May 9, 2009
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- After a one year absence, the Tennessee women's golf team will return to the NCAA Championships this season after the Lady Vols capped off a remarkable season turnaround by finishing third at the NCAA East Regional with a total score of 873 (+33) on Saturday.
Tennessee qualified for the national championships for the fifth time in six seasons, and eighth time overall.
The 2009 NCAA Women's Golf Championships will be held at the Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills, Md. from May 19-22.
The Lady Vols saved their best for last at the par-70, 6,023-yard Mark Bostick Golf Course, carding a total score of 288 (+8) for the final round. That score, along with a 292 for the first round and a 293 for the second round, placed the Lady Vols only behind Alabama (866) and Denver (862) at the tournament, and their 873 total is their best score of the season.
"This is awesome," Lady Vol head coach Judi Pavon said. "Everybody made a difference. They had ice in their veins out there this week and they did what they set out to do. They didn't let the pressure get to them. I'm impressed with how composed they stayed all week."
Freshman Nathalie Mansson fired a 1-over 71 on the final day and finished tied for third with at total score of 69-72-71=212 (+2). Her score marks her best 54-hole total of the season, and her second best total in relation to par. She was a par machine on Saturday, carding only two bogeys.
Also shooting a 71 (+1) on Saturday was senior Nichole Smith, while junior Diana Cantú finished just behind with a 72 (+2). UT's most experienced players, Smith and Cantú came into the final day tied for 59th, but elevated their placement with their stellar final rounds.
Smith didn't make a bogey until the 14th hole and finished the tournament with a team-best eight birdies. She tied for 40th with a total score of 75-77-71=223 (+13).
"My goal was to try to get 18 pars today," Smith said. "I was successful at that for the most part. I'm just looking forward to practicing with the girls and preparing for Nationals. I'm very excited."
Cantú was on fire from the start on Saturday, making birdie on her first and third holes. She fought through three straight bogeys on the back nine to finish with her second-best round of the season. The Monterrey, Mexico, native tied for 46th with a total score of 77-75-72=224 (+14).
"I had a good start and that helped me," Cantú said. "I was very determined today. I had three bogeys right in a row but I came back. This feels very good."
Brown had the second highest finish of the Lady Vols, tying for 23rd with a total score of 73-73-74=221 (+11). She has shown drastic improvement this season as the Austin, Texas native fired an 82-81-87=250 total to tie for 102nd at the 2008 NCAA East Regional.
Spurlock was phenomenal during rounds one and two. The Lady Vols' No. 5 player, her first and second rounds counted for the team score, and helped UT stay in top-eight position. She finished tied for 46th with Cantú with a total score of 75-73-76=224 (+14).
A trip to the NCAA Championships seemed unlikely after UT opened the fall season with 15th and 16th-place finishes, respectively, at the Cougar Classic and the Mason Rudolph in September. Tennessee followed an eighth-place finish at the Mercedes-Benz Collegiate Championships in October with a 13th-place at the Hooters Match Play Tournament in November to cap the fall with a ranking outside of the top 50.
However, the team transformed itself after a two-month break in the winter, and hasn't finished worse than eighth in any tournament since. In the spring, Smith returned from a shoulder injury that kept her out of the fall season and every Lady Vol improved their stroke average.
"After the fall we had, we were just hoping to make it to Regionals," Pavon said. "But from the Mercedes-Benz (tournament) on, everybody regrouped. All the girls have improved so much this season. I'm so proud of the work the girls put in. They really deserve this."
Mansson, Spurlock and Brown will each be making their first NCAA Championships appearance. Cantú will compete at her second at national championships, while Smith, UT's lone senior, will cap her career at her third NCAAs.
"We had a rough fall, but we came back" Cantú said. "We've improved so much. I wouldn't be surprised if we got to Nationals and finished in the top three."
Finishing in the top eight and joining the Lady Vols in Maryland for the NCAA Championships from the East Regional will be Denver (862), Alabama (866), Virginia (874), Tulane (876), Duke (881) and Georgia (889).
Denver's Dawn Shockley fired a 4-under 66 on Saturday to power the Pioneers to a final round of 1-under 279 - the lowest round of the tournament - and the team title. Shockley grabbed individual medalist honors with a 54-hole total of 209 (-1).
UCF's Stephanie Connelly finished second with a score of 210 (E), and Vanderbilt's Marina Alex tied for fifth with a 214 (+4) to earn trips to the NCAA Championships by being the top-two individuals not on qualifying teams.
|Lady Vol Placements|
|T3.||Nathalie Mansson||69-72-71=212 (+2)|
|T23.||Ginny Brown||73-73-74=221 (+11)|
|T40.||Nicole Smith||75-77-71=223 (+13)|
|T46.||Lauren Spurlock||75-73-76=224 (+14)|
|T46.||Diana Cantú||77-75-72=224 (+14)|
|Top Eight Team Scores|
|T6.||North Carolina||291-303-287=881 (+41)|