Sat. Jun 22nd, 2024

Arizona State coach reflects on ‘hard lesson’ after shocking NCAA regional exit

By admin May25,2024

Less than 24 hours after Arizona State saw its season shockingly end, Sun Devils head coach Matt Thurmond was running errands.

Still fresh were the emotions, the devastation. But Thurmond had already acquired a healthy dose of perspective.

“It’s a big deal, and everyone’s going to make a big deal of it,” said Thurmond, whose Sun Devils became just the fifth No. 1 seed to ever fail to advance out of NCAA regionals, finishing sixth Wednesday in Rancho Santa Fe, California, “but the reality is this is how sports work. It doesn’t matter who you are, or what you’re ranked, or what you’ve done, you’ve got to bring it for those three days.”

There’s a reason why Thurmond has constantly stressed the idea of having to “re-earn it” every day. Arizona State was ranked in the top five in the country all season, third by the time it traveled to The Farms Golf Club for this week’s 54-hole NCAA Championship qualifier. It had also won three of its past four events, including its first Pac-12 title since 2008. And when it came to this time of year, the Sun Devils had done exceedingly well, with back-to-back NCAA regional titles – an NCAA-record 59 under to capture the most recent one – and three straight trips to match play at the NCAA Championship, including a national runner-up finish in 2022.

But none of that mattered this week.

Arizona State’s two stars, Preston Summerhays and Wenyi Ding, both ranked in the top of the World Amateur Golf Ranking, finished T-50 and T-42, respectively, and a combined 24 over. Sure, senior Ryggs Johnston capped his career with a fourth straight top-10 finish and was among three Sun Devils in the top 13, but it wasn’t enough. North Florida hung onto the fifth and final position by five shots over the Sun Devils.

In a way, Thurmond reasoned, success had made his squad “numb to the reality of what it takes.” Even with the mid-semester departure of former top-ranked junior Luke Potter, who announced mid-regionals that he’d be transferring to Texas, the Sun Devils felt relatively invincible entering regionals; if they played well, they’d cruise.

But with the sport getting deeper and deeper, they didn’t truly account for the challenge of if they played poorly.

“I’ve coached long enough to know that there’s a certain psychology of a competitor,” Thurmond said. “I can talk about how tough the regional is going to be, and I do, but at the same time we won by a lot the last two years, and our actual experience is, ‘Is it really going to be that tough?’ And we’ve had a long run of really good success at the end of the year. … There’s just a certain psychology that comes after you’ve been broken, and it’s different than the psychology that you have after you win. Too much winning is often the worst thing for somebody. It’s not great for your character, your concentration, your humility, your focus on the things that most matter, and it’s human nature; it’s not like any team gets to avoid this.

“It’s a challenge that every coach and every player and every human has, trying to keep your edge when you’re thriving. It’s not easy.”

Arizona State certainly wasn’t the only team to find that out during what was a chaotic regional round. Across the six sites Wednesday, half of the top 10 teams in the national rankings also failed to advance to the NCAA Championship. The others were all No. 2 seeds – No. 7 Ole Miss, No. 8 Arkansas, No. 9 Alabama and No. 10 Washington.

If there is some solace, the Sun Devils don’t have to look far to see next year’s possibility. When Arizona State’s women’s team won its most recent national title, in 2017, it came after the Sun Devils were eliminated at regionals the season prior.

“This game will teach you a hard lesson,” Thurmond said. “It’s just how life and sports work; you get kicked down sometimes, and you kind of need those wake-up calls to reach your full potential.”

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By admin

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