Rose Zhang wins individual NCAA golf title, Stanford claims team prize

Stanford win 2022 NCAA Division I Women's Golf Championship.
Getty Images
0 Comments

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Stanford freshman Rose Zhang stood just short of the 17th green, the ball resting a few feet away in the rough as she tried to close out a tight match.

Oregon’s Sophie Kibsgaard Nielson wheeled past Zhang while lining up her next shot and accidentally rolled over the ball with her push cart, incurring a one-shot penalty.

A bizarre sequence, but it had little to do with the outcome. Zhang was going to wrap up the national championship either way.

Zhang closed out Kibsgaard Nielson with a two-putt par and Stanford beat Oregon 3-2 on Wednesday for its second national championship.

“It turned out regardless of that penalty shot I was able to secure it, but it definitely lightened a lot of pressure on that hole,” said Zhang, who won the NCAA individual title Monday. “It really sucked for it to end that way. It was just unawareness by Sophie, but I didn’t think much of it.”

The Ducks lost the first two matches, then rallied to win the next two, leaving it up to Zhang and Kibsgaard Nielson on Grayhawk Golf Club’s Raptor Course.

Leading 2 up, Zhang hit her tee shot into the rough short of the par-4 17th and Kibsgaard Nielson, looking ahead to her next shot, rolled over it with her cart.

Had it been stroke play, Zhang would have just replaced her ball with no penalty. In match play, Kibsgaard Nielson was hit with a one-stroke penalty.

It didn’t matter.

Kibsgaard Nielson needed to win the hole and even without the penalty, she only would have had a par. Zhang two-putted from about 60 feet for par, sinking a 5-footer for the Pac-12’s unprecedented 200th women’s NCAA title across all sports.

“I reminded Rose that no one ever wants a tournament to end that way, but it didn’t,” Cardinal coach Anne Walker said. “At the end of the day, Sophie made five, Rose made four and I want that for both Sophie and Rose to be the focus because no one wants a title to end that way.”

Stanford has been one of the nation’s best programs since Walker took over in 2012, yet has struggled at times to finish off strong.

The Cardinal won the 2015 title, but lost to Washington in the title match the next season and finished tied for third the next two years. Stanford lost in the quarterfinals the past two seasons, the last one as the No. 1 seed.

The Cardinal had to grind out wins over Georgia and Auburn on Tuesday, but appeared to be cruising to their second national title.

Stanford led four of the five matches early, then Brooke Seay beat Ching-Tzu Chen 4 and 3 in the opener. Aline Krauter gave the Cardinal a 2-0 lead with a 5-and-3 victory over Hsin-Yu Lu.

Then things started to get tight.

Tze-Han Lin beat Rachel Heck 4 and 3, giving Oregon hope with two close matches still on the course.

Briana Chacon, down two with four holes left, tied her match after Sadie Englemann couldn’t get up and down from in front of the green on 17. Chacon hit her second shot on the par-5 18th into the greenside bunker and made the 15-foot birdie putt to win 1 up, pulling the Ducks even.

“We did not play good golf in the start of this,” Oregon coach coach Derek Radley said. “We were a little timid, just for the moment, but I never count my Ducks out and, man, did we give it a run at the end.”

Zhang appeared as if she would dominate the closing match, just as she did in winning the individual title. She won the first two holes and led 3 up through 11. But Kibsgaard Nielson kept her close, chipping the lead down to one with birdies on Nos. 12 and 14.

Zhang went back 2 up with a birdie on the par-4 15th and barely got her ball onto the front of the green from the rough on No. 17. With the penalty on Kibsgaard, Zhang only needed three putts to close out the match and got it down in two, sending Cardinal players charging onto the green in celebration.

“No words can describe it,” Zhang said. “That was the most incredible moment of my life.”

The Ducks, despite coming up short in the title match, took huge strides in their fourth season under Radley.

Oregon won the Pac-12 championship for the first time — Hsin-Yu was the individual champion — and claimed its first NCAA regional. The Ducks then rolled through San Jose State and Texas A&M on Tuesday to reach their first NCAA title match.

