Jessica Mangrobang lost it, but not until she and four teammates had helped Gonzaga win the program’s first WCC women’s golf championship.
Watching her teammates putt out on the second playoff hole to clinch the landmark title Saturday, Mangrobang couldn’t suppress her emotions.
“I was so focused on doing my part and then just watching my teammates, I couldn’t handle it anymore,” said Mangrobang, a fifth-year player who took advantage of an extra season of eligibility after the COVID-19 pandemic put a premature end to the 2020 season.
“For coach (Brad) Rickel and (assistant coach) Victoria (Fallgren) and me that have seen this team develop and grow into something so amazing, I guess that’s why I just let my emotions go because it was honestly unbelievable,” she added.
It was a roller-coaster ride for Gonzaga and rival Pepperdine at blustery Reflection Bay Golf Club in Henderson, Nevada. The winds picked up on the back nine for the final groups, adding strokes to scorecards and suspense to the final outcome.
Pepperdine had won 18 of 23 previous WCC titles. Gonzaga had finished second three times, once with the tournament coming down to the last hole.
The teams were tied Saturday after the final hole of the 54-hole event. Before the playoff, Rickel discussed strategy with his team, taking into account winds that were in the 30-40 mph range.
“We won it the way we play golf: with our brains,” Rickel said.
No. 17 was the first playoff hole, and the highs and lows of the day were on full display on the par 3. At one point, Rickel thought the Zags were in deep trouble. A short time later, Gonzaga had a pair of 5-foot putts for the win. Neither dropped, one cruelly lipped out, so the playoff went to No. 18.
The Zags kept the ball in play on the water-lined par-4 18th and resisted temptation to go at a front-left pin location that was nearly inaccessible with the strong crosswinds.
Two Pepperdine players found the water. Mangrobang didn’t strike her approach shot quite the way she intended, but a low runner stopped about 10 feet from the cup and she drained the birdie putt.
“We were 3 over as a fivesome,” Rickel said, “and that was as good as humanely possible in those conditions.”
Winning the championship was a testament to Gonzaga’s depth. Sophomore Cassie Kim finished tied for second, one shot behind Pepperdine’s Caroline Hwang. Junior Quynn Duong set the program scoring record as a freshman and was in the mix for an individual title late into Saturday’s final round.
Junior Federica Torre’s final-round 77 was big. Freshman Mary Scott Wolfe, who made a clutch par from the bunker on the first playoff hole, and Mangrobang shared 10th place.
“Our fifth (player) can be our best on any given day and that’s not really normal in college golf,” Rickel said. “We had the best throw-out average (top four of the five players’ scores count at events) in our conference.”
The Zags will find out Wednesday if they’re invited to compete May 10-12 at one of four 18-team NCAA regional tournaments. Gonzaga’s WCC title and 63-6-2 record doesn’t guarantee a regional spot.
It’s typically based largely on Golfstat’s rankings, but COVID-19 left teams playing unbalanced schedules, much like college basketball. The Zags are No. 66 and Pepperdine 53 in Golfstat’s rankings, which haven’t been updated following the WCC Tournament.
“Our conference had to send in what they believe our teams should be ranked to the NCAA,” said Rickel, who has had three teams earn at-large regional berths. “The NCAA asked the conferences to do that because they believe they can’t be just looking at the rankings. We’re good enough and we should go, but it’s way up in the air.”
Mangrobang came back for her fifth year because “I felt like business was left unfinished, especially after COVID cut our season short last year.”
“It’s all up to the NCAA committee,” said Mangrobang, who graduates May 9 and has a job lined up at Johnson Barrow in Portland as an inside sales engineer. “I think we deserve to go to regionals. We’ve worked hard and played really well.”
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