Erin O’Neil is in her 10th season as the women’s golf coach at Kansas. For nine years, the seasons have come and gone with no postseason appearances. The drought was disappointing, of course, but the coach and her players were used to it. No KU women’s golf team had reached the NCAAs since 1990. There was little history to speak of.
So when O’Neil watched her team receive its first ever at-large bid to an NCAA Regional Tournament on Monday evening, she knew it was something big.
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“We’ve just made history and qualified for an NCAA regional for the first time as a team,” O’Neil said. “They really made their mind up to do it.
“They owned it. It wasn’t my dream, it was their dream.”
The Jayhawks landed the 14th seed in the 24-team NCAA Central Regional, which will be played May 8-10 at Karsten Creek Golf Course in Stillwater, Okla. The top eight teams from the regional will advance to the NCAA Championship during May 20-23 in Tulsa.
Before Monday, Kansas’ only appearance in the postseason came in 1990, when the Jayhawks advanced to the NCAA Tournament after winning the Big Eight title. The NCAA regional didn’t even exist then. But O’Neil credited a preseason trip to Ireland with bringing together a team that featured senior leader Meghan Potee and sophomore standout Yupaporn Kawinpakorn.
“I’m really proud of the young ladies and the coaching staff,” KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger said. “These were the goals we talked about three years ago and they have certainly moved the bar higher and we couldn’t be prouder of them.”
Kawinpakorn finished tied for second at the Big 12 Championship last weekend, leading the Jayhawks to a tie for fourth. It was their best conference finish since 1992. As a team, the Jayhawks finished 22 over par at the three-day event.
“It’s the first time for us and it’s an amazing feeling,” Kawinpakorn said. “We have been so ready for this. We believe in ourselves. Sometimes it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen, but we are happy to be where we are at.
“I wouldn’t celebrate just yet. Our job is still far from done.”