Women’s golf in the midst of NCAA’s

After winning the NCAA Central Region  championship on May 8, the women’s golf team will test its momentum at this week’s NCAA championships in North Carolina, with play beginning Tuesday and going through Friday.

This is the 13th straight year the No. 3 team has advanced to the national championship under coach Andrea Gaston, though she treats every year as a new challenge.

“I don’t take the 13 years for granted because, especially now,  I see a lot more competitiveness across the country,” Gaston said.

Led by three All-Americans, senior Belen Mozo, junior Lizette Salas and sophomore Jennifer Song, the team will vie for its third national title and its second in three years.

Song, who is ranked second in the nation overall, looks to be a key player for the Women of Troy after winning two tournaments and placing in the top three in three other tournaments during the 2009-2010 season. She also spent time on the LPGA circuit while in college, where she competed in the Kraft Nabisco National Championship and placed 21st overall.

“She does have the ability to rise and she’s shown that by playing in the Nabisco championship,” Gaston said. “She always has a goal of what she’s trying to accomplish.”

The No. 10 Salas placed in the top six four times in her last six events of the season, including second place at the Central Region championship, where she finished two strokes behind the leader.

Though hampered by injuries during the season, Mozo ranks 34th in the nation and third for the Women of Troy. She also earned 2010 All-Pac-10 honorable mention honors.

Joining Mozo in the All-Pac-10 honorable mention category was freshman Cyna Rodriguez. The newcomer, from the Philippines, finished 10th at the Pac-10 championship and 16th at Central Region. Gaston welcomed Rodriguez and said she has kept the team’s spirits high throughout the season.

“She really enjoys the team aspect of golf,” Gaston said.  “Keeping her loose and having her have fun is good.”

With classes out of session for the year, the team is usually much more focused and ready to compete after the spring semester ends.

“We’re through all the finals and we can come here and focus on golf,” Gaston said.

The Women of Troy will play with No. 26 South Carolina and No. 4 Arizona in the first two rounds of the tournament.

Across town, the top-seeded UCLA Bruins go into the tournament as another legitimate contender. Golf publications across the nation unanimously rank the Bruins as the No. 1 team in the country.

Despite the higher stakes and a shot at bragging rights, Gaston said the team should walk away satisfied no matter the eventual outcome.

“This is a culmination of a great year,” Gaston said.  “We want to enjoy the championship and making it this far.”