Wake Forest golfers turn Augusta National Women’s Amateur into legacy experience

Rachel Kuehn of The United States plays her second shot on the par 4, 12th hole during the first round of the 2022 Augusta National Women's Amateur
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When the top 30 golfers at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur head to the home of the Masters on Saturday for the final round of the prestigious amateur event, expect all eyes will be on Stanford’s top-ranked stars Rose Zhang and Rachel Heck.

Ranked Nos. 1 and 3 respectively in the World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR), and having each notched a T-3 finish last year at Augusta National, the Cardinal duo are poised to make noise again in Saturday’s final round. But if history is any indicator, don’t count out Wake Forest junior Rachel Kuehn.

The first two editions of the ANWA, which was paused in 2020 due to the pandemic, have featured a Demon Deacon in contention right to the finish. In 2019, Wake’s Jennifer Kupcho outdueled Arkansas’ Maria Fassi by four strokes to win the inaugural event. Two years later, Wake senior Emilia Migliaccio carded five birdies in her final-round 70 to force a playoff with Japanese teenager Tsubasa Kajitani, losing on the first hole of sudden death.

“It’s such an honor to be able to make the cut,” said Kuehn, a 20-year-old junior ranked No. 10 on the WAGR who finished with back-to-back birdies to make the 36-hole cut. “It’s always incredible to get to play against some of the best players in the world. Being able to finish with two birdies gives me a little momentum going into tomorrow, but I just feel honored, humbled, and excited to be playing on Saturday.”

A four-time winner at Wake Forest, Kuehn’s resume includes stroke-play medalist honors at last year’s U.S. Women’s Amateur and the 2020 North & South Women’s Amateur title. As a member of Team USA at the 2021 Curtis Cup, Kuehn scored the clinching point in the U.S. victory. Her prowess on the golf course was literally instilled in Kuehn before she was born: Kuehn’s mother, Brenda Corrie Kuehn, was an All-American at Wake from 1984-86, and was eight months pregnant with Rachel when she played in the 2001 U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles (N.C.). Brenda, who felt a contraction while hitting her tee shot on the 11th hole during the opening round, missed the cut but eight days later delivered her daughter.

Kuehn recorded 1-over 73 in her second round and enters Saturday at 5-over through 36 holes, five shots behind leaders Beatrice Wallin of Florida State and Latanna Stone of LSU.

Play started Wednesday at Champions Retreat Golf Club in Augusta, Ga., with 71 players representing 35 colleges. Stanford led the way with five current players (Heck, Aline Krauter, Caroline Sturdza, Angelina Ye and Zhang) and one future commitment (Megha Ganne), followed by the Wake Forest foursome of Kuehn, grad student Migliaccio, freshman Carolina Lopez-Chacarra and junior Lauren Walsh. What’s more, two more Deacs were at the ANWA as caddies, as fifth-year senior Virunpat Olankitkunchai carried the bag for Lopez-Chacarra and associate head coach Ryan Potter is looping for Kuehn.

But it was still a Wake Forest-family affair when it came to the caddies for Migliaccio and Walsh, too: Migliaccio had her mother, Ulrika (Johansson) Migliaccio – who played at Arizona with World Golf Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam – on the bag, while Walsh had the same caddie that worked with Kupcho during her ANWA win thanks to an introduction from the 2019 champ.

“They are all very competitive and want Wake Forest – as a team – to do well, and that’s very exciting,” Wake Forest head coach Kim Lewellen told On Her Turf. “What this team does is they really take pride in their school and want to bring championships to their school, and I think that’s what sets them sets them apart.”

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“Whoever comes on top, comes on top, but we want to play each other at our best games,” added Migliaccio, who missed the cut but will turn her efforts to covering the tournament for Golf Channel. “That’s why (Wake Forest is) excelling as a team right now, because they have such a great mindset and have incredible energy together.”

While only the top 30 players advance to the final round, all 71 have the opportunity to play a practice round Friday at Augusta National. For Kuehn, playing Augusta with her teammates is the ultimate cherry on top of an already memorable week.

“My team has become my best friends,” Kuehn recently told ESPN. “We make each other better players and better people. We are always pushing each other and holding each other accountable. To get to experience Augusta together is an incredible opportunity, and it’s really what we’ve been working towards.”

