May 21, 2011
By Zach Stipe, Media Relations Assistant
BRYAN, Texas - Record-setting performances from freshman Chessey Thomas and sophomore Erica Popson led the No. 9-ranked Tennessee Lady Vol golf team to an 8-over 296 final round score and a 13th-place finish at the 2011 NCAA Golf Championships on Saturday.
Thomas fired the lowest round ever by a Lady Vol at the national tournament, carding a 4-under 68 at the 6,260-yard, par-72 Traditions Club Golf Course, while Popson wrapped up one of the finest seasons in Tennessee history with a 1-under-par 71 to shatter the UT single-season stroke average record and tie the mark for par or better rounds.
Popson tied for 14th at the tournament and finished the season with a 72.19 scoring average and 16 par or better rounds.
The pair was joined in the lineup at the Big Orange's third consecutive NCAA Championships by junior Nathalie Mansson, sophomore Sara Monberg and freshman Kaitlyn Rohrback, as UT totaled 1200 (+48) over 72 holes.
With all five Lady Vols returning next season the future appears bright for the Orange and White.
"We have a really bright future ahead of us," Lady Vol head coach Judi Pavon said. "We don't graduate anybody. It was important to be here. We played the best of the morning group today. I'm happy for the team. Every year you come here and you hope to get better. Hopefully, we'll improve again next year."
No. 2 UCLA won the national championship with a 21-over 1173 total, edging No. 4 Purdue by four strokes.
LSU freshman Austin Ernst fired two rounds of 66 en route to medalist honors (7-under 281).
Chessey Thomas Interview
The Lady Vols ended the season in style, as four of five players birdied No. 18.
Thomas started the run with a 12-foot putt on the par-5, 447-yard final hole. She tallied five birdies and just one bogey in a remarkable round that erased her previous season-best by four strokes (third-round 72 at the Mercedes-Benz Collegiate Championships in October).
After Thomas had rounds of 80, 81 and 84 over the first three days, Pavon told the talented freshman that she hadn't broken par yet this season so why not do it in her final round.
She took her coach's advice, and with assistant coach Andrew Pratt walking the course with her, the Spokane, Wash., native fired the third-lowest score of the tournament.
"She played amazingly well," Pavon said. "Really, it's the kind of golf she has been capable of all along. We're excited to see it."
Thomas finished in a tie for 102nd-place.
"I didn't play very well the first few days, so I didn't really have a lot to lose today," Thomas said. "I hit a lot of targets today. I hit it to the right spots. This will give me extra confidence going into the summer."
Popson came into the competition with high expectations, having finished first at four consecutive tournaments, including a five-shot win at the NCAA West Regional.
After a tournament-opening 76, she fired scores of 73, 72 and 71 - improving each time. Her 14th-place finish is the best by a Lady Vol since Jessica Shepley grabbed fifth in 2004.
"From the first round on she played well," Pavon said. "She would've liked to have that first round back, but she was solid. It was an awesome sophomore year for her. She loves to win. It's neat that that's her goal every week and that she does everything she can to put herself in that position week after week. I'm happy for her and hopefully she will just keep getting better and better."
The 2011 SEC Champion nabbed four birdies on Saturday including three on the back nine. She capped the round with a 10-foot birdie putt on No. 18.
Her 72.19 season average breaks Mansson's 73.06 Lady Vol record set in 2009-10 and ties Mansson's 16 par or better rounds from last season, as well.
"I wanted to be a contender this week, and I didn't do that," Popson said. "I had a bad first day, but I fought back. There's always something you can learn from these tournaments. I'm proud that I hung in there. I'm looking forward to the first tournament next year and working hard this summer."
Monberg tied for 45th with a 73-74-77-77=301 (+13) total. She rebounded from two double-bogeys in the first three holes on Saturday to play even-par golf the final 14 holes.
Mansson tied for 88th with a four-day total of 75-78-78-80=310 (+22), while Rohrback tied for 95th with a 75-78-78-80=311 (+23) score.
|LADY VOL SCORES|
|14.||Erica Popson||76-73-72-71=292 (+4)|
|t45.||Sara Monberg||73-74-77-77=301 (+13)|
|t88.||Nathalie Mansson||75-78-78-80=310 (+22)|
|t95.||Kaitlyn Rohrback||75-78-78-80=311 (+23)|
|t102.||Chessey Thomas||80-81-84-68=313 (+25)|