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Irish finally make it to NCAAs

Joe Meixell | Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Notre Dame is now doing the only thing that would make the program’s history-setting season better – making it longer. A day after winning the Big East Women’s tournament for the second straight year, the Irish received an at-large bid to compete in the NCAA tournament for the first time in the 19-year history of the program. “I’m really excited,” coach Debby King said. “I’m really happy for the team.”The tournament will take place on May 6-8 at the University Golf Course of Illinois State University in Normal, Ill. It will consist of three 18-hole rounds and will be played in the five-count-four format. Twenty-one teams including some familiar foes, five of whom the Irish have beaten, will compete for eight slots to advance to the National Championships.The tension seemed to mount all day for the golfers and coaches as the clock rolled towards 2 p.m., the time when the tournament fields would be announced. “All day I was hanging by the phone,” freshman Noriko Nakazaki said. When that phone call finally came for each golfer, it no doubt made their day and season, a whole lot better and definitely more memorable.”I was so excited at approximately 2:18 when coach called,” Nakazaki said. As the leading scorer of Notre Dame’s best-ever team, Nakazaki certainly deserves to be happy. However, the freshman firmly believes that her personal successes, no matter how great, are secondary to the team’s accomplishments.”It feels great when I’m the No. 1 [scorer] on the team,” she said. “Without my team, I wouldn’t be able to go to the NCAA’s.”What makes the news even more exciting for the Irish is that, despite the talented lineup and solid play over the last few weeks, today’s announcement was not much more guaranteed than it was at the beginning of the fall. Truly, this year’s team has surpassed even their head coach’s expectations.”I thought it’d take us a couple more years [to get an NCAA bid],” King said. “We’re ahead of schedule.”However as the team faces the most-high profile event of the program’s history, the players must still balance the responsibilities of class work with their golf schedule.”It’s going to be a light week of practice,” King said on how her team will spend the upcoming days. “[The girls] are going to have to reschedule their exams and get out of their dorms [over the next week.] It’s going to be academics first.”The team will leave for Normal on May 4th, and in the meantime, King hopes her players will be able to make use of as much of the golf course as possible, but realizes that there are other demands on them outside of golf. “I want them to get out there and play some, and they’ll call me to schedule individual help sessions,” she said. “It’s a stressful time for them, and they know I’m here for them.”