Sophomore Annie Park and senior Sophia Popov willed the USC women’s golf team to a one-stroke victory on Tuesday at the Pac-12 Preview, helping extend the squad’s school-record winning streak to seven events.
The pair each shot final round 2-under 71, six strokes lower than their next best teammate but just good enough to squeak by No. 5 UCLA. No. 9 Washington, No. 13 Arizona State and Oregon rounded out the top five at the Nanea Golf Club in Kailuna Kona, Hawaii. Individually, Park’s 7-under performance earned her sole possession of second place, while Popov’s 6-under placed her in a three-way tie for third. The Bruins’ Bronte Law took the individual title at 8-under.
Washington jumped out to a four-stroke lead during Monday’s opening two rounds, forcing the Women of Troy to play catch-up. Park, Popov and junior Doris Chen all played strongly on Monday, with Park and Chen shooting identical 5-under scores. This was not enough to put the squad in front, however, as Washington’s strong effort, along with Law’s remarkable second round 8-under, kept USC in third place.
Though Chen fell off on Tuesday with a 4-over 77, Park and Popov kept their team in the hunt as neither the Bruins nor the Huskies could secure the victory. Law shot a 3-over 76 for UCLA, her worst score of the tournament, and Washington’s low scorer SooBin Kim shot a disastrous 5-over 78. USC head coach Andrea Gaston was excited about the nail-biting victory.
“I am so proud of our team,” Gaston told USCTrojans.com. “As their coach, I appreciate how hard they work, and how they just keep fighting on!”
The victory completed an undefeated fall season for the Women of Troy, who won four straight to open a season for the first time in school history. More impressively, this win marked the team’s first using the lineup that won the national championship last season and will likely play this spring.
“To win four events this year with four different lineups is a testament to the depth and talent of our team,” Gaston said. “This is truly a special group of young ladies.”
The USC men’s golf team was also in action on Tuesday, finishing in second place at the Gifford Collegiate in Newport Beach, Calif. Freshman Rico Hoey and junior Anthony Paolucci finished first and second overall, with Hoey overtaking his teammate in the individual race after a final round 4-under 68.
The pair shot identical 6-under scores through the first two rounds of action, before Paolucci’s final round 69 cost him a victory. The No. 23 Trojans fell to No. 1 Alabama by only three strokes in team play, a positive result in a field that also included No. 4 Washington and No. 7 UCLA.
Though Hoey and Paolucci were the best players on the course, USC could not match the Crimson Tide’s consistency. Junior Paul Smith finished at 3-over, but seniors Jeffrey Kang and Ramsey Sahyoun struggled mightily. All of Alabama’s players finished at or below par. Still, it was an impressive effort from the Trojans, who made up six strokes on the Tide in the final round of action.
“It was a great way to finish the fall segment,” head coach Chris Zambri told USCTrojans.com. “We have some guys on the team playing some great golf. My hope is that their play will lift the others on the team to get better so that we can start getting some wins.”
Both the men’s and women’s squads will now take the winter off in preparation for the spring season. The Women of Troy will begin their defense of a national championship on Feb. 9 at the Northrop Grumman Regional Challenge in Palos Verdes, Calif., while the men’s side picks things up Jan. 27 at the Arizona Intercollegiate in Tucson.
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