Trojans looking for fifth conference crown and fifth win this season.
Trojans have won three straight events, four overall this season.
USC also boasts four players ranked in the individual top 20.
Trojans looking to build on win at Allstate Sugar Bowl Intercollegiate.
Popov ties for second and sinks clinching birdie on first hole of playoff.
One of the finest coaches in the country, 17th-year USC Women's Golf Head Coach Andrea Gaston has directed two NCAA Championships teams, three NCAA individual champions, three NCAA Players of the Year, has twice been tabbed national coach of the year and has built the Trojans into one of the NCAA's powerhouse programs.
After guiding USC to its first-ever NCAA crown in 2003 with a wire-to-wire 15-shot victory, Gaston directed the 2008 team to its second championship, also winning it in wire-to-wire fashion. USC won its final four events en route to the 2008 title, cementing Gaston's place as one of the NCAA's premier coaches. Validating that status, she received her first National Golf Coaches Association National Coach of the Year honor in 2008 to compliment similar awards as 2008 NCAA West Regional Coach of the Year and 2008 Pac-10 Coach of the Year.
Then, on Dec. 7, 2010, Gaston earned the top honor in women's collegiate golf when she became the 43rd coach to be inducted into the NGCA Hall of Fame. "I am deeply honored to be a part of the NGCA Hall of Fame," Gaston said. "This award is a tribute to all the talented young women I have had the privilege of coaching the past 15 years."
For the second time in three seasons, USC fell just one stroke short of first place at the 2012 NCAA Championships, finishing second to Alabama. Still, it extended USC's streak of NCAA top 5 finishes to a nation-best seven. USC won twice on the season, including Troy's record eighth NCAA Regional, and had seven top 3 finishes and four top 2s to end the season.
Gaston directed USC to four wins in 2011, including her second Pac-10 crown and seventh NCAA regional title. The Trojans tied for fifth at the NCAA's (though played the event without one of its top players due to injury). Despite falling short of the NCAA title, Gaston's colleagues honored the Trojans' overall strong season by selecting Gaston for her second NGCA National Coach of the Year honor.
In 2010, USC was literally inches away from a third national title, finishing second at the NCAA Championships by one stroke. Troy won four titles that year, including at the NCAA Central Region and were led by sophomore Jennifer Song, who earned All-American first team honors and was a Honda Award finalist. In 2009, Gaston's Trojans were again among the top teams in the nation and posted top 4 finishes in all 11 events, including six second-place finishes. The Trojans finished third at the NCAA Championships (after leading after three rounds) and second at both the NCAA West Regional and the Pac-10 Championships.
With the bookend 2003 and 2008 NCAA titles and top 3 finishes in three of the past four seasons, USC has finished in the top 5 at eight of the past 10 NCAA Championships. In fact, the Trojans have reached the NCAA Championships 15 times in a row under Gaston and have been in the top 7 an amazing 12 times.
Gaston was a champion as a player, and has solidified the same standing as a coach, joining a small group of coaches who enjoy the same distinction.
It was just a matter of time until the two-time California State Amateur champion (1993-94) transferred her playing success at the highest level of amateur golf to blazing achievements at the collegiate coaching ranks.
Gaston was no fly-by-night in terms of playing success. Her track record prior to her state amateur achievements in 1993-1994 stands out on its own. Prior to those triumphs, Gaston was one of the top players on the San Jose State University women's golf team in the late 1970s. Her best individual finish was a third-place showing at the University of New Mexico's Tucker Invitational, but her biggest collegiate highlight was finishing tenth individually at the NCAA Championships. At that time, she competed with many of the LPGA Tour's all-time greats, including Nancy Lopez, Patty Sheehan, Beth Daniel and Betsy King. Gaston also qualified to play in the 1977 U.S. Women's Open.
Gaston, after a 14-year hiatus to pursue a business career, came back to competitive golf in 1992. She was a 1993 USGA Women's Mid-Amateur semifinalist, a top qualifier for the 1994 U.S. Women's Open along with the `93 and `94 Women's U.S. Amateurs, and had back-to-back victories in the 1994 Los Angeles and Long Beach City Championships. To top that off, she even went toe-to-toe with former USC and LPGA standout Jill McGill in the 1994 Colorado Broadmoor Invitational, losing to her in a 36-hole championship match.
