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Regional stunner: No. 2 UCLA fails to qualify for NCAAs

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Her team was ranked No. 2 in the country and coming off a 21-shot victory in the Pac-12 Championship, but UCLA coach Carrie Forsyth still felt uneasy heading into regional play.

She became only more anxious after checking out Texas Tech’s Rawls Course.  

“I would like to say that we were super confident coming in and thought we’d dominate,” Forsyth said by phone Wednesday night, “but it was anybody’s game out there.”

The Rawls Course helped separate the field in 25-mph winds Monday, but it became a short-iron contest in benign conditions over the final two rounds. Teams needed to make birdies to remain inside the all-important top 6, and the Bruins, fresh off a dominating performance against the best conference in the country, couldn’t keep pace with all of the low scores.

Their season ended Wednesday when they finished eighth, six shots above the cut line and 39 behind regional champion Arizona State.

UCLA became the first No. 1 seed (on either the men’s or women’s side) that failed to qualify for the NCAA Championship.

“At the end of the day, whatever we were ranked, you still have to play,” Forsyth said.

Only 14 of the top 25 teams will be at Rich Harvest Farms next week for the start of the NCAA Championship, but UCLA is the best squad left home.  

Reigning Annika Award winner Bronte Law turned pro at the halfway point of the season, leaving a big hole at the top of the Bruins’ lineup. That void was filled by sophomore Lilia Vu, who won a school-record four consecutive events, including the Pac-12 title by six shots.

Even with Vu leading the way, Forsyth still noticed a “thread of insecurity” in her lineup. There were question marks. There were weaknesses.  

“It wasn’t 100 percent like, 'Yeah, we’ve got this,” she said. “I just felt like we were still going to need to stay on top. We can’t phone it in and cruise and think it’s not going to be a problem. It was going to be a challenge for us, and it obviously proved to be.”

Entering regionals, Vu was 27 under par over her last nine rounds, but she backed up an opening 68 with rounds of 74-75. With UCLA trying to stay near the cut line, Vu took a triple on her ninth hole Wednesday and played the next six holes in 4 over to tie for 13th. Only one other player, Mariel Galdiano, finished inside the top 45 individually.

“There were a lot of wedges into greens. We had to make a lot of birdies and we just didn’t do that,” Forsyth said. “I wish I could tell you why. We were just sloppy. It wasn’t a good week for us.”

It’s only the second time in 17 years (and the first since Forsyth’s debut season in L.A.) that the Bruins haven’t reached the NCAA finals.  

“It’s a lesson for me, too,” she said. “You get a streak going and you feel like it’s a given. I’ve felt that way in the past, but this year it wasn’t. If you don’t get the right kind of course and setup, you better be ready, no matter what you’re ranked, no matter who you are. An off-week can happen, and if it happens this week, you’re in trouble.”