For all the progress made by Wichita State’s women’s golf team in coach Tom McCurdy’s seven seasons, futility remained the overriding takeaway. No Missouri Valley Conference championships, no NCAA postseason play.
By winning the MVC postseason tournament last month by one shot over Indiana State, WSU advanced to an NCAA regional for the first time. The Shockers under McCurdy had endured multiple near misses, finishing second in the conference twice, including last year. Tolerance was wearing thin.
WSU begins play Thursday at the 24-team Central Regional at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla., which includes UCLA and Arkansas, both ranked in the top five nationally.
“I’m a competitor, it wears on me every time we don’t win,” McCurdy said. “But in building a program, it does take patience and you have to take one step at a time. What we focus on even in practice is to do something every day to make yourself better. We’ve been getting better as a program every time, we just hadn’t quite broken through by winning the conference and getting to the NCAA Tournament yet.”
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The process toward the postseason wasn’t quite as arduous for WSU’s players. The Shockers’ seven-player roster doesn’t include a senior, and with a pair of freshman and one first-year transfer, almost half the team knows nothing but success.
This season, though, wasn’t smooth from the start. The Shockers finished 13th of 15 teams in their second tournament, then ninth of 18 in their third. Then WSU produced a quick turnaround, finishing no worse than sixth in its last seven outings, with four top-four finishes.
The Shockers have won their last two tournaments, entering the regional with momentum that received a jolt when they topped Indiana State 900 strokes to 901 at Missouri State’s home course in late April. They worked out obstacles posed by a young roster during a less-stressful fall schedule.
“We had to do a lot of things just starting over,” McCurdy said. “We basically got to reset the whole program. There is a lot of trust that has to be earned, and those things happen during the fall semester. The fall semester was really us learning about the new players and them learning our system, and in the spring everything started to gel. They got more comfortable with what we were teaching them.”
The comfort, McCurdy believes, came from players noticing their surroundings. Once McCurdy and assistant Krista Peterson’s philosophies were in place and resonating with the young players, the players could focus on their own improvement with assurance their teammates were doing the same.
“They have to trust each other on the golf course,” McCurdy said. “They developed that trust through practice situations, but also in the weight room. They see how hard each other works. We do a lot of mental exercises in practices as well, and that helps in that trust-building and team development aspect.”
Along the way, WSU found depth that could serve it well during postseason play. The Shockers don’t boast a standout star, but four players — Alejandra Arellano, Bryce Schroeder, Meghan Schuetz and Alejandra Villalobos — average between 77.03 and 77.8 strokes.
That consistency could allow WSU to play above its No. 22 seed and enable the Shockers to avoid a disastrous round that might derail their tournament.
“It’s a really challenging golf course,” McCurdy said. “You have to put your ball in play off the tee, and especially have to hit it into the right areas on your second shot. That really plays right into our wheelhouse. All of our girls are great ball-strikers, very good iron play. If we keep the ball below the hole, especially when there’s a lot of slope near the pin, I think we’ve got a really good shot of advancing. It’s great to have that depth and balance.”