Although she missed the cut for the second time in three starts, Migliaccio recognized the honor of representing the Demon Deacons the moment she received her 2022 invitation.

“Not only am I representing all the young girls and women who hope to be here one day, but I’m also representing Wake Forest University, a school that has treated me so well over my undergraduate and graduate years,” she wrote in an Instagram post.

Lewellen said that “team-first” mentality allows her players to also embrace their vast international differences. Current player hometowns range from nearby Ashville, N.C., to Texas and New Jersey, and as far as England, Switzerland and Thailand.

“As a team, they do really well embracing each other’s differences and learning from them instead of seeing them as different – ‘different’ meaning something unflattering, you know?” said Lewellen, who was an All-American in her own right as a college golfer at the University of North Carolina. She spent 11 years coaching at Virginia before taking over as the Demon Deacons coach in 2018.

“They really look at each other and learn from each other’s differences. I always say it’s like a ‘Friends’ episode – you’ve got so many different personalities, but they’re all really close. And I think that’s what makes them so special.”

Making the whole week special, of course, is the tournament’s backdrop of venerable Augusta National, which immediately elevated this three-year-old amateur championship to “major” status upon its inception.

“This event is just it’s the right step for all of women’s golf and women’s sports,” said Lewellen, who said she’s seen a significant bump in attendance at Wake Forest golf camps and influx of recruiting letters. “I just think the sport is growing and that’s wonderful to see and I think it has a lot to do with the Augusta National Women’s Amateur and the LPGA and the TV (exposure) and everything these organizations are doing for women players, so I think we’re on a great path.”

Watch final-round coverage of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur this Saturday, April 2, noon-3:30 p.m. ET on NBC.

The NBC Sports’ golf research team contributed to this report.

Crystal Dunn returns to USWNT roster five months after giving birth

Nigeria v USWNT
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Crystal Dunn was named to the USWNT roster for two upcoming friendlies against England and Spain, marking her first official selection since giving birth to son Marcel in May.

Dunn made her NWSL return with the Portland Thorns earlier this month and also trained with the U.S. team as a non-rostered player ahead of friendlies vs. Nigeria.

In addition to Dunn, the 24-player roster features a veteran core of Alyssa Naeher, Becky Sauerbrunn, Rose Lavelle, Lindsey Horan, Mallory Pugh, and Megan Rapinoe.

Alex Morgan was not named to the USWNT roster due to a knee injury. While U.S. head coach Vlatko Andonovski did not provide details of the injury, he noted that “if this was a World Cup final, Alex was going to be on this trip and was going to play, no question.”

Other roster highlights include 17-year-old Alyssa Thompson, who becomes the first player born in 2004 to receive a USWNT call-up. Thomas, a high senior, plays club soccer for the U-17 Total Futbol Academy boys’ team.

“We are very excited for her, very excited about her potential and qualities and looking forward to seeing how she will turn out in our environment,” Andonovski said of Thompson. “This camp is not make it or break it. It’s a first experience for her, it’s just something that she shouldn’t even worry about.”

The USWNT also includes a handful of players who have made their USWNT breakthrough this season — thanks in part to both strong NWSL play and injuries to more veteran players. That list includes the likes of Naomi Girma (7 caps), Taylor Kornieck (5 caps), Hailie Mace (5 caps), Sam Coffey (1 cap), and Savannah DeMelo (0 caps).

Andonovski on Thursday called Coffey, a midfielder for the Portland Thorns, a candidate for NWSL MVP.


USWNT Roster for October 2022 Friendlies vs. England and Spain

Goalkeepers (3):

  • Aubrey Kingsbury (Washington Spirit)
  • Casey Murphy (North Carolina Courage)
  • Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)

Defenders(7):

  • Alana Cook (OL Reign)
  • Crystal Dunn (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Emily Fox (Racing Louisville FC)
  • Naomi Girma (San Diego Wave FC)
  • Sofia Huerta (OL Reign)
  • Hailie Mace (Kansas City Current)
  • Becky Sauerbrunn (Portland Thorns FC)

Midfielders (8):

  • Sam Coffey (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Savannah DeMelo (Racing Louisville FC)
  • Lindsey Horan (Olympique Lyon, FRA)
  • Taylor Kornieck (San Diego Wave FC)
  • Rose Lavelle (OL Reign)
  • Kristie Mewis (NJ/NY Gotham FC)
  • Ashley Sanchez (Washington Spirit)
  • Andi Sullivan (Washington Spirit)

