Sophomore Sara Monberg
May 17, 2011
By Zach Stipe, Media Relations Assistant
BRYAN, Texas - The No. 9-ranked Tennessee Lady Volunteer golf team will have its sights set on the top of the leaderboard when the 2011 NCAA Women's Golf Championships tees off on Wednesday at the Traditions Club.
Led by sophomore Erica Popson, the Big Orange is eyeing its best team and individual placements ever at the national tournament.
"We have been playing well," Lady Vol head coach Judi Pavon said. "We had a great spring. Everybody has been at the top of their game. I expect them to be determined and to play well. Our ultimate goal is to have a top-four finish."
Tennessee's best team finish in nine previous NCAA Championships is fifth in 2000, while the top individual performance ever by a Lady Vol is also fifth - a feat completed by Young-A Yang (2001) and Jessica Shepley (2004).
If Popson keeps up her current level of play, not only could she snag UT's top finish ever, but also claim the program's first national championship. The Davenport, Fla., native has placed first in four consecutive tournaments, including a dominating five-shot victory at the NCAA West Regional from May 5-7 in Auburn, Wash.
"I've had some really good players, but never anybody on a roll like Erica is," Pavon said. "She is so confident right now and it's amazing because she hasn't been able to practice much because of a left thumb injury."
Popson tied for 18th at the 2010 NCAA Championships in Wilmington, N.C., leading the Lady Vols to a tied-for-19th placement.
Erica Popson Feature
Despite limited practice time because of her thumb injury this season, she has finished first in five of nine events and is on pace to shatter the Lady Vol single-season stroke average record of 73.06. She has a 72.07 average with four rounds left to play. Her 14 par or better rounds are two away from that single-season mark, as well.
"I've been working so hard and one of my goals here at Tennessee is to win a national championship," Popson said. "I just want to go out, compete and contend, and see what happens."
Joining Popson in the lineup at UT's third consecutive NCAA Championships, and eighth with Pavon at the helm, are two-time All-American junior Nathalie Mansson, sophomore Sara Monberg and freshmen Kaitlyn Rohrback and Chessey Thomas.
Mansson has won three career tournaments and is playing in her third national tournament, while Monberg just missed earning All-West Region honors in Washington with a tied-for-11th finish at the Regional. Rohrback and Thomas have had fantastic rookie seasons, combining to average 75.97 and making them the ninth-best freshmen class in the country, according to Golfstat. The lineup gave the Lady Vols a second straight regional tournament runner-up finish.
The 24-team event will last four days, as teams will play 72 holes on the par-72, 6,260-yard course.
Tennessee tees off on Day 1 on Wednesday from Hole No. 1 at 1:25 p.m. C.T. with No. 7 LSU and No. 15 North Carolina. The group will begin round two on Thursday at 8:55 a.m. C.T. off Hole No. 10.