COLUMBUS, Ind. - Kent State advanced to the fourth NCAA Championship in the 12-year history of the program by the slimmest of margins Saturday. On the shoulders of junior Martina Gavier's medalist-winning performance, the Golden Flashes claimed the eighth and final NCAA slot by a single stroke at the Central Regional.
"I'm so happy for the kids right now," head coach Mike Morrow said. "We really peaked at the right time and beat an awful lot of good teams this weekend - we're very fortunate to be one of eight teams to advance to NCAAs. For Martina to be medalist in this field is truly an exceptional accomplishment."
Gavier's two-stroke margin of victory over Arizona State's Lizette Salas came courtesy of her second even-par round of the tournament, which was also tied for the low round of the day. Starting on the 10th hole, Gavier opened bogey-birdie before rattling off seven straight pars. A bogey at the turn was matched with her second birdie of the day on the fifth hole. After catching an update from a scoreboard on the par-three eighth hole (her 17th of the day), the MAC Player of the Year promptly birdied the hole to give herself a three-stroke cushion and rendered her closing bogey irrelevant.
Gavier's three-over 219, bested Salas (221, +5) and Georgia's Marta Silva Zamora, who came in third place at 223 (+7). The stellar field also included five of the nation's top 10 players according to the most recent Golfstat rankings. The tournament win was the second in as many events for Gavier, who earned her first career victory two weeks ago at the MAC Championship.
"This is truly one of the greatest days of my life," Gavier said. "I just played my game and trusted in myself and everything worked out. The last two years at regionals were heartbreaking, which makes this so special. I think we're going to go to NCAAs and shine."
Gavier joins former men's golfer Jon Mills as the only Golden Flashes to earn medalist honors at an NCAA Regional. Mills won the 2000 Central Regional.
No. 4 USC took team honors with a 54-hole total of 907 (+43) on the 6,416-yard, par 72 Otter Creek Golf Club. Second-ranked Arizona State was the runner-up at 915 (+51), while No. 7 Purdue was third at 931 (+67). The Flashes checked in at 940 (+76) - a mere shot ahead of Denver. As a matter of fact, only 11 strokes stood between the third-place Boilermakers and 10th-place Michigan State.
Sophomores Mandi Morrow and Mercedes Germino tied for 50th at 239 (+23) after closing with rounds of 78 and 79, respectively. Junior Sarah Bradley tied for 70th at 243 (+27), while sophomore Shamira Marshall was 95th at 252 (+36).
The 2010 NCAA Championship will be held May 18-21 at the Country Club of Landfall in Wilmington, N.C. The 24-team field will play two practice rounds prior to the 72-hole event. Kent State's previous NCAA appearances came in 2001, 2003 and 2006.