Forwards (6):

  • Ashley Hatch (Washington Spirit)
  • Mallory Pugh (Chicago Red Stars)
  • Megan Rapinoe (OL Reign)
  • Trinity Rodman (Washington Spirit)
  • Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Alyssa Thompson (Total Futbol Academy)

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC

Justine Wong-Orantes’ atypical path to becoming one of the best liberos in the world

Justine Wong-Orantes hits the ball in the women's semi-final volleyball match between USA and Serbia during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
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It’s been 20 years since the same nation held both the Olympic and world volleyball titles at the same time, but libero Justine Wong-Orantes is looking to help lead Team USA accomplish that very feat at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championships in the Netherlands and Poland. Competition began on Friday and the U.S. is currently 2-0 after group play wins against Kazakhstan and Canada.

“We’re trying to win, for sure,” Wong-Orantes told On Her Turf. “I think, especially with the new turn of the program and the new year of the quad, we just have a really nice blend of veterans and also newcomers on the team.”

The 14-woman roster for Team USA, which is ranked No. 1 in the world and won its first Olympic title last summer, features six players from that gold-medal-winning team. And while Wong-Orantes is among the 2021 U.S. Olympic team veterans, she’s still a relative newcomer to international play.

The Southern California native enjoyed a notable junior career – she was 12 when she became the youngest female to ever earn an AAA rating in beach volleyball – and was a standout collegian at Nebraska, where she was a member of the 2015 NCAA championship team. But Wong-Orantes followed a different path upon graduation, initially choosing not to go overseas to play professionally.

While she was first selected for the U.S. national team in 2016 and played a handful of international tournaments in the following years, it wasn’t until she started playing professionally in Germany in 2019 that she saw the potential to elevate her position on the roster. In particular, the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics gave her an additional year of overseas experience, which she calls “a blessing in disguise.”

“I just felt like I was still in that developmental stage,” she said. “And a whole year postponement allowed me to go overseas and really get all the touches, all the repetitions, and just kind of expose myself to international volleyball another year. So I was, in hindsight, pretty thankful for that COVID season because I got an extra year under my belt, and I think that just gave me a ton of confidence.”

Ahead of the Olympics, Wong-Orantes earned “best libero” honors at the 2021 FIVB Volleyball National League in Rimini, Italy, which helped secure her spot on the Olympic roster. In Tokyo, she followed up with another standout performance and was named best libero of the Olympic tournament.

As to how the Wong-Orantes transformed into one of the world’s top liberos, she points to her background as a beach volleyball player. She began competing at age 8, and her first partner was Sara Hughes, a star on the AVP Pro Tour who also won two NCAA titles with USC.

“I think having that background and just the court awareness that beach volleyball forces you to have allowed me to really have a good read on the game,” said Wong-Orantes. “I think that’s what makes a great libero is just reading and always being reactive towards the ball.”

Wong-Orantes also credits the assistance of mental coach Sue Enquist, a former UCLA softball coach and U.S. national team coach, who now helps teams work on their culture and relationships. Enquist began working with the U.S. volleyball team during the pandemic and has continued in her role ever since.

“We just worked on a lot of stuff within ourselves, within our program, how to communicate with each other off the court, and I think that honestly propelled us into such a high, high level with how we worked with each other, and then that transferred onto the court,” explained Wong-Orantes, who noted the team has Enquist on speed dial while at the World Championship. “I really commend Sue. I just really give a lot of praise to her because I think our culture was never bad, but I think [she] just transformed into a different level.”

2022-09-26 - FIVB Volleyball Womens World Championship 2022 - Day 4
ARNHEM, NETHERLANDS – Justine Wong-Orantes (far right) poses for a photo with her U.S. teammates after defeating Canada at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship on September 26, 2022. (Photo by Rene Nijhuis/Orange Pictures/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

Wong-Orantes said she and her U.S. teammates are on their toes for the world championships, which features twice as many teams (24) as the Olympics and a “more grueling” format.

“It’s going to be a long tournament, and I think we’re really going to need all 14 of us that are here. I’m pretty certain that, at any given moment, someone’s going to be called on and someone’s going to need to step up in big moments.”