Can Pepperdine upset Stanford? Waves have hung with the Cardinal before

Can Pepperdine upset Stanford? Waves have hung with the Cardinal before
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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Pepperdine is into match play at the NCAA Division I Women’s Golf Championship for the first time in school history.

The Waves’ reward: a quarterfinal date Tuesday with top-ranked Stanford.

It would be easy to consider it a David-versus-Goliath matchup, the reigning NCAA champions against a match-play newbie. But the Waves, ranked No. 16 in the country, are no pushovers. In fact, just last month Pepperdine tied Stanford for the team title at the Silicon Valley Showcase.

“We were right there with the best team in the country,” Pepperdine head coach Laurie Gibbs said.

Guzman, Higo propel Pepperdine into match play

Gibbs is now in her third decade at this program’s helm, so she knows confidence when she sees it – and this team has boatloads. That self-belief was on full display Monday at Grayhawk, as the Waves began the day in ninth place, a shot outside of the top 8, before shooting 2 over alongside Texas A&M and Arizona, the latter of which Pepperdine bumped out of match play with a gutsy finish.

Finishing on a more difficult front nine, the Waves’ four counters played that closing stretch in 1 under, and senior Reese Guzman, the team’s captain who had been in and out of the lineup since earning first-team All-West Coast Conference honors as a sophomore, helped lead the charge. Guzman birdied two of her final three holes, holing a difficult, downhill 20-footer at the par-5 seventh and another clutch mid-range putt at the par-4 finishing hole that punctuated what ended up being a three-shot final advantage over Arizona and New Mexico, who finished tied for ninth.

Defending champion Stanford qualified as the No. 1 seed into the quarterfinals at the NCAA Women’s Golf Championship.

“She found her way, and she’s doing great,” Gibbs said of Guzman, who played as an individual at the Silicon Valley event and missed two events entirely this spring. “She’s grown so much, and now, she’s amazing.”

While Guzman’s resurgence has been important, this Pepperdine squad is still led by junior Lion Higo and freshman Jeneath Wong, who are ranked No. 20 and No. 44 in Golfstat, respectively. In other words, Gibbs has plenty of weapons at her disposal to throw out against the likes of Rose Zhang and Megha Ganne.

The Waves know it – and after last month, Stanford likely does, too.

“This team wants to win, and they’re not afraid of winning,” Gibbs said. “Getting them to that point where they feel comfortable in this position – and I think that’s why we finished so strong. … They’ve been really confident, and we believe that we can do it. We want to show everyone that we have something special.”

What better way than to knock Stanford from its throne.

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