She then won her two consecutive State Amateur championships (becoming one of the top ten amateurs in America in less than two years). At that point, Gaston decided to give the professional ranks one more shot. But the opportunity to coach at USC came to Gaston while she was competing on the Futures Tour in 1996. Even while at San Jose State, USC had always beckoned to her. The chance to be a part of the Trojan Family was too good for her to pass up.
Gaston wanted to return USC women's golf to the forefront of collegiate programs and make them a consistent top 10 team. She also knew this was a great opportunity to be a part of the outstanding tradition at USC and be associated with the strong Trojan alumni base.
"I may have walked away from my own dreams as a player, but I have now stepped into an even bigger dream and a bigger vision," said Gaston, who knows of no greater opportunity than to be involved in the shaping and development of young players and to help them prepare for their futures.
Gaston obviously made the right decision. While her playing era has come and gone, the Gaston coaching era is in full swing. And with the players that have come through central Los Angeles lately, Gaston is creating a recruiting legacy that will forever be remembered as the start of a golden era in Women of Troy golf. First, there was 1998 NCAA champion and Collegiate Player of the Year Jennifer Rosales, who won the title in only her sixth collegiate tournament. Next, in 2000 there was two-time All-American selection Candie Kung, who after departing USC won three times on tour in 2003, finishing sixth on the LPGA tour money list. In 2003, she coached another NCAA individual champion--Swedish sensation Mikaela Parmlid, who also took home that year's Honda Award for women's golf. In 2006, she helped guide Irene Cho to possibly the greatest individual season in Women of Troy golf history while her teammate, Dewi Claire Schreefel, came away with Troy's third NCAA individual championship. Both were nominated for the Honda Award with Cho, who won four individual titles on the season, taking home the award. In 2007, Troy finished fourth at the NCAA Championships and Paola Moreno tied for second to earn All-American first team honors.
The 2008 season set a host of more firsts. The squad featured five All-American golfers for the first time in program history. Belen Mozo was named an All-American first teamer, Schreefel, Lizette Salas and Stefanie Endstrasser were second teamers and Moreno was an honorable mention. USC's streak of four consecutive titles (which ended the season) was also a program first. That streak included its third straight NCAA Regional title as well as its first Pac-10 title since 1989.
The 2009 squad boasted NGCA Freshman of the Year Jennifer Song, who joined Salas as All-American first teamers. Mozo also was an All-American second teamer. In 2010, Song earned All-American first team honors for the second year in a row (becoming USC's first two-time first teamer since Kung in 2001 and 2002), was the 2010 Pac-10 Golfer of the Year and was a Honda Sports Award finalist. Salas was a second-team All-American, her third career All-American honor, tying four other Trojans. Under Gaston in 2011, Sophia Popov earned NGCA and Pac-10 Freshman of the Year honors and joined Salas, now as a senior, as an NGCA All-American first teamer while junior Lisa McCloskey earned second team honors. Salas also was tabbed 2011 Pac-10 Player of the Year as she became USC's first ever four-time All-American. In 2012, McCloskey and freshman Doris Chen earned All-American first team status while Popov earned honorable mention honors.
It's not the unparalleled success that makes Gaston proudest. Instead, it is her players' day-by-day and year-by-year growth that brings her the most satisfaction.
"Golf is a great avenue for our players' development," said Gaston. "Whether they choose golf as a career path or not, their experience while they're here-- along with their degree from USC--will take them far in life no matter what choice they make. We are continuing to expand our future plans, so I know there's no better time than now to be a part of our program. We are totally committed to the kind of achievement that makes the USC women's golf program one of the best in the country."
Gaston completed her education at California State University, Northridge, graduating with a bachelor's degree in physical education in 1980.
Gaston is also an active participant in the collegiate golf coaching community as a member of the National Golf Coaches' Association and served on the Awards Committee from 2008-2010. Gaston also served on the NCAA Certification Committee and was appointed to the subcommittee focusing on equity, welfare and sporting conduct. She also served on the Collegiate Golf Foundation Coaches Council, the National Tour Committee and the MasterCard Collegiate Golf Rankings Committee.