Maryland, Navy women’s golf set to tee off at NCAA regionals

The Navy women’s golf team’s run to its first Patriot League title in three years was welcomed by the golfers and their fans — and Maryland coach Kelly Hovland.

Hovland was the associate head coach and assistant for the Midshipmen for seven years until 2019 before joining the Terps’ staff. She called Navy coach Kylee Sullivan a friend and said she continues to root for her former team from afar.

“I still follow them very closely,” Hovland said. “Their senior class is the last class I recruited. So I’m feeling my connections get a little bit less and less every year, but always excited to see them be successful just because of the incredible student-athletes they have there. It means a lot to kind of see that evolution over the years.”

The state will be well-represented at the NCAA regionals Monday through Wednesday. Maryland drew the No. 7 seed out of 12 teams in the Bryan Regional at Traditions Club in Texas, while Navy earned the automatic qualifier and will be the No. 12 seed in the Bermuda Run Regional at the Bermuda Run Country Club in North Carolina.

Hovland was hoping the Terps and Midshipmen would end up in the same region but didn’t get her wish. Still, Sullivan said she is happy both programs have a shot at finishing among the top five teams in their respective regionals to advance to national championships May 17-22 at Omni La Costa Resort in Carlsbad, California.

“I think it’s awesome,” she said. “I think both of us have done a good job of representing our schools, but also the state of Maryland, and we’re going to do our best to make everybody proud. It’s really neat to see two schools show that we’ve got what it takes.”

Here’s a look at how Maryland and Navy reached the postseason.

Maryland feeling ‘some really good vibes’

The Terps will make their second consecutive appearance in a regional after finishing just three shots out of cementing their first berth at nationals since 2021. That result drove golfers such as senior Patricie Mackova.

“It was definitely disappointing because Augusta beat us, and that’s a team we’re so much better than,” she said. “The chance to make it nationals, that’s what I play for every day. That’s why I practice and I get up and work out at 6:30 every morning. So of course it motivates me.”

Hovland said she has noticed a change in her players’ tenor this spring.

“I think last year was more like a sigh of relief, like, ‘OK, we did it. We got there,’” she said. “I think this year, that wasn’t really in our consideration. We were looking for more and had our eyes kind of on the next prize. It was more of a date on the calendar in terms of finding out where we were going to go. I like that mentality, and I hope that’s our expectation every year to where we’re watching the selection show just simply for informational purposes and logistics.”

Hovland has had the luxury of leaning on Mackova and sophomore Nicha Kanpai. Mackova captured the stroke play individual crown at the Texas Showdown in Dallas on April 9 and tied for 17th at the Big Ten Championships at Bulle Rock Golf Course in Havre de Grace. Kanpai won the individual title at the Chevron Collegiate in Humble, Texas, on Feb. 27 and was also tied for 17th at the conference tournament.

Maryland was the runner-up in the team competition at both events in Texas, and Hovland noted that the regional is also in the Lone Star State. “We have some really good vibes going for Texas,” she quipped.

Set to turn pro after she graduates, Mackova is intent on making sure that the regional is not the final tournament of her college career or that of her teammates.

“It’s what we work for every day,” she said. “I think we’re a really good team, and we can play with anybody in the field. So [the objective] is definitely to win that regional and go to nationals.”

Navy ‘in a really good spot’

The Midshipmen’s performance at the Patriot League Championships was sparked by senior Stephanie Lee’s victory in stroke play to become the program’s first individual champion. It was quite a departure from 2021 when she admitted she “kind of choked” away the lead in the third and final round en route to finishing in a tie for fourth.

“It was very rewarding,” she said. “I thought it was an awesome way to close out four years of collegiate golf. I was very happy and honestly shocked, but it was awesome.”

Lee and fellow senior Mara Hirtle have led the Midshipmen, who have been bolstered by the emergence of freshmen Emma Tang and Keira Howard. Sullivan said sophomore Sue Lee has forged some of her best rounds in her last three tournaments, including the Navy Spring Invitational on April 13 which she won and Navy finished third despite wind gusts of up to 40 mph at the U.S. Naval Academy Golf Club in Annapolis.

“We were playing in really tough conditions, and we played well,” she said. “I think that kind of got them feeling like, ‘even when conditions are tough, we’re a solid team, and we’ve got what it takes in a really tough field there.’ I think it just gave them the confidence to think, ‘Oh yeah, we can do this.’”

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As if the players don’t have enough on their plates to worry about, final exams begin at the end of the week. Lee said the golfers will take exams on Friday and Saturday before they leave that day and then on Thursday — the day after they return.

“It’s definitely stressful,” said Lee, who is double-majoring in operations research and Chinese. “I think everybody’s just trying to go in with a positive attitude and just play our best while we’re there.”

Although the Midshipmen are the last seed in their regional, Sullivan said she thinks the team can use its showing at the Patriot League Championships as a springboard for the upcoming weekend.

“That was one of the best events we played all year, and I think everyone’s in a really good spot and looking forward to continuing that momentum all the way through regionals to see what we can do,” she said. “It’s obviously a tough field, and there are some good teams, but I don’t think anybody can count us out.”