Auburn took to the UGA Golf Course early Thursday morning with more on its mind than playing golf.
Longtime coach Kim Evans has ovarian cancer and had to go home after the Tigers’ first nine holes on Thursday. Despite not having their coach, the Tigers shot a 3-under 285 tied for ninth in the team standings after three rounds of the NCAA Women’s Golf Championships at the UGA Golf Course.
“It’s been really tough with everything going on with my mom and with coach,” Auburn sophomore Victoria Trapani said. “Her being able to be here at least for the start is such an inspiration. It makes me want to have a good start. It makes me understand that there’s a lot more things that could be going worse in someone’s life than a round of golf. I try to put it into perspective and not put so much pressure on myself. It’s just a game.”
Trapani missed three months of spring competition after finding out her mother, Kim, had Stage 4 breast cancer that has spread into her lungs. Trapani returned to competition in time for the Southeastern Conference Championships which was about the same time Evans discovered her cancer.
“It’s really hard because Coach Evans is like my second mom as well,” said Trapani, who shot a 3-under 69 Thursday and is 5 over for the tournament. “So when I found out about her, I was doing well mentally. When I took three months off, there was a lot going on in my head. Finding out about Coach Evans was kind of a setback to how far I’ve come. … We’ve all come a long way. We had a rough start. Other than that, we had a good shot at it. Now our goal is to finish top five or top 10 and make some noise.”
Evans is set to begin aggressive cancer treatment next Tuesday. She was able to coach the Tigers for about nine holes in the second round on Tuesday and the third round on Wednesday morning.
“It’s just really stressful,” Auburn senior Carlie Yadlocsky said. “Seeing her face really brought us up. Our confidence went up seeing her there, her coming up to us and saying ‘You’ve got this, you can make this putt.’ Just having her around helps. She’s in really good spirits. She’s a fighter and we just want her to get better and get everything she can. Just having her fly out here yesterday was a really good thing.”
Auburn has had an emotional spring semester on many fronts. Auburn assistant coach and former Georgia assistant Margaret Shirley had to resign in December after having seizures. Trapani found out about her mother’s cancer early in the spring, and Evans informed the team of her diagnosis a few days before NCAA regionals. Graduate assistant Danielle Downey will handle the Tigers’ main coaching duties for the rest of the national tournament.
“It’s been hard,” Downey said. “Not because of our play or anything like that. But it’s been hard. I’m just trying to do whatever Coach wants me to do to help her. I’m trying to make her proud and put up a really good finish for her. She starts chemo next week so we want to give her something good to focus on. I know everybody’s trying their hearts out for her. It’s been hard, I’m not going to lie. But we’ll be alright.”
Evans is an Auburn graduate and is in her 19th season as the Tigers’ head coach. Several Southeastern Conference teams are wearing a blue ribbon this week in her honor.
“She’s a trooper and it didn’t surprise me at all to see her out here,” Georgia senior Emilie Burger said. “She recruited me. I almost went to Auburn and I love her to death. She’s an inspiration to all of us to be out here. She loves us and she loves golf. I just love her to death. I’ve got my bag covered with stickers and ribbons. She’s just amazing to see everything that she’s going through and still have a positive attitude. That’s something I’m trying to imitate this week even though I’m not playing well.”
Auburn started the week by shooting 17-over 305 and was in last place after the first round. The Tigers have made the tournament’s biggest jump the last two rounds with a 292 on Wednesday and a 285 on Thursday.
Marta Sanz led Auburn with a 4-under 68 on Thursday. Diana Fernandez shot 6-over 78, Jamie Yun shot 11-over 83, Yadloczky shot 2-under 70 and Trapani shot 3-under 69.
“I’m ecstatic,” Trapani said. “Even though we’re not where we want to be on the leaderboard, sports and life are about growing and growing together. We’ve learned a lot about each other and a lot about adversity. I couldn’t be more happy about my team right now, especially after the way we played today. We refuse to take last place. We didn’t come here to take last place. We came here to prove ourselves and I think we did that no matter where we place on the leaderboard just by our round today.”