April 16, 2009
BLYTHEWOOD, S.C. -- The Tennessee women's golf team begins the championship portion of its season this Friday through Sunday at the SEC Women's Golf Championship at the Cobblestone Park Golf Club.
Facing the 11 other SEC squads, the Lady Vols will look to improve on last season's eighth-place finish at the conference tournament and better their resume for a qualifying bid to the NCAA Regional Championships in May.
UT head coach Judi Pavon leads a lineup of senior Nicole Smith, juniors Ginny Brown and Diana Cantú, sophomore Lauren Spurlock and freshman Nathalie Mansson to the South Carolina-hosted tournament, which will be played on the par-71, 6,156-yard Cobblestone Park course.
"We are excited about the SEC Championship as usual," Pavon said. "The team has worked hard all season with this tournament in mind. The conference is very strong, so we're expecting some great competition and know we'll have to play our best to come out on top. We feel prepared to play well."
In her ninth season at the helm of the Lady Vol golf program, Pavon has led UT to four top-three conference finishes, including a runner-up placement in 2006.
Though Tennessee is the eighth-highest ranked conference team in the Golfstat and Golfweek/Sagarin rankings, the Big Orange has shown the ability to hang with SEC's top teams at various tournaments this season. In the highlight of the fall, UT roared out to the first-round lead at the 2008 Mercedes-Benz Women's Collegiate Championships with a score of 283 - recording a dramatically better day one total than eventual tournament winner and No. 9/8 LSU (291) as well as SEC foes Mississippi (295), Kentucky (296), South Carolina (297) and Arkansas (303).
UT also is 3-2 on the season against Golfweek No. 14 Georgia, defeating the Bulldogs head-to-head at the NGCA Hooter's Match Play tournament and at the Lady Puerto Rico Classic - where the Lady Vols placed second.
Tennessee hasn't finished lower than eighth at a tournament this spring.
Mansson is having a phenomenal rookie season for the Orange and White. The Stockholm, Sweden, native ranks fifth in the conference in stroke average (73.83) and is the eighth-ranked freshman in the nation according to the Golfweek rankings. She has been the top UT placer at five of eight tournaments this season.
Smith, UT's lone senior, has 75.00 stroke average this season and is rounding into shape after returning to the team from injury in February. She fired rounds of 68 and 70 en route to carding a 1-under 215 total at the UCF Challenge in March. The Riverside, Calif., native missed last season's SEC tournament, but tied for 14th at SECs as a sophomore and finished in a tie for seventh as a freshman.
Cantú is UT's top returner from the 2008 SEC Championship, where she tied for 33rd. This season, Cantú has been a consistent top-four scorer for the Lady Vols and is carrying a 76.40 stroke average.
Brown is the only other returner from the 2008 conference team. She tied for 46th last season, but should finish higher in the SEC this season as she has been one of the most improved players in the conference, dropping her stroke average from 80.2 in 2007-08 to 76.57 so far this season.
Spurlock, along with Mansson, will be competing in her first SEC Championship. A transfer from Belmont, Spurlock has scored for the Lady Vols in 80-percent of the rounds she has played and has a 77.20 average.
Auburn, Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Arkansas and Vanderbilt are all ranked in the Golfweek and Golfstat top-20 with the Crimson Tide and both Tigers slotted in the top-10 of both.
Tennessee is No. 29 in the Golfstat rankings and No. 32 according to Golfweek. Defending SEC champion Florida is ranked one spot ahead of the Lady Vols in both polls.
South Carolina's Bénédicte Toumpsin is the top returner from the 2008 SEC Championship as she finished third at the Tennessee National course. Other returners who finished in the top ten last season are Dori Carter of Ole Miss (fourth), Candace Schepperle of Auburn (tied-seventh), Krystle Caithness of Georgia (tied-seventh) and Arkansas' Lucy Nunn (tied-seventh).
Schepperle leads the SEC with a 71.92 stroke average and is ranked No. 2 in the Golfweek individual ratings. LSU's Megan McChrystal ranks second in the conference with a 72.26 stroke average and sits 11th in the Golfweek ratings.
Tee times run from 8:30-10 a.m. Friday and Saturday, and from 8-9:30 a.m. on Sunday. Live scoring and results can be found at www.utladyvols.com.