Women of Troy hold on to win year’s first tournament

It seems that championships have become par for the course for the USC women’s golf team, and this week’s Northrop Grumman Regional Challenge proved to be no exception.

Setting the pace · Sophomore Annie Park claimed her fifth career title at the Northrop Grumman Invitational with a combined score of 1-under. - Courtesy of USC Sports Information

Setting the pace · Sophomore Annie Park claimed her fifth career title at the Northrop Grumman Invitational with a combined score of 1-under. – Courtesy of USC Sports Information

Sophomore Annie Park coasted to her fifth career individual title yesterday while her team survived some late struggles to claim yet another victory in Palos Verdes, Calif. The Women of Troy extended their school-record winning streak to eight events, including five straight wins to begin the 2013-2014 campaign. This tournament, which ran from Sunday to Tuesday, was the team’s first event after their winter hiatus.

Though this type of success can lead to overconfidence, senior Sophia Popov is well aware that continuing to win will not come without hard work and commitment.

“We [worked] extremely hard over winter break, and really looked forward to this first event,” Popov said. “We are hoping to keep the momentum we established in fall to help us not only succeed at this event, but also for the rest of spring season and all the way up to nationals.”

USC finished the tournament at 14-over, a collegiate course record, even after their worst round of the tournament. The team’s four qualifiers combined for a 15-over during yesterday’s action. No. 5 Duke made up 10 strokes on the Women of Troy but could not close the gap any further, ending the tournament in second place at 21-over. No. 7 Arizona State took third at 23-over, while No. 2 UCLA and No. 11 Washington tied for fourth at 29-over. The four Pac-12 rivals, along with the Blue Devils, figure to battle for the national title come May.

Head coach Andrea Gaston was proud of her team’s success, but knows yesterday’s round could have been much smoother.

“Obviously we were happy to have a cushion since we didn’t play as well today,” Gaston said. “There were some hard hole locations that cost us a few shots today. Duke played really well and really pressed us down the stretch. Thank goodness they ran out of holes.”

On the individual side, Park dominated the scoreboard during the first two rounds, shooting consecutive 4-under 67s in what were often windy conditions. The Levittown, N.Y. native took a comfortable lead into yesterday’s third round, and weathered a disastrous back nine that included five bogeys on her way to victory. Park ended the day with a solid 2-over 73, raising her tournament total to 6-under. Haley Davis of Baylor finished in second place at 1-over, followed by Duke’s Yiu Liu, Arizona State’s Noemi Jimenez, Oklahoma’s Alexandra Kaui, UCLA’s Bronte Law and Florida’s Sarah Schober at 2-over.

Popov, whose school record for wins was tied by Park yesterday, fired a team-low 1-over 72 in the third round to finish with a three-day total of 4-over. Popov’s score tied her for 10th place with Arizona State’s Monica Vaughn.

Sophomore Kyung Kim, who came into the day expecting to compete with Park for the individual crown, struggled throughout the third round and finished with a disappointing 5-over 79. Kim’s worst round in a USC uniform only bumped her into a 12th-place tie, an indicator of the course’s difficulty. Rounding out USC’s qualifiers was freshman Karen Chung, who finished the tournament at 14-over.

The Women of Troy now head to the Allstate Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, La., which is set to begin Feb. 23.

The team will hope to continue their incredible run of success as they move into the heart of the 2014 schedule, and all signs point toward this goal being accomplished. The team returned their entire lineup from their 2013 NCAA championship-winning season, and is the favorite to recapture that crown.

Still, Popov is seasoned enough to know that nothing is a foregone conclusion.

“Our team is in great shape,” the senior said. “There are a lot of top-ranked schools that are going to try to make it as hard as possible for us.”

Gaston echoed her senior leader’s sentiments.

“[Assistant coach] Justin [Silverstein] and I are proud of the team’s eighth victory in a row, something we don’t take for granted,” Gaston said. “At the same time, a day like today reminds us that we have to get back to work to help each of our players get better prepared for our next tournament.”