Sept. 6, 2002
With the recruiting mantra that the golf team can make anyone feel as if Tennessee is a home away from home, Pavon and Whitson demonstrated that "Circling The Globe" not only adds an international flavor to the Lady Vols, but also nets homegrown talent. Case in point, the Lady Vols inked top-flight recruits from Mexico and Sweden, yet they signed an in-state golfer to the orange-clad squad as well. Overall, the UT golf program mixes representatives from four countries (Canada, Mexico, Sweden and United States) into a squad with the potential to be extremely successful this season.
The Big Orange now hopes to emerge from a crucible of intense competition against some of the top-ranked programs in the country to arrive at the NCAA Championships hosted by Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., May 20-23, 2003.
The Lady Vols return a pair of experienced skippers who are fortified by time in their respective professional ranks. Pavon, who enters her third full season as the head coach, continues to evoke stellar performances from her charges. Last season, Pavon guided the squad to its 10th-straight postseason tournament and the third under her reign. The team also captured a tourney title for the second-straight season, marking the first time since 1996-97 that UT achieved that feat, as the Orange and White won the Alabama Capstone Intercollegiate. The Big Orange also finished in the top five in six events and missed the top 10 only once out of the 10 total tournies played. Additionally, UT set squad standards at the SEC Championships when it fired its best 18 holes (282), 36 holes (577) and 54 holes (866) in school history, which signified the second-straight year the Lady Vols broke those records.
Pavon understands that in order to continue this string of excellence, the team must strive to achieve its preseason objectives.
"One of our goals this season is to finish ranked in the top 10 in the nation," Pavon said. "We also want to qualify for the NCAA Championship and to win two or more tournaments." The other half of the coaching duo is Whitson, who is in his second season assisting the Lady Vol golfers. Whitson, a former head golf coach at Transylvania University, came to Knoxville with experience gained on the Hooters, Central Florida and Development Players tours. Whitson led the Pioneers to a No. 16 ranking in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) as well as guiding one of his golfers to a third-place NAIA Championships finish. Whitson will add his intimate understanding of pro and collegiate golf to the combined coaching effort of the Lady Vol golfers.
Pavon and Whitson welcome four fresh faces to an already nationally prominent group of four orange-clad letterwinners. The squad returns two juniors (Mary Jan Fernandez and Tai Perry) and two sophomores (Ryan Kirk and Jessica Shepley) from last season's record-setting squad. "I'm excited about the new players," Pavon said, "Although, we'll need time to develop team chemistry and allow them to adjust to the new environment, but we should be very strong by the end of the season."
Fernandez looks to improve upon a breakthrough performance at last season's SEC Championships in which she fired a career-best 215 over 54 holes, which included a 6-under 66 during the second day of competition. That total was only one shot shy of former Lady Vol standout Young-A Yang's school-record 65 set at the 2001 Bryan National Collegiate. The junior from Henderson, Nev., is coming off a solid season in which she topped her previous season-best stroke-average (79.48) by more than two shots with a 77.46 last season. She also broke into the top five for the first time in her collegiate career when she finished tied for fifth at the 2002 SEC Championships. Throughout the season, Fernandez continued her steady improvement as she bettered her previous career-best 54-hole total of 234, set while at Tulane University, three separate times. She also scored well with a string of 12 out of 13 rounds in the 70s.
"I'm looking for Mary Jan to keep up her steady play and to continue to improve this season," Pavon said. "She's an incredible ball striker and is very calm under pressure. Mary Jan is going to be key to our success."
Rounding out the trio of juniors this season is Perry. The Unionville, Pa., native proved herself to be a durable member of the golf squad as she played in all 10 tournaments for the Lady Vols last season. A clutch performer, Perry is tied with Shepley as the most lethal returning final-day golfer on the squad with a third round average of 76.00. She turned in her best performance of the season in the NCAA East Regional as she broke her career-low 18-hole score with a 2-under 70 in the final round of the season, along with a career-best 224 54-hole total at the Regional. Perry also carded a then career-low 1-under 71 during the final day of the Auburn Derby. After finding her swing in the spring, when she strung together 14 of 16 rounds in the 70s, Perry moved into 10th in Tennessee history with a 77.91 career stroke average.
"We need Tai to step up this year and play to her potential," Pavon said. "She is a solid player and we're going to work on getting the best from her. She has a great overall game and is very creative around the green. Tai seems to always play well for us in pressure situations."
