Erica Popson with her SEC Championship Runner-up Award
April 18, 2010
By Zach Stipe, Media Relations Graduate Assistant
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - When freshman Erica Popson committed to Tennessee a year-and-a-half ago, she said her goal was to win the SEC Championship on her birthday.
Popson's 19th birthday arrived on Sunday and the Davenport, Fla., native very nearly got her wish at the 2010 SEC Women's Golf Championship. In one of the greatest performances ever by a UT rookie, she finished runner-up to Vanderbilt's Marina Alex in a sudden-death playoff at the NorthRiver Yacht Club course.
Popson's three-day total of 71-67-68=208 (-5) set a new 54-hole all-time low for the Lady Vols and led the No. 14/16-ranked Big Orange to a ninth-place finish at the conference tournament.
UT totaled a 298-291-288=877 (+25) team score to finish just one stroke behind eighth-place Ole Miss (876).
"I knew that Erica could play well," Lady Vol head coach Judi Pavon said. "I've had confidence in her game all spring, even when she wasn't scoring that well. I knew she was close. For her to play this well was remarkable. Coming down the stretch she made two birdies in her last four holes to get atop the leaderboard. She was steady and solid all day and showed a lot of maturity."
This weekend's competition was only Popson's third full tournament of the spring since returning from a wrist injury.
She made her presence known from the start, tallying a two-over 73 on Friday before ripping through the front side on Saturday, making six birdies in her last nine holes of the second round. Popson scorched the front nine again on Sunday, nabbing three birdies and no bogeys to move into a tie with Alex after 54 holes.
Popson nearly became the second Lady Vol ever to capture the SEC individual title, as she and Alex participated in a sudden-death playoff for medalist honors.
Popson matched Alex's birdie with one of her own on No.1, the first playoff hole, but smacked her second shot in the sand on the par-4 No. 2. Her wedge shot out of the trap carried over the green and she made bogey, while Alex made par to claim the conference title.
Katharina Larsson is the only Lady Vol ever to win the SEC title, accomplishing the feat in 1994. Violeta Retamoza nearly matched her in 2004, but also lost in a playoff. Popson's tied for first placement is the best-ever by a Lady Vol rookie.
"I'm disappointed because I wanted to win," Popson said. "It's exciting to finally put a full tournament together, though. I'm excited about the next few weeks."
Alabama (848), the tournament host, captured its first conference championship, edging past Vanderbilt (852). The Crimson Tide and Commodores were tied heading into the final round, but Alabama pulled ahead with a 1-under 283 on Sunday.
Sophomore Nathalie Mansson, Tennessee's No. 1 player this season, fired a final-round 2-under 69 to tie for 17th with a 216 (+3) total. She recorded her 13th round of par or better on Sunday, tying the mark for second-most ever in a season by a Lady Vol.
Cantú tied for 42nd with a 75-76-75=226 (+13), while Monberg tied for 51st, scoring 78-74-80=232 (+19) and Brown finished in a tie for 59th at 88-75-76=239 (+26).
Tennessee came into this weekend's tournament with high goals, but dug itself a hole with a 14-over 298 on day one. UT improved each round in Tuscaloosa, Ala., however, and will look to take some of its momentum from Popson's breakthrough into the NCAA Regional on May 6-8.
"As far as the team goes, we're just not playing that good right now," Pavon said. "With Erica's performance this weekend, we really should've been in contention. Today we had a good round, but couldn't finish it off and we lost a few shots on the last few holes. It all adds up.
"Erica's confidence is up and her game is there. Nathalie has been great all season. Now we just have to get the other ladies to back them up for the next couple tournaments."
Tennessee will likely play at the NCAA East Regional in Greeneville, N.C., but could end up at sites in either Bloomington, Ind., or Stanford, Calif, when the official regional fields are announced next week. A top-eight finish at the regional will advance the Lady Vols to their second straight NCAA Championship and sixth in seven years.
The national championship tournament will be held from May 18-21 at the Country Club of Landfall in Wilmington, N.C.
|LADY VOL SCORES|
|t17.||Nathalie Mansson||72-75-69=216 (+3)|
|t1.||Erica Popson *||73-67-68=208 (-5)|
|t42.||Diana Cantú||75-76-75=226 (+13)|
|t51.||Sara Monberg||78-74-80=232 (+19)|
|t59.||Ginny Brown||88-75-76=239 (+26)|
|**Lost in a sudden-death playoff on second hole|