The USC women’s golf team, fresh off three top-10 finishes in the fall, kicks off its spring schedule Monday with the 2012 Northrop Grumman Regional Challenge.
The three-day tournament, held at the Palos Verdes Golf Club, will feature 16 teams, including Pac-12 rivals UCLA and Oregon. The Women of Troy are the two-time defending champions of the tournament, winning individually in 1999 and 2006, and also capturing the 2008 Pac-10 title on the course.
The team returns five golfers from the 2011 squad, which won four tournaments, including the 2011 Pac-10 Championship and the 2011 West NCAA Regional. The Women of Troy have been a consistent force in recent years, as evidenced by their top-five finishes in each of the last six years, and seven of the last nine.
The Trojans are led by All-Americans senior Lisa McCloskey and sophomore Sophia Popov. The spring season is especially critical for Popov, whose productivity in the fall was hampered by a wrist injury that kept her out of the season-ending SEC/Pac-12. Popov rose to prominence as a freshman, garnering both National and Pac-10 Freshman of the Year honors while leading the Trojans to yet another strong finish.
The team also returns junior Cyna Rodriguez, a 2010-11 All-Pac-10 honorable mention and regular starter last year, as well as senior Inah Park and sophomore Rachel Morris (2011 All-NCAA West Region), both of whom registered multiple starts. Additionally, the team features freshman Kristen Park, the nation’s top women’s recruit and Doris Chen, a leading recruit and former U.S. Girls’ junior champion.
USC is anchored by coach Andrea Gaston, who is in her 16th year at the helm of the squad. Last year proved to be an especially successful year for Gaston, who was named National Golf Coaches Association National Coach of the Year for the second time, leading USC to four tournament victories.
Though the Women of Troy were unable to replicate their dominance from the previous year, the fall season marked a trend of improvement. After starting slowly and finishing eighth at the 2011 Fall Preview in September, the team bounced back to finish in sixth place at October’s Stanford Intercollegiate tournament, which is even more impressive considering Popov’s wrist injury early in the second round of play. This was followed by an even stronger performance at the Pac-12 Challenge in November, where the Women of Troy tied for fourth — despite fielding four starters.
“Our fab four have something in which they can be very proud,” Gaston said. “It was a big-time field, so this was a darn good performance to have low round of the day. It was a difficult and long course that required a lot of patience on the greens.”
McCloskey provided the team’s most consistent effort, recording three top 10 finishes, including a mark of seventh at the Pac-12 Challenge to conclude the fall campaign.
Following this tournament, the Trojans will have two weeks off before participating in the Allstate Sugar Bowl in New Orleans Feb. 26-28.