June 16, 2004
After witnessing her 2002-03 club being eliminated from NCAA championship contention in the regional round for the third consecutive year, Head Coach Judi Pavon revamped the squad's entire approach to the next season. With one goal in mind, advancing to the 2004 NCAA Championships at Grand National in Opelika, Ala., Pavon and Assistant Coach Mike Whitson demonstrated that mixing powerful elements together at the right time can lead to incredibly positive "Synergy." The coaches and players used that cohesive chemistry to accomplish the team's objective.
The squad returned five letterwinners, as seniors Mary Jan Fernandez and Tai Perry, junior team captain Jessica Shepley and sophomores Golda Johansson and Violeta Retamoza all came back from the previous season. In contrast to past recruiting classes drawn from the international pool of talent, Pavon inserted a pair of in-state players, junior transfer Teesha Ash from Chattanooga, Tenn., and freshman Holly Cantwell from Morristown, Tenn., into the available player pool for the orange-clads during the 2003-04 campaign. With a roster running seven-deep, the Big Orange rode a roller-coaster season that tested the coaching staff and players' resolve in staying the course of the initial preseason game plan - to make a move during the postseason.
Tennessee began the year ranked seventh in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index Ratings, which gave the squad some added confidence going into its initial tournament at the NCAA Fall Preview, over Sept. 12-14, in Opelika, Ala. The Lady Vols, however, ran into an immediate challenge to their determination to stay the course of the preseason strategy as they finished in 18th place at the Preview with a three-day 928. Duke captured the first of 10 tournament victories by out-playing Auburn in a playoff. Individually, Pepperdine's Carolina Llano converted a hole in one on No. 15 into a tournament win with a six-under 66 on the final day for a three-round 211.
Shepley carded a 226 to tie for 32nd place, while Fernandez tied for 48th place with a 231. Retamoza registered a 68th-place-tying 236, while Cantwell scored in her initial collegiate tournament with a 239 to tie for 73rd. Ash rounded out the UT effort to tie for 78th place with a 242.
Three weeks later, the Big Orange rebounded from the disappointing Preview performance by tying Auburn for third place at the Franklin Street Partners Lady Tar Heel Invitational in Chapel Hill, N.C., over Oct. 3-5. The squad celebrated Pavon's 100th career round at the helm of the Lady Vols in spectacular fashion as the orange clads scorched the Finley Golf Course to the tune of a one-over 289 during the second round of the tourney to record a three-day 906. Overall, Duke claimed the title with a 49-stroke win over Florida after firing an 850, while Blue Devils Elizabeth Janangelo and Leigh Anne Hardin shared the individual medal with seven-under 209 efforts.
The second round proved to be a positive indicator of good things to come later in the year, as Retamoza gutted out back-to-back even-par 72s during the final two rounds after injuring her wrist and withdrawing from the first round. The injury would linger for the preseason All-American the rest of the fall campaign. During the middle round, Shepley fired a career-low four-under 68 to tie her then-career-best 54-hole total, which dates back to the 2003 Lady Gator Invitational, with a four-over 220 to tie for fifth place. Perry and Ash closed out the Tennessee scoring as Perry turned in a six-over 78 to finish tied for 22nd with a 230, while Ash tied for 37th place with a 243. Meanwhile, Fernandez tied for 28th place with a 234.
In its only October action, UT concluded its own Mercedes-Benz Women's Collegiate Championships at Fox Den Country Club over Oct. 19-21 in a 10th-place tie with LSU after registering a three-day 919. Ohio State battled Oklahoma State to an exciting finish down the stretch and managed to pull out a one-shot victory as the Buckeyes posted an event-record 884. The Cowgirls' effort was good enough for the second best in event history as the squad put together an 885. Individually, Ohio State's Allison Hanna sunk a 15-foot birdie putt on No. 10 to out-duel Arkansas' Courtney Mahon for the individual medal after carding a 217 to finish in a first-place tie with Mahon. Shepley paced the Orange for the third consecutive tournament with a 226 to tie for 30th place, while Retamoza and Johansson tied for 45th place with three-round totals of 231. Cantwell finished with a 232 to tie for 50th place, while Fernandez tied for 68th place with a 238. Playing as an individual, Ash posted a 228 to tie for 36th place.
The Lady Vols closed out the fall season in a positive fashion, as they surged to a second-place finish with a three-day 887 at the Las Vegas Founders Women's Collegiate Showdown at the Anthem Country Club in Las Vegas, Nev. The effort proved to be the third-straight fall season in which the Big Orange ended with a top-three performance. New Mexico took the event hardware with an incredible five-over 869, while Katrina Leckovic earned the Lobos a clean sweep with an event-winning three-under 213.
