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 most highly regarded coaches in the country, 19th-year USC Women's Golf Head Coach Andrea Gaston has directed three NCAA Championships teams, five NCAA individual champions, four NCAA Players of the Year, five Pac-12 Golfers of the Year, three Honda Sports Award winners, has been tabbed WGCA and Pac-12 Coach of the Year three times apiece and has built the Trojans into one of the NCAA's powerhouse programs.
Gaston, inducted into the WGCA Hall of Fame in 2010, guided the Trojans to NCAA titles in 2003, 2008 and 2013 and the Trojans finished second by just one stroke in 2010 and 2012 and by two strokes in 2014 - a combined four strokes over three years. Under Gaston, Troy has made the NCAA Championships 17 years in a row and has finished in the top 5 for the past nine years (the longest active streak in the country). USC has finished second four times, has 10 top 4 finishes and 13 in the top 5. Additionally, 17 of her golfers have earned a combined 39 All-American honors.
The Trojans have enjoyed remarkable success under Gaston and came close to winning a fourth NCAA title in 2014 during a record-setting season, but finished second by two strokes. The Trojans were ranked No. 1 throughout the 2013-14 season and Gaston led a squad that would go on to earn a national best five All-American honors for just the second time in program history and the first since 2008. The season was highlighted by junior Doris Chen's NCAA individual title, which was the fifth in USC history, all coming under Gaston's watch. USC's nine wins, including a national best 10th NCAA regional crown, were two better than the school-record seven it won the previous season. The Trojans finished no lower than a tie for second place in the four events it didn't win, which included a two-stroke loss to Duke at the 2014 NCAA Championships. Chen and sophomore Kyung Kim earned 2014 WGCA All-American first team honors, sophomore Annie Park and freshman Karen Chung were tabbed as All-American second teamers and senior Sophia Popov was named an All-American honorable mention pick. Chen and Park were also two of the four 2014 Honda Sports Award finalists for golf. USC's 286.26 stroke average per round was the best in school history, breaking the record set last year (288.76) by 2.5 strokes. The Trojans also set a record for team rounds of par or better with 21, seven more than last year, the previous best.
The 2013 NCAA Championships season set the bar the highest it had ever been at USC. Troy won a then-school-record seven times, including six of its final seven events, which included USC's fourth conference title, its ninth regional title and a dominating victory at the NCAA Championships. The Trojans shattered the NCAA Championships record for most under par by 15 strokes, winning at 19-under 1133 (284-276-285-288) and their 21-shot margin of victory was the biggest at the NCAAs since 2000. USC, the first school to post the low round each day since 1982 (including an NCAA record 276), placed all five starters in the top 17, led by the freshman Park, who won the individual title at 10-under 278. Then-freshman Kim and then-junior Popov tied for sixth at 1-over 289, then-sophomore Chen tied for 15th at 4-over 292 and junior Rachel Morris tied for 17th at 5-over 293. Park, named the 2013 WGCA and Pac-12 Player and Freshman of the Year as well as the Honda Sports Award winner for women's golf, won four times on the year to tie USC's season record and became just the second NCAA woman to win a conference, regional and NCAA titles in the same season. Kim and Park both earned WGCA All-American first team honors while Popov and Chen earned second team status. Gaston earned her third WGCA Coach of the Year honor and her second Pac-12 Coach of the Year nod.
USC's wire-to-wire NCAA titles came in the same fashion as its 2003 and 2008 NCAA wins. The 2003 Trojans won by 15 strokes while the 2008 team won by six.
Gaston's 2008 NCAA title squad featured five All-American golfers for the first time in program history. Belen Mozo was named an All-American first teamer while Dewi Schreefel, Lizette Salas and Stefanie Endstrasser were second teamers and Paola Moreno was an honorable mention pick. 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. Gaston 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.
Gaston led USC to its first NCAA title in 2003 thanks in part to All-American Mikaela Parmlid's NCAA individual win and Irene Cho, an All-American honorable mention selection, who tied for third. The 2003 squad won four times and finished second three times.
In addition to Chen, Park and Parmlid, USC's other NCAA individual title winners - Jennifer Rosales (1998) and Schreefel (2006) - both played under Gaston. Like Park, Rosales and Schreefel won their titles as freshmen. Five USC golfers have won the Pac-12 titles under Gaston, including three in a row at one point, all as freshman: Park in 2013, Chen in 2012 and Popov in 2011. Moreno won in 2008 and Candie Kung took first in 2000.
USC has come oh-so-close to posting six NCAA titles under Gaston, with near misses in 2014, 2012 and 2010.
For the second time in three seasons, Troy fell just one stroke short of first place at the 2012 NCAA Championships, finishing second to Alabama. USC won twice on the season, including Troy's eighth NCAA Regional, and had seven top 3 finishes and four top 2s to end the season. The squad featured two All-American first teamers in Chen and Lisa McCloskey while Popov earned honorable mention notice.
USC was dealt a similar fate in 2010, inches away from a national title, and finished second by a stroke to Purdue. 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 and Pac-10 Player of the Year honors and was a Honda Award finalist. Salas, as a junior, earned second team honors.
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 NCAAs (though played the event without one of its top players - McCloskey -- 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 WGCA National Coach of the Year honor. Salas became USC's first-ever four-time All-American by earning first team notice, as did Popov as a freshman while McCloskey was a second teamer. Salas was named the Pac-10 Player of the year while Popov earned WGCA and Pac-10 Freshman of the Year honors.
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. Song was tabbed the WGCA Freshman of Year and earned - along with Salas -- All-American first team honors while Mozo was a second teamer.
In 2007, Troy finished fourth at the NCAA Championships, led by Moreno, who tied for second to earn All-American first team honors while Mozo was an honorable mention pick.
In 2006, the Trojans finished second (by 10 strokes). Gaston helped guide Cho to one of the greatest individual seasons in Women of Troy golf history. She who won four individual titles to tie a school record, earned All-American first team honors (along with Schreefel, the NCAA individual winner that year) and then took home the Honda Sports Award.
Other highlights under Gaston include Candie Kung becoming USC's first two-time All-American first teamer thanks to standout seasons in 2001 and 2002 and Rosales' NCAA win in 1998 that propelled her to national player of the year honors.
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 10 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.
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.