Maryland women’s golf coach Diana Cantu talks about building the Terps into an NCAA tournament team during her five years in College Park. (Don Markus, Baltimore Sun video)
COLLEGE PARK — Diana Cantú didn’t plan it this way.
When she took the job coaching the women’s golf team at Maryland five years ago, the then-26-year-old didn’t plan on having players from five different countries — and only one American — fill out the roster of her first NCAA tournament team this spring.
It just happened that way.
“I wouldn’t say that this was purposely done,” Cantú said recently. “As we put pieces of the puzzle together, it just came out that way.”
It began with two Italians, Ludovica Farina and Ludovica Scandroglio, in the fall of 2015.
“Lulu [Farina] and Ludina [Scandroglio] were our first recruiting class,” Cantú said. “Getting them, and they played in Europe so much together, there’s just a lot of people that know each other. When I was at Baylor [as an assistant], I recruited a lot of contacts in Europe.”
Farina and Scandroglio are now the team’s two seniors. Xiaolin Tian of China is a junior. Charlotte Lafourcade and Laura Van Respaille of France, as well as emerging star Virunpat Olankitkunchai of Thailand, are sophomores. Freshman Elena Verticchio is also from Italy.
Freshman Lena Capoccia has the name — and game — to fit in well, though she’s from Bethesda and is the only American on a team that will be headed to the program’s first NCAA regional since 2012, beginning Monday at the Saugahatchee Country Club in Opelika, Ala., hosted by Auburn University.
“This area is very attractive to internationals,” said Cantú, a former member of the Mexican women’s national team who played in college at Tennessee. “Just where we’re situated, the diversity in the school, being so close to D.C., it’s a really good spot for international kids.”
Farina, who passed up more established and successful programs, including Florida and Vanderbilt, to become a Terp, said the biggest attraction for her coming out of high school was Cantú and what she was trying to accomplish at Maryland.
”I decided to go to Maryland because the coach was new. She was trying to change the program,” Farina said. “I knew she was a good coach. Even though she was really young, she had really great experience in her college career and as an amateur. I trust her vision.”
It was a long-term vision, given that Maryland was ranked 115th among 249 Division I women’s teams when Cantú took over from Jason Rodenhaver, who was hired as the school’s director of intercollegiate golf in 2011 and coached both the men and women his first three years.
“Jason had done a really good job with this program. I just thought the women’s side needed a little more boost,” Cantú said. “Just coming here, I saw a lot of potential, really good bones. We did have good players. We just needed to run this program as a top program again.
“It takes time. I knew I had to be patient, it’s really hard to do as a coach. I played at a very competitive program at Tennessee. We were very successful at Baylor. I knew how to put a team [together] that could compete in the NCAAs year and year out.”
Farina, who last summer qualified to play in the Women’s British Open, said she has seen the team grow deeper and more talented during her four years.
“When I arrived my freshman year, we had more scores in the 80s than in the 70s,” she said.
Cantú not only credits this year’s team for its accomplishment — the Terps will go to the NCAA championships ranked No. 52 in the country — but those she coached the first couple of years as well.
“They’re also part of our accomplishments this year. It’s been hard work since I got here five years ago, trying to build this program, trying to put together a team that would help us get to postseason,” Cantú said. “It’s very exciting to see that we did it.”
A disappointing performance at this year’s Big Ten tournament — eight place out of 14 teams one year after tying for second — left Cantú and her team a little nervous going into the NCAA selection show.
“It was really emotional. I was almost 100% sure that we were going to get in, but there’s always that little bit of doubt when you’re a bubble team,” Cantú said. “We didn’t have our best performance at the  Big Ten championships. To see how far we’ve gotten is really good.”
The biggest breakthrough has come from Olankitkunchai, who led the team in scoring average (72.52) this spring and has all three of Maryland’s top-10 finishes, including a tie for fifth at this year’s Big Ten championships. That earned her first-team All-Big Ten honors.
The player everyone calls “Ou” — as in “soup” — was a bit surprised by her success.
“Compared to last year, freshman [year], I need to adapt to many things,” said Olankitkunchai, who grew up in Bangkok and has been playing golf since she was 4 when her parents “randomly asked” if she wanted to try golf. “This year I got it all together and I did better.”
Adjusting to the team was easy.
“It’s fun to have different people from different cultures,” Olankitkunchai said. “I get to learn their cultures and different values. I think it’s cool, staying with them. I think we get along really well.”
Given how close in age she is to most of her players, Cantú, 31, can appreciate what they are experiencing, having gone through it herself.
“It definitely makes for some funny stories, funny accents,” she said. “Misinterpreting things and helping somebody else out. I think it’s really cool to be part of a group like this because we grow and mature a lot more understanding different cultures, different upbringings.”
Said Cappocia, who as a junior at Churchill won the state high school title on the Maryland course: “It’s so cool. With all the different cultures on the team, you learn something new every day. Learning things about their cultures that I didn’t know has been really special.”
The one thing that clearly hasn’t been an issue is where to eat for team meals.