Compelling action in fight to make women's Elite 8


BRADENTON, Fla. – A ricochet off a tree. A layup into a divot. A flubbed wedge into the bunker. A bladed pitch over the green.  

All of those scenarios could have ended Washington’s season Monday at the NCAA Women’s Championship. 

“But I wasn’t thinking about that,” Huskies junior Charlotte Thomas said with a smile. “Come on. Have a little faith!”

With Washington clinging to the eighth and final spot during the last round of stroke-play qualifying, Thomas drove into the right pine straw and had a decision to make: Play the hero shot, or play the percentages.

Thomas wanted to go for the green. Assistant coach Andrea VanderLende smartly talked her out of it: “We only need a bogey,” VanderLende said, even though she knew the team actually had a two-shot cushion.

Thomas punched out with a 9-iron. Then she hit a nifty 60-yard wedge shot that hit the green, checked and trickled within a few inches of the cup for a kick-in par (see video below).

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Once she heard her teammates erupt behind the green, Thomas said, “I knew it was huge.”

Mary Lou Mulflur, Washington’s 57-year-old coach, charged toward her player. She got low, like a linebacker preparing to make a tackle, and lifted Thomas into the air.

“We did it!” she screamed, and Thomas covered her eyes in disbelief. “We made it!”

Washington’s dramatic escape was the defining moment on a day that left everyone exhausted but exhilarated.

Without a format change, this would have been another snoozer: Southern Cal took the No. 1 overall seed by five shots over Duke. Instead, with the women’s move to match play, all of the attention was squarely on the teams in the middle of the pack, those fighting for one of the eight spots.

Teams like Baylor, which took third in qualifying after first-semester freshman Dylan Kim’s final-round 67, which included birdies on her last three holes. “I wanted to make sure I remembered that I was playing for my team today,” she said. “That almost lifts a weight off your shoulders, because you’re all in this together. It’s a very secure feeling.”

And teams like Stanford, which endured a wild 30-shot swing on Day 2 and then came back Monday with a final-round-best, 1 under-287 to jump inside the bubble and place fourth.

And teams like Tennessee, which shared sixth, after A.J. Newell’s closing 70. As the senior played her 71st hole, the horn sounded to signal the suspension of play. Unfortunately, it just so happened to blare during her backswing on a 175-yard shot to a well-guarded green. 

“And so mid-swing,” she said afterward, “I was saying to myself: Do I stop? Do I keep going? Eh, yeah, I think it’s in a good position. Let’s keep going.”

She hit that shot to 10 feet and then, after the delay, sank the putt for eagle that clinched the Vols’ spot in match play.

All week she wanted to stay aggressive and commit to every shot.

“And that,” Newell said, “showed how committed I was.”

But no team embodied the anything-can-happen-here mantra quite like Washington, which seemed on the verge of throwing away its shot at a title with a double bogey and triple on the last two holes.

And then came Thomas’ clutch wedge shot, the enduring image from this wild day.

“All of the nerves, the adrenaline is through the roof, but that’s what you want,” Mulflur said. “The emotions are just all over the place. It’s relief, excitement and, then, gratification.”