May 7, 2011
By Zach Stipe, Media Relations Assistant
AUBURN, Wash. - Just after the turn on Thursday, Tennessee Lady Vol sophomore golfer Erica Popson pointed at the outdoor scoreboard positioned between Holes No. 4 and No. 6 at the Washington National Golf Club, smiled and shrugged. She was wondering why her name wasn't in the first position despite being 2-below-par through 11 holes.
She's getting used to seeing her name at the top.
The leaderboard was a little slow getting updated during the first round, as Popson was off to another fast start. Her name would eventually find its way to first on the scoreboard on day one, however - a place it would never leave.
She captured the NCAA West Regional on Saturday by five strokes to claim her fourth straight first-place finish and lead the Lady Vols to a second-place performance.
Tennessee will make its third consecutive trip to the NCAA Championships and 10th overall after finishing with a 292-287-297=876 (+12) score.
After winning the West Regional in dominating fashion despite wet and rainy conditions, Popson will be among the favorites when the national tournament tees off from May 18-21 at the Traditions Club in Bryan, Texas.
"I played well this week," Popson said. "I hit a lot of fairways and a lot of greens, and made a ton of putts. Today, I made a few mistakes, but the weather was bad and I knew everybody would have few miscues. My mental game is very strong right now and I'm staying positive on the course. I'm very happy with the way I played.
"It feels really good. I hope it continues for one more tournament. NCAA's is the biggest tournament of the year."
She is believed to be the first NCAA Division I golfer to capture medalist honors in four straight tournaments since LPGA-great Lorena Ochoa won seven straight for Arizona in 2001-02.
The Davenport, Fla., native finished with an 8-under 68-69-71=208 score, tying herself for the second lowest mark in Tennessee history. She now owns the three lowest 54-hole marks in the Lady Vol record books and becomes first Lady Vol to win four career tournaments.
"I've never seen anybody do what she's doing in college golf," Lady Vol head coach Judi Pavon said. "She's been doing everything well, and she's staying confident and positive. She's hitting the ball great. I'm really proud of her and looking forward to see what she can do at Nationals."
Monberg fired a 75-70-76=221 (+5) total at the par-72, 6,266-yard course and tied for 11th - one place away from All-Region honors. She tied for the best par-5 scoring average for the weekend at 4.75.
Mansson totaled 75-75-76=226 (+10) and tied for 25th, while Rohrback and Thomas tied with 231 (+15) three-round scores en route to a t52nd.
Mansson tied for the tournament lead with 40 pars and Thomas was one six players to record an eagle. The Spokane, Wash., native made a hole-in-one on the par-3 No. 11 on day one.
The Lady Vols started the tournament on the back nine and quickly put themselves in one of eight positions to move onto to the NCAA Championships. UT was third after day one and moved up to second after round two, where it stayed.
This will be Tennessee's seventh national tournament appearance in eight years. UT tied for 19th at NCAAs in 2010 after finishing second at the NCAA East Regional.
"This is always a tough tournament," Pavon said. "Coming out West was a challenge for us. The team rose to the occasion and was determined. We're thrilled to be going back to Nationals. I'm proud of the team for playing well. We'll look forward to a good finish out in Texas."
Popson will be looking to, not only improve on her tied-for-18th finish at the 2010 national competition, but outright win the national crown in Texas.
If she plays like she has the past six weeks, the second-year star will be tough to beat.
In her last four tournaments, Popson has a head-to-head record of 367-0-1. That only tie came to Mansson at the Rebel Intercollegiate tournament from April 1-3 - which Tennessee won by 30 strokes.
She won the Bryan National Collegiate from March 25-27, before tying for medalist honors at the Rebel a week later. At the 2011 SEC Championship from April 15-17, Popson led wire-to-wire before becoming the second Lady Vol to capture the conference title.
With two holes to play on Saturday, Popson lined up a 15-foot birdie putt on No. 17 when a light drizzle turned into a windy downpour. She stayed calm and drilled the putt. That typified her weekend, as rain and cold weather seemed to have little effect on her.
USC's Lizette Salas, Golfstat's No. 2-ranked player, placed second at 3-under 213. Her teammate Sophia Popov was the only other player in the field under par at 1-under 215.
The No. 1-ranked Trojans finished first with a 2-over 866 total. The other six teams heading to Texas are: Virginia (887), UC Davis (887), Arizona (895), South Carolina (902), Washington (905) and Texas A&M (908).
|LADY VOL SCORES|
|1.||Erica Popson||68-69-71=208 (-8)|
|t11.||Sara Monberg||75-70-76=221 (+5)|
|t25.||Nathalie Mansson||75-75-76=226 (+10)|
|t52.||Chessey Thomas||74-73-84=231 (+15)|
|t52.||Kaitlyn Rohrback||76-81-74=231 (+15)|