No. 16 Cal women’s golf makes 17th straight appearance at NCAA Regionals

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Phillip Downey/File

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The No. 16 Cal women’s golf team has had a rough stretch to end its once-promising season, but the team knows that it’s not over yet. If the Bears have any hope of competing in the 2016 NCAA Women’s Golf Championships, they will have to earn their spot during this weekend’s NCAA Regionals at the Shoal Creek Country Club.

In Shoal Creek, Alabama, on the par-72 course, 24 teams will be vying for one of six spots available to advance to the Championships. The three-day, 54-hole tournament will see Cal seeded at No. 4. It won’t be an easy task, however, as the rest of the lineup includes No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Northwestern and No. 3 Oklahoma State — three teams that have won their respective conferences.

“We have a plan for all so that we can just play golf the way we know,” said Cal head coach Nancy McDaniel. “We minimize the challenges with a good solid plan. If our minds and bodies are settled and in a good place, the play will follow.”

The Bears will compete outside of California for the third time this season, while also appearing in the NCAA Regionals for the 17th straight season. They are looking forward to facing the same strong competition to which they’ve grown accustomed in competing in arguably the best conference in the Pac-12. Cal is set to compete Thursday through Saturday, two weeks after their forgettable performance at the Pac-12 Championships in Pleasanton, California.

“The approach is that we are all as well-rested and ready to go,” McDaniel said. “You cannot make a regional anymore on a whim. It is a long season and you need to periodize and these players have been very responsive to that.”

Cal will be lead by All-Pac-12 selections senior Hannah Suh and junior Lucia Gutierrez. Suh, the Pac-12 Women’s Golfer of the Month in March, was able to win her first individual title at the Bay Area Intercollegiate on March 8. Gutierrez, a Pac-12 Honorable Mention, is leading the team in 10 rounds of par or better with a stroke average of 73.6. These two players will be key in helping the Bears work toward their third straight NCAA Championship appearance and 10th in program history.

A year ago, Cal was coming off a 10th place finish out of 11 in the conference tournament, only to bounce back in a big way. In the St. George Regional, the Bears finished in sixth place with a 297-305-298=300 (+48). Cal was able to finish nine strokes ahead of seventh place New Mexico State to secure a spot in the final.

The Bears will have to look back on what they were able to achieve last year and hope to replicate it this week. They have made it clear that this team is united and will fight until the bitter end. And it will have to take all five players in the lineup in order to have a chance to advance to the NCAA Championships.

“We are known to be a smart and disciplined team, so unless someone decides to go out on their own, this team will advance,” McDaniel said.

Oscar Oxlaj covers women’s golf. Contact him at [email protected]