Senior Diana Cantú will wrap up her Lady Vol career this week
May 17, 2010
By Zach Stipe, Media Relations Graduate Assistant
WILMINGTON, N.C. - Just nine days removed from an outstanding NCAA East Regional performance in Greenville, N.C., the 12th-ranked Tennessee women's golf team returns to the Tar Heel State looking to wrap up the 2010 campaign in successful fashion at the NCAA Women's Golf Championships.
Hosted by the University of North Carolina Wilmington, the national championship tournament welcomes 24 teams and six individuals to the par-72, 6,368-yard Pete Dye Course at the Country Club of Landfall.
The Lady Vols, who nabbed team runner-up honors at the regional competition and placed three athletes in the top-10, will tee off from the first hole in a group with No. 1 UCLA and No. 4 Arizona State at 1:26 p.m. on Tuesday. The Sun Devils are also the defending national champions. The trio will start the second round from Hole 10 at 8:55 a.m. on Wednesday.
UT head coach Judi Pavon, leading the Big Orange to Nationals for the seventh time, expects her squad to compete for a top position on the leaderboard right from the start.
"Our goal is to finish in the top eight, but ultimately we hope to play well enough to seriously compete to win the national championship," Pavon said.
Tennessee finished 17th at 2009 NCAA Championships, held at the Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills, Md., and the Orange and White return three athletes from that team.
Sophomore Nathalie Mansson, who tied for 48th a year ago, senior Diana Cantú (102nd) and junior Lauren Spurlock (124th) are all back and looking to improve their placements among the nation's elite this week.
Mansson, who tied for ninth a week ago, has eight top-10 finishes and 15 rounds of par or better this season. Her 72.77 stroke average in 2009-10 is currently a Lady Vol single-season record. An All-SEC First Team selection, she is one round away from tying the season mark for par or better rounds, as well.
"Nathalie is a great competitor," Pavon said. "She refuses to play bad. She is a great ball striker and a good pressure putter, so she has all the skills to play well."
Cantú will cap her career at her third NCAA Championships tournament, having tied for 72nd in 2007. She picked up All-SEC Second Team honors this year, was tied for seventh at Regionals and will likely end her four-year stretch for the Lady Vols, having played 130 rounds - the second-most ever.
"Diana has been a great Lady Vol and has been very instrumental in the success of the team the past four years," Pavon said. "I'm really pleased for her that she is playing so well at the end of her career. She has kept her focus on playing well and representing Tennessee when so often seniors lose some focus. I'm looking forward to watching her wrap up her career with a great NCAA Championships performance."
Spurlock returned to the lineup for Regionals and helped UT rebound from a disappointing ninth-place SEC Championship finish to qualify to its sixth national championships in seven years.
The other two members of Tennessee's championship lineup are freshmen Erica Popson and Sara Monberg. Popson enters her NCAA Championship debut on fire. After missing the beginning of the spring because of injury, the first-year phenom proved she was healthy by firing a UT-record 208 (-5) total en route to runner-up honors at the conference tournament in April. At the East Regional, she finished under par again, this time at 3-under (213), as she tied for fourth. She is averaging 70.17 per round her last two competitions.
Monberg has been a fixture in the UT top-four the last nine events and carded a season-best 2-under 70 on Day 1 of the East Regional to help Tennessee vault toward the top of the leaderboard early in the tournament.
This trip marks Tennessee's ninth appearance in the NCAA Championships as a team. UT's best finish ever came in 2000, when Pavon, serving as interim head coach, led the Lady Vols to a fifth-place finish.
The best individual performance at Nationals from a Lady Vol is fifth. Young-A Yang, in 2001, and Jessica Shepley, in 2004, both accomplished the feat. A top-10 finish at the year's tournament assures the athlete of All-America honors.