Entering the postseason fresh off of a fifth-place finish at the PING/ASU Invitational, the top-ranked women’s golf team hopes to shrug off any rust or fatigue as it prepares for the start of the Pac-12 Championships in Valencia, Calif.
UCLA will host the event at the difficult Valencia Country Club. The Women of Troy head into the tournament with three tournament victories and an NCAA-leading streak of seven consecutive top-five finishes dating back to 2012.
Still, the squad is set to face stiff competition from one of the nation’s toughest conferences and will battle with five other teams ranked in the top 25. This includes No. 6 Arizona, No. 8 UCLA, No. 11 Stanford, No. 13 Arizona State and No. 14 Washington.
USC head coach Andrea Gaston is particularly impressed by the toughness of this year’s field.
“Many of the nation’s top teams will be here,” Gaston said. “It’s just another preview of NCAA [championships], and we have to be ready to go.”
Arizona and UCLA figure to be USC’s toughest challengers this week. The Wildcats have a team victory at the Dr. Donnis Thompson Invitational and three other top-five finishes. UCLA defeated the Trojans early in the season at the Northrop Grumman Invitational and finished a close second to their crosstown rival at the Sugar Bowl Intercollegiate.
Last week, both Arizona and Stanford finished ahead of the Trojans in Tempe, Ariz. at the PING/ASU invitational, helping to end USC’s three-match winning streak.
The Women of Troy hope to put that loss behind them as they begin a tournament they have won twice in the past five years, including during their 2008 national championship run. USC also claimed a conference championship in 2011, when then-freshman Sophia Popov won an individual title on the first playoff hole.
After three wins as a freshman, one last year as a sophomore and another at this year’s SDSU Farms Invitational, Popov will be looking for her sixth career victory this week. A win would place her alone atop the USC record books.
At the inaugural Pac-12 event in 2012, the team fell to California by one stroke, while Doris Chen, now a sophomore, took home the second consecutive individual victory for a USC freshman. Popov, Chen, freshman Annie Park and junior Rachel Morris have all turned in solid 2013 campaigns and lead their team into the conference tournament as the clear favorite.
“We have incredible depth,” Gaston said. “We have five players capable of finishing in the top 10. Our team has been working hard to prepare, so hopefully, we’ll put ourselves in position to win.”
The No. 1-seeded Women of Troy begin match play early Monday morning alongside the No. 11-seeded Colorado Buffaloes. The event can be followed live at golfstat.com and will be covered on tape delay by the Pac-12 Network.