For the No. 12 Stanford women’s golf team, the past two days could hardly have gone better.
On Monday, the final day of the NCAA individual championship, the team moved up three spots into second after collectively posting a tournament-best round of 9-under 279. Junior Casey Danielson played herself into a tie for the sixth-best individual in the country, while sophomore Shannon Aubert nearly broke the top-10 herself after her -3 round moved her up 16 spots.
Then, on Tuesday, Stanford progressed through the first two rounds of match play in relatively comfortable fashion. The Cardinal topped No. 18 South Carolina in the morning and No. 5 Duke in the afternoon, paving their way into the NCAA finals for the second time in two seasons.
“We feel very fortunate to have played some wonderful golf,” said head coach Anne Walker. “I couldn’t be more pleased with this group of student-athletes. I really think it will come down to the last hole, and I’m looking forward to being in that position with these guys.”
Danielson has proved crucial to the Cardinal’s title-defense efforts. In addition to being the top-performing Stanford golfer in both the regional tournament and the individual championship, Danielson won both her head-to-head battles in match play, including a crucial clincher against the former top-ranked amateur in the world, Duke’s Leona Maguire.
Danielson’s wins have added to her 5-0 career record in match play, a figure that shows how crucial she’s been to both the Cardinal’s recent playoff campaigns. It’s been a true team effort for the Cardinal thus far, however, as every golfer has stepped up when they were called upon.
Senior Mariah Stackhouse also went 2-0 on Saturday, coming up big on the 18th hole against South Carolina to secure Stanford’s final point. Senior Lauren Kim dominated her morning match as well, winning in just 13 holes after she built a 6-point lead with five to play. Meanwhile, sophomore Shannon Aubert hung with the NCAA individual champion, Duke’s Virginia Elena Carta, to give Stanford a safety valve and take some pressure off Danielson against Duke. And freshman Sierra Kersten, who has only played with the top squad for a fraction of the season, came up with a huge point in the Cardinal’s afternoon match to help send them to the finals.
The last remaining task for the Cardinal is to win their battle against No. 13 Washington. The Huskies appear to be built for match play to a large extent as well, surviving a pitched battle against top-seeded UCLA in the semifinals to make the championship.
Stanford and Washington have each come out on top of the other twice in the four tournaments in which both teams have played, though these results don’t necessarily translate all that well to the head-to-head format employed in the finals. The Cardinal will hope to utilize their experience in high-stakes situations against the Huskies without feeling the pressure to repeat the results of last year.
“I think it’s important for us to realize that it’s not about defending, it’s about winning the 2016 title,” Stackhouse said. “When we step on the tee tomorrow, that’s our goal.”
Stanford will tee off against Washington at 2 p.m. Wednesday, with live coverage available on the Golf Channel.
Contact Andrew Mather at amather ‘at’ stanford.edu.