ATLANTA – Consistency. That's the best way to describe the USC women when it comes to the East Lake Cup. USC has now made the trip to Atlanta three times, and all three times they have walked away as champions.
For the second consecutive year, they took down Stanford, 3-2, in the final round Wednesday.
The Trojans fell behind early, as women’s individual stroke-play winner Albane Valenzuela claimed the first point for Stanford against Jennifer Chang, 6 and 4, while Mika Liu defeated Amelia Garvey, 4 and 3, to put the Cardinal up, 2-0. It seemed like the Cardinal curse at East Lake was set to be broken, but it never materialized.
Freshman Malia Nam ran away with her match starting on the 15th hole before finalizing a 3-and-1 win over Ziyi Wang, and sophomore Alyaa Abdulghany held off a surging Aline Krauter to pull USC even at 2-2. So it came down to the final match between Stanford junior Andrea Lee and Trojan sophomore Gabriela Ruffels, which is exactly how USC coach Justin Silverstein envisioned it.
“I had a conversation with our men’s coach, Chris Zambri, and we’re big on wiring and how athletes deal with adversity,” Silverstein recalled. “I told him that I think Gabby is as good as I’ve ever seen at that, and I want to put her at anchor. The board worked out that I actually controlled the end on both of our picks, and putting her in the 5-spot, I liked our chances.”
Ruffels took the lead on the 16th hole, when Lee found the bunker and Ruffels stroked an incredible chip shot to within three feet to move to 1 up. She closed out the match on the 17th and put the Trojoans where they've been all fall – on top – as they claimed their third straight tournament title in 2018.
“It feels amazing. I’m so glad I could get it done for my team,” Ruffels said. “This win gives us a bunch of confidence. We’ve just come off three wins in a row, and I think we can go pretty far. Let’s win nationals.”
It was another year of coming up just short for Stanford, the only team which has been to East Lake all four years. But the Cardinal could not secure that decisive third point, resulting in another heart-wrenching defeat for coach Anne Walker’s group.
“It was always going to be close; we knew that,” Walker said. “Quite frankly, there’s no one I would’ve preferred to have in that 5-spot than Andrea [Lee], and the last couple holes just didn’t go her way.”
The women’s consolation match came down to the wire as well, despite Arizona snaring two early points, with Haley Moore and Yu Sang Hou winning, 5 and 4, but Alabama did not go quietly. Junior Kenzie Wright tallied her own blowout win, 8 and 6, to put the Crimson Tide on the board before Jiwon Jeon netted the score at two with a 3-and-2 win. Angelica Moresco wrapped it up on 16 after holding a solid lead throughout the match.
“I love how our team just keeps fighting,” Alabama coach Mic Potter said. “You know, we played Arizona in the national championship and lost, so I think human nature says you want to get some sort of revenge. Obviously, our teams look different now than they did then, but it was really gratifying and I feel great for them.”