BRADENTON, Fla. – Baylor coach Jay Goble has said repeatedly this week that his Bears are on a dream run. After defeating defending champion Duke in an epic semifinal match Tuesday at Concession Golf Club, he said it was “a dream come true” and that there are a lot of “dreams realized” on his team.
Goble better wake his team up. There’s something important on the line.
Baylor will face a hungry Stanford team Wednesday for the NCAA Women’s Championship, the first decided by a match-play format. The Cardinal defeated Southern Cal in the semifinals to advance. It will be the first NCAA title for either team, and if Baylor wins, it’ll be the first championship for a Big 12 team.
“We’ve had a very simple mantra all year that we control what we can control and we’ve come out every single day this semester not focusing on outside things that we can’t take care of,” a tired Goble said after an emotional day where his squad downed Tennessee 3-1-1 in the quarterfinals before dispatching of Duke 3-2 in the afternoon.
“If they play their golf game, we’re going to be in good shape.”
Stanford wiped out two Pac-12 foes with a 4-1 victory over Arizona in the quarterfinals that was much closer than the score indicates and a 3-2 triumph over USC that, frankly, was closer than it should’ve been.
“We’re not going to do anything different,” Stanford coach Anne Walker said. “We’ve had a really great plan, a great game plan for this course. We have that experience, we have it under our belt and we know if we stick with our plan, that’s the best we can do.”
Baylor vs. Stanford may not be a matchup many predicted, but it’s a matchup of teams that have been consistently in the hunt all year.
Stanford is ranked 13th by Golfstat; Baylor is 18th. The Bears collected four victories this season, including their last two starts at both the Big 12 Championship and the NCAA Regional, while the Cardinal only won once. This is the 30th time that Stanford has qualified for the NCAA Championship. It’s only the third time that Baylor has been here. Better put, Duke has won twice as many NCAA titles as the Bears have appearances.
Sure, it’s not Duke vs. USC – perennial heavyweights who have won nine titles in the past 16 years – but Baylor and Stanford both bring their own brand of power and precision.
Baylor relies heavily on three freshmen, but most on Dylan Kim, who joined the squad earlier this year and defeated the world’s top-ranked amateur Leona Maguire 1 up in a topsy-turvy semifinal match. She’s a bomber who wails away with reckless abandon. When you watch her swing, you think consistent 15-year LPGA pro.
Fellow freshman Lauren Whyte struggled mightily for 72 holes of stroke play – she finished 84th out of 84 who made the cut – but managed to edge Lisa Maguire in 24 holes, the match that pushed the Bears to the finale. The pressure on her was immense.
“Having everyone watching me actually kind of spurred me on,” Whyte said. “It was great motivation having everybody there.”
Leading Stanford is junior Lauren Kim, a first-team All-American who won both crucial matches on Tuesday and never trailed in her semifinal match against Gabriella Then. Freshman Shannon Aubert came up big against USC’s Annie Park in the semifinals, but Park appeared tired and did not have her best in the scorching Florida heat.
Now, ironically, the difficulty begins. After playing 126 holes, including a practice round, over the past six days, both teams must somehow muster their best in order to deliver what they cherish most.
“We’re not even close to the finish line,” Walker said. “We’re looking at it just the same as we have every other day and it will sober them up pretty quickly.”
And at the end of the day, someone’s dreams truly will be realized.