“This was the dream, this was goal,” Radley said. “We wanted to get to this stage. That’s a special group.”

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.
Getty Images
0 Comments

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.”

2022 Ascendant LPGA: How to watch, who’s playing in Texas’s annual signature event

Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand hits her second shot on the 16th hole during the final round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.
Getty Images
0 Comments

The LPGA make its annual stop in The Colony, Texas, this week for the 10th edition of the Ascendant LPGA benefiting Volunteers of America, where Thailand’s 19-year-old rookie Atthaya Thitikul comes in hot off her second career win and second playoff victory this season at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.

Leading the 132-player field at Old American Golf Club, located at Golf Clubs at The Tribute, are Texas residents and past champions Cheyenne Knight and Angela Stanford. They’ll compete for the $1.7 million prize purse alongside major champions Nelly KordaLydia Ko and Brooke Henderson. Last year’s Ascendant LPGA champion, world No. 1 Jin Young Ko, will not be defending her title after announcing earlier this month she would be missing several weeks due to a nagging wrist injury.

This past weekend in Arkansas, Thitikul took the lead with a 10-under 61 in the second round and shot 68 in the final round to finish regulation tied with Danielle Kang at 17-under 196. Thitikul, who won the JTBC Classic in March in a two-hole playoff vs. Nanna Koerstz Madsen, drained an 8-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole to secure the win over Kang.


How to watch the 2022 Ascendant LPGA 

Coverage of the 2022 Ascendant LPGA from Old American Golf Club in The Colony, Texas, can be found on Golf Channel, with streaming options available any time on any mobile device and online through NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

  • Thursday, Sept. 29: 12:30-3:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Friday, Sept. 30: 12:30-3:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Saturday, Oct. 1: 1-4 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Sunday, Oct. 2: 1-4 p.m. ET, Golf Channel

Who’s playing in the 2022 Ascendant LPGA

Six of the top 10 players in the Rolex World Rankings are among the field in Texas, including:

  • No. 2 Nelly Korda
  • No. 4 Lydia Ko
  • No. 5 Atthaya Thitikul
  • No. 6 Brooke Henderson
  • No. 7 Lexi Thompson
  • No. 10 Nasa Hataoka

A number of local Texans also are in the tournament, headlined by past champions, Angela Stanford (2020) and Cheyenne Knight (2019), and two junior champions of the Volunteers of America Classic Girls Championship, who are playing on a sponsor exemption: Yunxuan (Michelle) Zhang (2022), a freshman at SMU, and Avery Zweig (2021), a high school sophomore from McKinney, Texas.


Past five champions of The Ascendant LPGA

YEAR WINNER SCORE MARGIN RUNNERUP
2021 Jin Young Ko (South Korea) 16-under 268 1 stroke Matilda Castren
2020 Angela Stanford (USA) 7-under 277 2 strokes So Yeon Ryu, Inbee Park, Yealimi Noh
2019 Cheyenne Knight (USA) 18-under 266 2 strokes Brittany Altomare, Jaye Marie Green
2018 Sung Hyun Park (South Korea) 11-under 131 1 stroke Lindy Duncan
2017 Haru Nomura (Japan) 3-under 281 Playoff Christie Kerr

Last time at The Ascendant LPGA

South Korea’s Jin Young Ko carded a final-round 69 to maintain her 54-hole lead at Old American Golf Club and held on for a one stroke win at the 2021 Volunteers of America Classic, her eighth career LPGA tour title. Ko finished regulation at 16-under 268, edging Finland’s Matilda Castren by one stroke.

It kicked off a five-win season for Ko, who had just lost her No. 1 ranking to Nelly Korda the week prior after holding the top spot for 100 straight weeks. She regained the No. 1 ranking back in October 2021, after earning her fourth win in seven starts at the BMW Ladies Championship.


More about Old American Golf Club

Opened in 2010, the Old American Golf Club is one of two clubs at The Tribute, a lakefront resort community on Lewisville Lake in The Colony, Texas. Designed by Tripp Davis and 12-time PGA Tour winner Justin Leonard, Old American plays as a Par 71 and stretches to 6,475 yards on the tournament scorecard.