Another cog in the Lady Vol golf machine is Kirk, a sophomore from Hixson. Kirk back from an injury suffered while at Auburn University to play in three tournaments as an individual during the fall season. Kirk gained valuable experience in the fall at the Mercedes-Benz Women's Collegiate Championships and at the Lady Gamecock and Dr. Donnis Thompson invitationals in the spring. At the Dr. Thompson, she ranked third in the field for total birdies made. Kirk also placed tenth among amateurs over the summer at the Fluffo Tennessee Women's Open.
"Ryan worked very hard over the summer to improve." Pavon said. "She will contribute to the team's success this year. She's become more consistent and her short game has developed well. Ryan brings great energy to our group." Sophomore standout Shepley provides some international flair to the returning letterwinners. The product of Oakville, Ontario grew up last season as a freshman, earning All-SEC honorable mention, as she placed in the top 25 in half of the team tournaments on her way to participating in every team tourney. Additionally, Shepley tallied the 12th-lowest single-season average in school history with a 76.59 that tied former Lady Vol Erin Simmons' scorecard from the 2000-01 season. Shepley's average also currently ranks fourth on the career-average chart. She also carded a career-low 1-under 71 during the first day of the Lady Gamecock Classic and recorded a career-best third-place finish at the Dr. Thompson Rainbow Tournament.
"Jessica is coming off a great freshman year when she was runner-up for SEC Freshman of the Year." Pavon said. "She had a great summer and worked very hard to continue to improve. She is a very strong and talented player who will provide leadership on and off the course. Jessica will be striving for All-America honors this season."
Faced with the departure of a trio of seniors, All-Americans Tina Schneeberger and Yang as well as Caroline Cole, Pavon searched the globe to reload for another season in the national spotlight. As a result, Pavon secured commitments from a pair of seasoned national junior-team members from Mexico and Sweden as well as a native Knoxvillian. As a bonus, a junior transfer with Tennessee roots also elected to join the team.
Hailing from Aquascalientes, Mexico, Violeta Retamoza looks to make an immediate impact on the squad this season. During her sole year in the states as a senior at Hamilton H.S. in Chandler, Ariz., Retamoza captured Arizona Player of the Year honors as well as nabbed the Arizona individual state title. She also traveled worldwide throughout her amateur career, competing in four different countries, not including Mexico or the United States, as part of various amateur events. Retamoza already owns three titlist crowns from topping all competitors at the 2001 Texas-Oklahoma Junior Golf Championship, the 2000 Girls' America Cup and the 2000 Junior Mexican National Championship. She also ranked second in the country from 1999-2001 behind former Arizona Wildcat Lorena Ochoa.
"Violeta is an awesome player," Pavon said. "She has had a great junior career and we're looking for her to fill one of our top spots. She has a tremendous short game and has the ability to shoot low scores. We're going to count on her day-in and day-out."
The other global newcomer is Golda Johansson from Lund, Sweden. Johansson is no stranger to Knoxville, as she first became interested in the area when she competed in the third and fourth annual Mercedes-Benz Women's Collegiate Championships. She finished 12th in 1999 and 37th in 2000 as a member of the Swedish Junior National Team at the Mercedes-Benz. Over her career, she has also fired several under-par rounds, including a personal-best 4-under in the 2002 British Girls' Championships and a 4-under 68 to capture the 1999 Electrolux Cup Swedish final title, as well as a 3-under 67 at the Stockholm Golf Course. Individually, Johansson finished second among a field of professionals in the 2001 Swedish Championships and participated in the 2000 Izzo Cup. She also led her team to the 2000 Girls European Championship crown.
"Golda is a huge asset to our team. She has a lot of determination and I'm looking forward to seeing how great she will be." Pavon said. "She has a ton of experience playing at a very high level and we will rely on her heavily this year. She won't have many adjustments to make to be a top college player."
The final freshman added to the squad is Knoxville, native Heather Humphreys. Humphreys is a proven athlete as demonstrated by her performance on the links at Halls, where she earned three varsity letters and served as captain as a senior. The Tennessee Titans' radio network also awarded Humphreys with the 2001 Titans Radio/Kia Sportage Award, which is designed to recognize outstanding male or female student athletes throughout Tennessee who also excel in the classroom and in the community. As a golfer, she placed third at the 2001 Tennessee State Junior Golf Championships and qualified as an individual at the Tennessee State High School Golf tourney in 1999 and 2000. She also placed second in the Knox-Area Women's Golf Association matchplay tourney during the summer. As a swimmer, Humphreys lettered four times and qualified as an individual four consecutive years at the state high school swim meet from 1998 to 2001.
"Heather is a great addition to our team," Pavon said. "She is going to work hard and will be contributing to the team in the near future. She will add depth to our program that will help us strengthen our lineup."
Another addition to the squad will not see any competitive time in the collegiate ranks until next year. Teesha Ash, a Florence, Ala., product who graduated from Notre Dame HS in Chattanooga, will be sitting out the year after transferring to the UT program.
"We're excited at the addition of Teesha." Pavon said. "Due to SEC regulations, she'll be sitting out this season. However, she'll attend practice and workouts and work on building her game to be ready for 2003-04 season."
With the competitive lineup set for the season, the squad is ready to tackle the competition. The team faces a daunting slate of nine regular-season tournaments with the hope of extending its streak to 11 postseason events. The Lady Vols also look to earn a slot at the NCAA Championships for the first time since 2000.
"Overall, our team will be very strong this year. We are looking for every player to contribute and improve throughout the season." Pavon said, "Our schedule is very challenging, but there are opportunities for us to earn team and individual victories."
The regular season opens where it will end, at the University of Kentucky Golf Course in Lexington. The Lady Kat Invitational will be the season-opening event this year as the Big Orange begins its 2002-03 campaign Sept. 13-15. One week later, UT continues its adventures in SEC territory as the Lady Vols head to Nashville to play in Vanderbilt's Mason Rudolph tournament at the Legends Club Sept. 23-24. The orange-clad golfers will need to rest up as the Mason Rudolph features two rounds of golf on the first day of competition.
Next, the Orange and White play host to the fall season's penultimate tourney, the Mercedes-Benz Women's Collegiate Championships at Gettysvue Polo, Golf and Country Club in Knoxville. Last year, the Big Orange finished fifth among a field of 14 teams and looks to improve as an impressive field, including last season's #1-ranked Auburn, travels to Volunteer country Oct. 18-20.
"The Mercedes is one of the very best events in women's collegiate golf, and this year we welcome several new teams to Knoxville," Pavon said. "We have a strong field compiled and welcome the return of the Swedish Junior National Team."
The fall season comes to a close Nov. 1-3 as the Lady Vols head to Auburn, Ala., for Auburn University's Tiger Derby. UT captured third place in the Derby last season behind the tournament host and last season's 10th-ranked Georgia.. The spring slate begins Feb. 10-12 with the Lady Vols' first trip to the Regional Challenge hosted by The Ohio State University at the Palos Verdes Country Club in Los Angeles, Calif. UT then heads to the Raven Club, located in Tucson, Ariz., Feb. 24-26 for the Arizona Wildcat Invitational. The Lady Vols placed fifth last season at the UA's annual event.
The Big Orange then heads back into SEC terrain March 9-11 for the Lady Gator Invitational, hosted by University of Florida in Gainesville. The Lady Vols' last attack on the LGI ended in a third-place finish in 2001. UT then heads to Greensboro, N.C., March 28-30 for the Bryan National Collegiate Championship at Bryan Park, where Tennessee looks to better last season's 12th-place finish.
"We're looking forward to an exciting season with several new tournaments on the schedule," Pavon said. "We are also returning to some tournaments we've been to in the past, each with traditionally strong fields. Facing last season's #1-ranked Auburn several times this year will be a good challenge for our young team. We're going to try to improve each week and be ready to have a strong postseason in the spring."
The squad returns to Lexington, Ky., April 18-20 to conclude the regular-season at the SEC Championships, hosted by the University of Kentucky. UT scorched the 2002 SEC Tourney as it captured a school-record triple-crown by breaking the 18, 36 and 54-hole marks.
The Lady Vols then look to continue their streak of 10-straight postseason appearances with a berth in an NCAA Regional held at one of three locations: Tempe, Ariz., Lincoln, Neb., or Winston-Salem, N.C. The top eight teams from each of these sites will then travel to West Lafayette, Ind., to decide which team will claim the NCAA Championship. Pavon and her squad hope to be there after missing the event the past two years.
"We had three sets of shoes to fill with the graduation of Tina, Carrie and four-time All-American Young-A," Pavon said. "I believe that Golda and Violeta will be able to step in and keep us very competitive. With Jessica, Tai, Mary Jan and Ryan returning and improving, we're hoping to be stronger than ever. Heather has the opportunity to be a key to our future success."
The stage is now set for the Lady Vols to harness the incredible potential of a young and exuberant squad to succeed in the fray of the 11th season of women's golf at the University of Tennessee. After "Circling The Globe" to capture the best talent, Pavon and Whitson also hope to capture some tournament title hardware.