Bruins rally for third at NCAAs
HOWEY-IN-THE-HILLS, Fla. -- In the five times that Mission Inn Golf Course has played host to the NCAA Division III women's national championships and George Fox has qualified, the Florida course hasn't exactly been kind to the Bruins.
The team's previous best NCAA finish in Howey-in-the-Hills was sixth and after an opening round 326 May 8 left them in a tie for eighth place and 15 strokes behind the leaders, it felt like No. 1 George Fox might see its national championship hopes dashed by the course again.
But the Bruins moved up three spots after carding a 321 in round two, then made their move on day three, firing the lowest single-round team score of the entire tournament, a 13-over par 305 to move into third place and back into serious contention just eight strokes behind leader and No. 2-ranked Claremont-Mudd-Scripps.
George Fox couldn't find that same magic in Friday's final round, however, and had to settle for third place and its fourth NCAA trophy in the past six years.
"I still thought we were going to do it, but we just made a few mistakes down the stretch and at that point we were just a few too many strokes out," GFU Coach MaryJo McCloskey said. "But we were there, we had a chance and we feel really good about having the lowest one-day team score in the entire tournament. I just wish we would have gotten out of the gate quicker for the first round."
The course played much tougher Friday, with more difficult pin placements, but the Bruins shot a solid 320, which was the fourth-lowest round of the 15 teams still competing.
Williams College posted the lowest score of the day, a 313, to pull into a tie with Claremont-Mudd-Scripps for first place at 1,261, but the Athenas prevailed after two playoff holes to claim the national title.
The Bruins finished 11 strokes back at 1,272 and held off New York University (1,278) for third place.
"It is pretty crazy that it gets down to a one-stroke difference or even tying," McCloskey said. "When we were in trouble, we tried to play conservative, but we just caught some bad breaks at times and just didn't quite get there."
Junior Iris Kawada was the steadiest player for George Fox, carding rounds of 79, 80, 77 and 79 on the par-73 layout to tie for 10th place individual at 23-over-par 315.
Senior Kristin Elich was five strokes back at 320 in a tie for 18th, while Rachel Drgastin fired a final-round 73, which tied for the second lowest single round score of the tournament, to move up into a tie for 32nd at 324. Rounding out the effort were Kayle Hunn in a tie for 37th (327) and Janelle Decker in a tie for 43rd (331).
"We're so pround that we made a move and came back," McCloskey said. "Playing in the final group for the final round was really outstanding. For our team to have that experience again and be under that pressure is only going to make us better in the future."
It was the final round in a stellar career for Elich, who was named Northwest Conference player of the year and second team All-American as a senior.
"She did have an amazing season and in her four years at George Fox," McCloskey said. "She helped us take home three NCAA trophies and that's pretty impressive."
Ellich was the only senior on a squad that also will also return capable reserves and welcome two new recruits, so George Fox expects to be in contention once again next spring.
McCloskey, for one, has a good feeling about it: "I definitely wanted that top trophy and next year -- and we don't want to get ahead of ourselves -- I just know we're going to get there. It's going to be our 10th trip to the national championship and I do think the 10th time is the charm."