Lost luggage almost forced Little Rock women’s golf to WD from its first NCAA Regional appearance

Jenna Birch promised her two seniors, Viktoria Krnacova and Agatha Alesson, that they would make an NCAA Regional during their time at Little Rock if they decided to commit. They did so, and then Birch and the duo, her first recruiting class as head coach, helped make that promise come true.

However, it was almost taken away because of travel issues.

The Little Rock women’s golf team is the 12th seed at the Bryan NCAA Regional, which begins Monday. It’s the program’s first appearance in school history in regional competition. The Trojans were supposed to arrive in College Station, Texas, on Friday, but they didn’t get their until Saturday because of severe weather across Texas in recent days. However, their 23 bags, including golf clubs and all their clothes, didn’t get to College Station until early Sunday morning, and the story is difficult to believe.

“I was telling the airline employees that I get mistakes happen, but when it could cost my team a chance at doing something they’ve never done before, it’s just wrong,” Birch said.

The story began Friday, when the Little Rock women’s team was set to fly to Dallas and then Houston before driving to College Station. When coming into Dallas, storms hit the area, forcing the plane to go to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, to refuel before continuing on to Dallas.

The Trojans missed their connecting flight to Houston when the 55-minute flight took nearly three hours. Then, the team said that American Airlines employees told them all of the flights from Dallas to Houston and College Station were fully booked on Saturday, and they couldn’t get the traveling party of nine all on them on flights.

On Friday night, Birch and her team stayed in the Hyatt Regency at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport before waking up Saturday morning and getting rental cars to drive down to College Station, about a three-hour trip.

However, the bag situation was just starting. The team wasn’t able to collect its 23 bags on Friday night. Birch said airline employees said they would get the bags on a flight to College Station so they would arrive when the team got there.

Later Saturday, Birch got a call that her team’s 23 bags were in Houston, not College Station. Then, they got put back on a flight to Dallas. Then, the bags missed multiple flights that were bound for College Station.

All of this happening because Birch said that airline employees were telling her that she could not collect her team’s bags on Friday night nor was she allowed to drive to Dallas to get them herself during the day Saturday. She had to wait for them to get to College Station via plane.

“Our girls were joking that our bags were racking up more miles than we were,” Birch said. “It felt like they were holding my personal property at some points.”

Then there was another issue. Because of the weather and flooding in the regions around Bryan and Traditions Club, site of the NCAA Regional, the NCAA was allowing teams to get practice rounds in starting at 6 p.m. Saturday.

While that was fine for 11 of the teams in attendance, it didn’t do much for Little Rock. Because their six sets of clubs, six push carts, eight duffels of clothes, two suitcases and one bag of athletic training gear was still sitting in Dallas.

An airline employee promised Birch her bags would be on the late flight into College Station. However, initially the scan showed the bags were never checked on to the flight. After calling after 10 p.m. to ask why, she was told it was too late to get them on.

Here’s where there is finally a bit of good news: the incoming plane that was continuing to College Station hadn’t even landed in Dallas yet, meaning there’s no way the bags could’ve been loaded in the first place. A bit before midnight, she got a notification that the bags were finally loaded on the plane for College Station.

Come Sunday morning, the airport called her and said they arrived late that night and were ready to pick up.

“The airline employees in College Station were laughing when we got there because even they expected to have 23 bags come in all day Saturday, and they just never did,” Birch said.

For more than a day, all Birch and her players had were the clothes on their backs and some personal items they carried on to their original flight.

Thirty-one hours later, the luggage finally arrived at its destination. However, Birch said her team has handled the situation wonderfully, even making jokes about it and rolling with the punches.

“My girls are really mentally tough,” Birch said. “They understand this was our of there control and there was nothing they could do.”

Because of weather that hit Traditions Club on Saturday night into Sunday morning, the practice round scheduled for Sunday was canceled, and teams could only hit short pitch shots and putt on the greens as crews worked to get the course ready for Monday’s first round.

That means Little Rock, before its biggest tournament in school history, is going in without any of its players having played a complete hole. With all the adversity the Trojans have been through, though, it’s nothing they won’t be able to handle.

“I told them you just worry about shooting under par,” Birch said.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek