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Overseas trip inspired Jayhawks

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, May 19, 2014, at 9:08 p.m.

— The journey began in Ireland. They toured Dunluce Castle, near the coast. They survived on baked beans with eggs and porridge at the breakfast table. They tramped around golf courses in a golfing-mad country.

For eight days last August, the KU women’s golf team bonded amongst the lush countryside of the Emerald Isle. For a team of international transplants, a piecemeal group from all over the world, it was the ideal preseason experience.

More than nine months later, the Jayhawks are still playing golf, rolling toward one of the most successful seasons in school history. Kansas will tee off on Tuesday at the NCAA women’s golf championship in Tulsa, Okla., making just the second appearance at the national tournament in program history and the first since 1990.

“They really made their mind up to do it,” KU coach Erin O’Neil said earlier this month. “I think our trip to Ireland helped bring the cohesion together and they decided we were going to do it.”

The 72-hole championship will take place for the next four days at Tulsa Country Club. The Jayhawks are coming off a fifth-place finish at the NCAA Central Regional in Stillwater, Okla.

“I think it was a good chance for us to see how we stack up against the best,” O’Neil said. “We beat some really good teams, and I think that will be a really good confidence-builder going into nationals. We want to show everybody what we can do.”

For senior Meghan Potee, a native of Noblesville, Ind., the journey to nationals has been a slow, four-year build. Three years ago, the Jayhawks were in the Big 12 cellar. But one by one, the pieces came together.

Three standouts from Thailand — senior Thanuttra “Fhong” Boonraksasat, sophomore Yupaporn “Mook” Kawinpakorn and freshman Pornvipa “Faii” Sakdee — have added depth and talent. Junior Minami Levonowich was born in London and came to KU via the Hank Haney Academy in Hilton Head, S.C.

“We thought we were going to go (to the postseason) last year but that didn’t happen,” Potee said earlier this month. “We are making school history and it feels so good going out like this during my senior year.”

Three years ago, KU finished 11th out of 12 teams in the Big 12. Two years ago, they placed 10th out of 10. Even last year, they scored just an eighth place finish in a nine-team Big 12 tournament. Now they’re one of 24 teams standing before the four-day NCAA championships.

“I feel like from the start, we’ve had very good team effort,” said Levonowich, who finished 19th at regionals, the team’s top individual finisher. “We work well together, and we’re all really good players. Even if one player doesn’t play well, we’re all really good enough.”

In a season that began across the Atlantic, the road now ends in Tulsa. For Potee and Boonraksasat, the two seniors in the starting lineup, the turnaround has been fulfilling. But the trip to nationals also meant that they missed graduation this past weekend in Lawrence. So late last week, they dressed up in their caps and gowns and took some photos at the Campanile.

It was a nice moment. But Potee is hoping the four days in Tulsa are just as memorable.

“You work four or five years, you graduate and you missed the celebration,” Potee said. “But that’s all right. Going to nationals is kind of worth missing graduation … It was kind of a big deal, but I think nationals is a little bigger.”

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