'Validated' Wildcats begin quest for national-title repeat
Haley Moore chips in the golf ball at the Sewalio Golf Club on Sept. 14, 2018.
The temperature sat at a blistering 104 degrees on a Friday afternoon in September, but there they were working on their craft, hardly letting the heat break their concentration. For them, it’s just another day at the office.
Women’s golfers Haley Moore, Bianca Pagdanganan and Gigi Stoll made their way to hole 10 at the Sewailo Golf Club where the three seniors were in the final stages of preseason preparation before beginning what will likely be an arduous journey toward defending the national title the team captured just four months earlier.
Moore was the first to tee off and sent the golf ball flying down the green, but she didn’t quite get off the shot she wanted.
Stoll turned toward Moore and said with a laugh, “Wow, really good under pressure, Haley.”
An ironic statement, yes, but it wasn’t long before Pagdanganan chimed in to set the record straight.
“Cut her some slack, she did hit the winning putt,” Pagdanganan said, as all three burst out laughing this time.
Yet Moore’s four-foot birdie on the 19th hole to beat Alabama in the championship match would have been all for naught, had Pagdanganan not provided her own heroics.
The highly-touted transfer from Gonzaga perfectly hit a 25-foot eagle – fist-pumping several times after sinking the shot – on the 18th hole of stroke play to bring Arizona into a tie for the final spot for match play.
“Watching Bianca make that putt was truly amazing,” Moore said. “She was the only one left we could believe in. She was the savior of our team during stroke play.”
“It gave everybody the momentum we needed to win the championship,” head coach Laura Ianello said.
But what you didn’t see or hear was what Pagdanganan did afterwards while the team warmed up for the start of playoff matches. The last one to get to the range, she gathered all of her teammates and had a heartfelt message.
“I just brought everyone together and told them ‘we’re going to the playoffs, so we gotta make the most out of it’,” Pagdanganan said. “I have a feeling that it was just the adrenaline we all had and didn’t want it to end. And we knew we were meant to be there in the top eight.”
The team rallied around one of its leaders with a message delivered at just the right time.
The image of Moore sinking the winning putt and her teammates sprinting out to celebrate still represents the pulse of the team, and it will live on way after the current team has graduated.
“It’s the background of my laptop,” Pagdanganan said. “It just always makes me happy to see it.”
Moore has an album saved on her phone filled with pictures from the week at nationals, the trophy celebration in Tucson and, of course, her now-famous putt.
“I reflect on that time a lot because it shows that anything can happen,” Moore said. “It was just a special moment for us and the whole university.”
Just about everywhere they go now, the women on the team have achieved a celebrity-like status in Tucson.
“When we were all at the first football game, we were just standing in line for drinks and a bunch of people kept coming up to us and were like ‘Are you on the women’s golf team?’, ‘Congratulations’, things like that,” Pagdanganan said. “It’s pretty cool.”
Ianello, who was selected to throw out the first pitch at the Arizona Diamondbacks’ “U of A Night” on Sept. 6, described the community outreach as “amazing”.
“Not just [the community], but other former Wildcats who came through our women and men’s program, too,” Ianello said. “Just to bring the trophy back home is truly special, especially for me being an alum and coach … It’s validating for us a bit, and it makes me feel validated as a coach.”
As a fresh season begins, the Wildcats are aware that a repeat won’t be easy.
“We know it’s going to be tough, and we can’t sneak up on people now,” Moore said.
“Honestly, there is a lot of pressure, but we just need to keep working hard and try not to worry about the outside stuff,” Pagdanganan said.
As for Ianello, her preseason message to the team is a little different than what other eight seasons have been. She’ll try to get a team comprised of mostly the same cast from last year to move on from one of their biggest life accomplishments.
“It’s a new season for us. So we need to make sure we’re not living in the past, not living back in May, and move forward,” Ianello said. “We have new goals, new aspirations and a new NCAA Championship coming up in May, so we gotta look at that.”
Back at Sewalio Golf Club, the trio have worked their way down the green to within putting range. Despite a summer spent apart, each partaking in their own summer invitationals, their familiar bond remains noticeable.
“We texted all the time over summer saying how we miss each other and we are excited to be back,” Moore said.
Moore hit her putt to finish off the hole followed by Pagdanganan. Stoll and Moore both motioned to their teammate and said, “do the fist-pump!”.
Pagdanganan let out another laugh and said “No, I’m not doing the fist-pump yet.”
Instead, she’ll hope to save it for next May.
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