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After two rounds of play at the NCAA Regional tournament in South Bend, Ind., the Harvard women’s golf team found itself in a similar position as 2014—on the bubble fighting for a spot in the national championships. However, after posting its worst team score of the three days in Saturday’s final round, the Crimson dropped out of qualifying contention and finished 10th.
“To be where we were after two rounds felt pretty normal to us, which was great,” Harvard coach Kevin Rhoads said. “We were pretty optimistic going into the [final round], and we weren’t trying to do anything different…. We just didn’t play very well today, which was unfortunate. I don’t think it was nerves…. We just didn’t play very good shots today which made scoring a little bit tough.”
Building off her strong Ivy Championships performance two weeks prior, senior Brenna Nelsen, who is a Crimson sports editor, led the charge for Harvard with a 4-over showing in her final collegiate tournament, leaving her in a tie for 14th on the individual leaderboard.
After opening on the back nine Thursday and making the turn a stroke over par, Nelsen tallied three-straight birdies on the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th holes to propel her to the only sub-par round of the tournament for the entire Harvard team.
The senior’s three-round score of 220 was also just a few shots off pace to qualify her for the NCAA Championships as an individual. While this past week turned out to be her last competing for Harvard, the tournament represented a comeback of sorts for the Monte Sereno, Calif., native.
“I was psyched for Brenna—[it was] not surprising at all given how good of a player she is,” Rhoads said. “She dealt with way more injuries than anyone should have to during her time, and it wasn’t any different this week…. Her technique and her mind [were] in a good place…. It was a nice way to finish her career.”
Though the tournament did not finish with the outcome that Rhoads and the rest of the team may have been hoping for after their near-qualifying performance the previous year, it did cap a season that saw Harvard win its fourth-consecutive Ancient Eight title, which is the longest streak in Ivy League women’s golf history.
“Although the other teams wouldn’t have distracted us, it’s a natural thing [to feel pressure] when you have a potential first time thing on the line, because no other Ivy team has ever come close to making nationals,” Rhoads said. “We were four shots off last year, and we were in position again this year.”
After tying for fourth at the Ivy League Championships, sophomore Anne Cheng and junior Courtney Hooton finished tied for 21st and tied for 36th, respectively, to buoy the Crimson squad to a top-10 finish after the group finished in 13th in last year’s NCAA Central Regional.
Cheng had a three-day score of 222 at the Warren Golf Course, going the entire week without a double-bogey or worse. The performance came a year after Cheng recorded a top-10 finish at last year’s NCAA regional as a freshman.
“I think we see this as a learning experience to have the opportunity to be here and to be this close,” Cheng said. “We’ve really progressed far as a golf program. It’s been a great opportunity, and we’ll try again next year.”
Shooting out of the third spot for Harvard, Hooton had a stellar second day with an even-par 72. She sandwiched Friday’s round with first and third round scores of 77.
With Rhoads’s squad graduating just two members—Nelsen and captain Tiffany Lim—this year, the team will have yet another Ivy title and a chance to qualify for the NCAA Championships in its sight.
“Our team is unique in that we all have a lot going on outside of the team,” said Lim, who shot a three-round total of 237 at the regional. “[But] over the summer, some of the [members of the team] will set aside a few weeks from their jobs and internships to practice their golf game.”
—Staff writer Caleb Y. Lee can be reached at email@example.com.
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