MONTGOMERY, ALA. (AP) - The Auburn women’s golf team had to overcome far more than the normal highs and lows of the sport to make the NCAA championships.
Coach Kim Evans was diagnosed with clear cell ovarian cancer May 7. One of the Tigers’ top players, Victoria Trapani, missed much of the spring after doctors found her mother’s breast cancer had returned in December.
Assistant coach Margaret Shirley left in February because she couldn’t travel with the team during her own bout with health issues.
The Tigers barely managed to advance to the championships starting Tuesday in Athens, Ga., with an eighth-place regional finish on their home course. Only the top eight teams qualify for the 24-team field. Student assistant Danielle Downey coached the team at regionals while Evans recuperated from surgery to remove an ovary.
“We proved a lot to ourselves,” Trapani said. “We kind of lost it in ourselves after constantly having bad news. Literally it was like one thing after another. We’re young and we shouldn’t have to be faced with all the things we’ve been through. Ultimately we’ve grown as people and as a team and it showed after our performance at regionals.”
Evans managed to watch the Tigers tee off on the final day and returned for the finish after rebuilding strength with a long nap.
Evans, who starts chemotherapy five days after the championships end, received her doctor’s blessing Wednesday to make the trip to Athens. She’s already discussed the course with her team because she doesn’t expect to be able to make the practice round.
The “kooky,” fun-loving players who have been through so much make Evans chuckle.
“I love this team. It’s a gutsy little team, and they’re a lot of fun,” said Evans, who started feeling fatigued in February. “For me, it’s more of a celebration. I get to go over there and watch them do their thing and see a lot of amazing coaches that reached out to me over the last few weeks and kind of enjoy myself for a couple of days. Then be able to come back here and get ready for this battle I have.”
It seemed unlikely the Tigers would make it this far.
They finished last in back-to-back tournaments after a strong start in the fall, but earned a No. 14 seed in the regional after a resurgence at the Bryan National Collegiate in Greensboro, N.C., and the Southeastern Conference tournament.
Trapani’s return provided a morale boost.
She remained in school during the spring but mostly took a break from golf amid the burden of her mother’s own cancer fight. Kim Trapani had been diagnosed with breast cancer when Victoria was in high school.
Doctors found that it had returned right before finals in December and that the cancer had metastasized into her lungs.
Some good news finally came after spring break because the cancer hadn’t spread in the previous few months. Victoria Trapani returned to the course.