Erica Popson fired her second straight under-par performance.
May 8, 2010
By Zach Stipe, Media Relations Graduate Assistant
GREENVILLE, N.C. - Led by three All-Region performers, the 15th-ranked Tennessee women's golf team finished second at the East Regional on Saturday to qualify for the NCAA Championships for the second straight season and sixth time in seven years.
Leading the way for the Lady Vols with top-10 finishes were freshman Erica Popson, senior Diana Cantú and sophomore Nathalie Mansson, who each finished at par or below during the three-day tournament at Ironwood Golf Course. No other team in the field had more than one athlete finish in the top-10, the threshold for All-Region honors.
With stifling wind engulfing the course, Tennessee finished with a final round score of 8-over 296. Paired with UT's spectacular first (283) and second (287) rounds, the Lady Vols totaled a 2-over 866, tying for the third lowest score in school history.
The Lady Vols will now move their attention to the NCAA Championships, held at the Country Club of Landfall in Wilmington, N.C., from May 18-21.
"It was a totally different golf course today because of the wind," Lady Vol head golf coach Judi Pavon said. "It was tough out there. With conditions like today anything can happen. They handled it well and got off to a decent start. Erica played great at the SEC Championship and followed it up with another great tournament this week. She continues to play awesome. Nathalie and Diana had great tournaments, as well. I'm happy for Diana - she's a senior and she really wanted to make it back to Nationals. Nathalie is good week in and week out, and she was good again this week.
"We've got a great team. Hopefully, we have another good week left in us."
Heading into the final round in second, the Big Orange quickly made up its two-stroke deficit to day two leader and third-ranked Duke to take the lead. Scores were higher across the board compared to the first two days during the final round, and the Lady Vols and Blue Devils engaged in a seesaw battle for first-place with South Carolina, No. 4 Auburn and No. 20 Vanderbilt, who were playing on the opposite side of the course.
The Gamecocks captured the team title with an 864 (E) total behind the tournament's top individual performance, Katie Burnett's 6-under 210 total.
Duke and Auburn tied for third at 868 (+4), while Vanderbilt took fifth (871).
Popson tied for fourth with a 72-68-73=213 (-3) total, while Cantú tallied the second-lowest score of her career, 69-74-72=215 (-1), to tie for seventh. Mansson tied for ninth with a 72-71-73=216 (E) mark. It's the Stockholm, Sweden, native's eighth top-10 finish of the season.
Rounding out the lineup for the Lady Vols were freshman Sara Monberg, who tied for 40th with a 70-74-78=222 (+6) total, and junior Lauren Spurlock, who finished in a tie for 96th with a 76-77-81=234 (+18) score.
Popson finished the tournament with nine birdies and a spectacular eagle on the par-5 seventh hole on Saturday. She nearly hit her drive out of bounds before putting an 8-iron shot right into a bank, 55 yards from the pin. There, she took out her 58-degree wedge and holed out for the shot of the weekend for the Orange and White.
That Davenport, Fla., native has been accumulating highlights at the last two tournaments. Finally returning to health after an injury, Popson followed up her phenomenal SEC Championship, where she carded a UT-record 5-under 208 and tied for first before finishing runner-up in a playoff, with another fantastic under-par performance.
"I hit my driver really well and I put myself in good positions this week," Popson said. "I hit fairways and I hit greens, and I gave myself a chance. It feels good to step up and help get the team to Nationals."
Cantú picked a great time to have one of the best tournaments of her career, as she came within one stroke of her career-best 214 total set at the 2007 Mercedes-Benz Championships. The senior leader tied her lowest round ever with a 69 on Thursday and claimed her fourth top-10 finish of the season.
"I tried to focus on one shot at a time," Cantú said. "I had been struggling this spring so playing this well at Regionals, I can't ask for anything better. I'm very proud of the team that played this week. This is Tennessee. This is who we are. I hope this week gives the team the confidence to go to Nationals and play like we are capable of playing and how we know we can."
In addition to Tennessee nabbing its sixth trip to the national championships in seven years, this is the ninth NCAA Championships appearance overall for the Lady Vols and seventh trip under Judi Pavon.
UT's second-place finish is the fifth top-three Regional placement in program history.
Joining South Carolina (E), Tennessee (+2), Auburn (+4), Duke (+4) and Vanderbilt (+7) in booking a return trip to North Carolina were Tulane (+9), 11th-ranked Pepperdine (+13) and 19th-ranked TCU (+16), while Texas Tech's Rosalyn Kim (-4) and East Tennessee State's Nina Muehl (-3) nabbed individual berths to the national championships competition.
|LADY VOL SCORES|
|t4.||Erica Popson||72-68-73=213 (-3)|
|t7.||Diana Cantú||69-74-72=215 (-1)|
|t9.||Nathalie Mansson||72-71-73=216 (E)|
|t40.||Sara Monberg||70-74-78=222 (+6)|
|t97.||Lauren Spurlock||76-77-81=234 (+18)|