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Wake Forest, USC advance to team final of NCAA women’s championships

One was expected, one was a surprise, but both Wake Forest and Southern California earned their place in the final of the NCAA DI Women’s Golf Championships at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona.

The third-seeded Demon Deacons handled the seventh-seeded Texas A&M Aggies in convincing fashion, winning three matches in Tuesday’s semifinals to advance.

Wake’s Emilia Migliaccio put the first point on the board when she beat A&M’s Zoe Slaughter, 2 and 1, the highlight coming with a hole-out eagle at the par-4 sixth. Then it was senior Rachel Kuehn’s turn against Aggie grad student Hailee Cooper. After an early back and forth, Kuehn was able to close things out at the par-3 16th, winning 4 and 2.

With just one more point needed, the Demon Deacons were in a favorable position to advance, it was just a question of who would secure the final blow. Ultimately, Mimi Rhodes was able to stave off Blanca Fernandez Garcia-Poggio, who was unable to birdie the final hole to keep the match alive.

It was a grueling match for the Wake junior as she needed an IV on Monday night and once again became overheated and dehydrated on the back nine Tuesday evening. After clinching the semifinal win, Rhodes said she was dizzy but happy to have won for her team.

“These young ladies, from the perseverance they had from the morning matches to the afternoon matches, overcoming some of the adversity and finishing it off with the wins that we did, to make it to the next day, it’s just an unbelievable feeling for myself, my team and for Wake Forest,” Demon Deacons head coach Kim Lewellen said.

The four semifinal teams all advanced by winning quarterfinal matches earlier on Tuesday.

The surprise of the day came in the second semifinal between top-seeded Stanford and fifth-seeded Southern California.

The two teams tossed leads back and forth in four of the five matches for much of the afternoon, but the match between the world No. 1 amateur, Stanford sophomore Rose Zhang, and USC junior Brianna Navarrosa was the clincher. Navarrosa went 1 up on Zhang after the latter double bogeyed the par-4 first, and Navarrosa never relinquished the lead.

Stanford freshman Kelly Xu was able draw first blood against Catherine Park, winning 2 and 1, but USC followed with three-straight points from Cindy Kou (2 and 1 vs. Megha Ganne), Christine Wang (2 and 1 vs. Brooke Seay) and, finally, Navarrosa (2 and 1 vs. Zhang).

While it wasn’t a perfect day for the Trojans, the putts seemed to be dropping when they needed to, and Navarrosa was the star in an upset of the top-ranked defending champions and back-to-back individual champion.

“Christine Wang, who we’ve subbed in, subbed out and subbed back in today, gets a win. Brianna (Navarrosa) holds off the greatest amateur golfer of all time (Rose Zhang), and then Cindy Kou goes out and puts up a great round,” USC head coach Justin Silverstein said after the win. “This is a long day; everyone told me how tiring this day was, and now I believe them. We have to get this group some rest and come back tomorrow.”

Wake Forest is making its second championship appearance and eyeing its first national title in school history after the Deacons finished runner-up in 2019. Three-time champion USC returns to the team final for the first time since finishing runner-up in 2014.

The national championship will be decided Wednesday, with live coverage on Golf Channel beginning at 5 p.m. ET.