Gophers enter NCAA regional as dark horse

Minnesota has to finish eighth in the central regional to qualify for NCAAs.

by David Nelson

The Gophers women’s golf team continues to be overlooked in national rankings, even though it has placed in the top 10 in all but one tournament this season.

Minnesota isn’t seen as a big threat heading into its biggest — and last — tournament of the season.

And that’s just how the Gophers want it.

“I think we’re flying in under the radar,” junior Anna Laorr said, “but I think that’s how we’ve been all season, and we like to be in that position.”

This weekend marks another opportunity for Minnesota to prove its doubters wrong as the team travels to Oklahoma for the NCAA regionals.

The Gophers put themselves in good position to qualify after a solid performance at the Big Ten championships.

“I think the fact that they came back and shot 297 the last round and tied for the second-lowest round was pretty big,” head coach Michele Redman said.

Minnesota took fifth as a team at the Big Ten tournament, but it remained cautiously optimistic about its chances to qualify for the NCAA regionals.

“I was confident all season,” Laorr said. “I really didn’t actually start panicking until someone tweeted … the magic number was going to be 57, and we were ranked 58th.”

With the Golden Goldys and the selection show falling on the same night, the Gophers avoided conversations about the NCAA regionals.

“We were on the bubble,” Laorr said, “[and] no one wanted to draw too much attention to it in case it didn’t go that well.”

Still, senior Banchalee Theinthong remained positive about her team’s chances.

“I just felt confident,” Theinthong said.

In the end, the committee selected Minnesota as the 19th-ranked team in the Central regional, marking the first time the team has qualified during Redman’s tenure.

Minnesota graduated four seniors after the 2011 season who competed regularly, and the team went into a rebuilding mode after Redman arrived.

As part of that rebuilding process, Redman helped expedite the development of individual golfers on the team.

“Carmen [Laguna had a] 79 scoring average at the end of her freshman first semester … and Sarinee [Thitiratanakorn] was in the 80s,” Redman said. “And [now] Carmen’s 74, and I think Sarinee’s 75. We’re getting the players better.”

Add in the talent of the freshman class, and Minnesota looks the part of a dark horse contender.

“We’re a lot deeper this year,” Laorr said. “I remember back in my first two years, the lineup was pretty much set, and now it’s like anyone’s score can count on any given day.”

Treading carefully into this weekend, Minnesota is holding out for a shot at the NCAA championships.

“If we stick to our game plan and we just play golf,” Laorr said, “we’ll be fine.”