May 18, 2009
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Riding momentum from top-four finishes in its last two tournaments, the Tennessee women's golf team will compete in the 2009 NCAA Women's Golf Championships Tuesday through Friday at Caves Valley Golf Club.
The 72-hole tournament features 24 teams at the par-72, 6,443-yard course. The Lady Vols begin their fifth NCAA Championships in six years from the 10th tee at noon on Tuesday in a group with Wake Forest and Southeastern Conference rival LSU. On Wednesday, UT will tee off in the same group from the first tee at 7:30 a.m.
Lady Vol head coach Judi Pavon is guiding her sixth NCAA Championship team. The 2008-09 national championship lineup includes senior Nicole Smith, juniors Ginny Brown and Diana Cantú, sophomore Lauren Spurlock and freshman Nathalie Mansson.
Those five comprised of the fourth-place team at the SEC Championship in April and the third-place finisher at the NCAA East Regional from May 7-9.
Tennessee, ranked No. 24 in both the Golfstat and Golfweek/Sagarin ratings, struggled at the beginning of the season, finishing 15th and 16th at its first two tournaments of the season, the Cougar Classic and Mason Rudolph, and weren't even ranked in the top-70. However, since the beginning of the spring, the Lady Vols have improved week after week and risen in the national rankings. After finishing in the top eight at only one tournament in the fall, the Lady Vols haven't placed lower than eighth in any of the six tournaments this spring.
Smith and Cantú are the only Lady Vols making a return trip to the NCAA Championships. Smith tied for 43rd at the NCAAs in Columbus, Ohio, in 2006, and was tied for 69th in Daytona Beach, Fla., in 2007. Cantú joined Smith at the 2007 tournament, where she tied for 72nd. The Lady Vols finished 17th as a team in 2007.
Pavon expects both to be better prepared for this year's national championship tournament.
"Both of them were there two years ago (2007) and we had a really good team," the ninth-year head coach said. "And that was disappointing when we finished 17th. I think Nicole has prepared differently. She wasn't as prepared for that last national championship that she played in. She's not making the same mistake this time. She's worked very hard preparing for this tournament. She wants to be ready. Diana, I think going into her first (NCAA Championship) as a freshman, she was pretty wide-eyed. You don't know what to expect. I think Diana has grown up and she'll fight for every shot out there this week."
For Brown, Spurlock and Mansson, this will be their first NCAA Championships.
Brown finds herself competing at the No. 3 spot in the lineup, after improving her average by over four strokes (from 80.2 to 75.79). She tied for 102nd at the 2008 NCAA East Regional, but tied for 23rd a year later at the 2009 Regional tournament.
Spurlock, a transfer from Belmont, will be playing in the biggest tournament of her career. She is carrying a 77.0 stroke average, good for fifth-best on the team.
Mansson has been spectacular in her first collegiate campaign, registering six top-15 appearances and recording nine rounds of par or better. The Stockholm, Sweden native has a 73.45 stroke average and tied for third at the NCAA East Regional.
Smith is second on the Lady Vols with a 74.53 stroke average, while Cantú is fourth with a 76.00 average.
"I'm encouraging the girls to enjoy the tournament," Pavon said. "But they also need to be prepared to play well and not just happy to be here. With SECs and Regionals, we told them that there was nothing to lose. It's the same thing this week, although, we certainly don't want to finish 19th or 20th. That's not what they have come here to do, but I don't think they need to feel any unnecessary pressure either."
Arizona State is ranked first by Golfstat, Golfweek and in the Golfworld/NGCA Coaches' Poll. The Sun Devils are considered the favorites to win the tournament after capturing the NCAA West Regional title with a score of 22-under-par - 19 strokes better than second place. The Central Regional winner was UCLA and the East Regional winner was Denver. Other SEC squads in the 24-team field along with Tennessee are Alabama, Georgia and LSU.
Results from each day will be posted live at www.utladyvols.com.