how her team would handle playing with so much on the line due to its familiarity with playing in the postseason as of late.
“I don’t think we are that nervous because four of us have actually been [to regionals] before and it was our goal so we expected it,” Yoo said. “We definitely wanted to get back to the National Championship. We made it last year even though we were the underdog and no one thought we could get through, and I think we have even more potential this year.”
While it will be the last time senior Yoo competes in an NCAA Regional Championship for the Badgers, one of the team’s best players for the Badgers this year will be making her first postseason appearance. Freshman Brooke Ferrell will try to help lead Wisconsin to a Regional Championship following an excellent rookie season that caught the attention and respect of many around the women’s collegiate game.
Oehrlein has been amazed at how smoothly Ferrell has made the transition from high school to college in one year and believes it to be a result of both her mental and physical strengths.
“[Ferrell] is a great student and because she’s a good student, she’s been able to handle that workload and the transition hasn’t been anything been anything that she isn’t capable of handling,” Oehrlein said. “As a player, she is physically very strong. She hits the ball really hard and length is one of the strengths of her game.”
One might expect Ferrell to be a little nervous about making her first appearance in an NCAA Regional. However, it does not look like that is going to be troubling on her. Inspired after a tremendous performance at the Big Ten Championship, Ferrell refuses to believe that her team isn’t capable capturing the title and picking up where they left off after an incredible final round.
“I am more excited than nervous because the Big Ten tournament went very well for me and for my team,” she said. “Now that we know we can do it, we’ll do it again.”
“The biggest thing that we need to do is just for us to walk out with a little bit of swagger,” Ferrell said. “You have to look around you and say I’m here too. Not just them but me too. Why not me? Why can’t I shoot under par? Why can’t I break a course record like Kris Yoo did last year?”
The 2013-14 season is already a success, but a victory at regionals would make this season extra special, as Wisconsin has never qualified for back to back regionals, much less moved onto the championships in consecutive seasons. Judging by the Badgers’ recent performance and history in the postseason, the team has to feel good about who leads them into battle.