Ash provided a team-leader buffer between Shepley's solid fall season and Retamoza's run at the top during the spring by firing a three-over 219 to tie for sixth place. Retamoza shook off the pain from her injury to tie for eighth place with a 220, while Shepley posted a 225 to take 21st place at the tournament. Fernandez and Perry both finished tied for 26th place with a pair of 227s, while Cantwell turned in a 32nd-place-tying 229 as an individual.
After battling through a fall season filled with performance peaks (second place at the Founders Showdown) and valleys (18th place at the Preview), Tennessee settled into a consistent spring after returning to the links three months later over Feb. 23-25 for the Arizona Wildcat Invitational at the Arizona National Golf Club at Sabino Springs in Tucson, Ariz. The Orange and White's spring opener proved to be a tough outing, as the squad finished in eighth place with a 921. Southeastern Conference rival Vanderbilt claimed the team trophy with a three-round 869 to knock off first-day leader Ohio State by four strokes. Commodore May Wood won the medal with a four-under 209 that was three shots better than runner-up Sophia Sheridan of California.
As for the Big Orange, Retamoza applied a stranglehold on UT's top spot that would last the remainder of the season until the NCAA Championship. The sophomore fired a 226 to end up in a tie for 20th place, while Shepley carded a 229 to tie for 31st place. Additionally, Perry tied for 48th place with a 236, while Johansson turned in a 51st-place 237. Meanwhile, Ash recorded a 242 to tie for 59th place, while Cantwell tied for 34th place with a 230 as an individual.
With six head-to-head victories over Arizona, New Mexico State, Pepperdine, San Diego State, North Texas and Northern Arizona, Pavon eclipsed the 400-career win plateau to move to 401-169-4 in head-to-head battles after the Arizona Wildcat.
After a two-week break, Tennessee improved to a sixth-place tie with Oklahoma State at the SunTrust Lady Gator Invitational at the Florida University Club in Gainesville, Fla., over March 7-9, by posting a 922. The finish would begin a string of three sixth-place finishes for UT. Top-ranked Duke scorched the competition by firing an 878 to win by 33 shots, while Blue Devil Brittany Lang out-played a pair of her teammates to claim the individual prize with a 216.
For the Orange and White, Retamoza finished in a sixth-place tie with a 223, while Perry took 15th place with a 230 tally. Also, Fernandez registered a 235 to tie for 29th place, while Johansson, playing as an individual, recorded a 239 to finish in a 49th-place tie. Shepley tied for 55th place with a 240, while Cantwell closed out the UT effort with a 244 to tie for 66th place.
Three weeks later, Pavon's charges each shot within two strokes of par for the program's second-best third-round total of 287 as the fivesome blazed the University of Georgia Golf Course in the final round of the Liz Murphey Collegiate in Athens, Ga., over March 26-28. Overall, Tennessee finished in sixth place with an 892. The final round outburst was also the team's best round since the tourney finale at the 2002 Auburn Tiger Derby, when the Big Orange fired a 285. The host Bulldogs out-distanced UT in the final round with a 285 to capture the team title with an 865 and become the only team before the NCAA Championship to claim tournament hardware over Duke. Blue Devil Brittany Lang, however, seized the individual medal with a 207.
Individually, Retamoza fired her 10th-career under-par round with a two-under 70 to tie for 14th place with a 221, while Johansson carded a one-over 73 for a tally of 224 to tie for 28th place. Shepley tied for 31st place with a 225 that included a one-over 73, while Fernandez nailed a one-under 71 en route to a 40th-place-tying 227. Ash, playing as an individual, wound up in a 46th-place tie with a 229, while Cantwell turned in a 230 to tie for 51st place.
In its final regular-season tournament, UT claimed its third-straight sixth-place finish at the Bryan National Collegiate at Bryan Park in Greensboro, N.C., over April 2-4. The Big Orange posted a 903 to close out the tournament, while Duke's second-day lead held up under a late charge by Wake Forest as the Blue Devils claimed their eighth title with an 869. Duke's Janangelo flew past a bevy of golfers from an eighth-place tie on the second day to capture the individual crown with a 214.
As for the Orange and White, Retamoza paced UT with a 16th-place-tying 221, while Johansson bounced back from a rough second round to finish in a 30th-place tie with a 228. Additionally, Fernandez tied for 39th place with a 230, while Ash recorded a 232 to tie for 47th place. Shepley closed out the Tennessee tournament effort with a 237 to tie for 62nd place after breaking her driver during the first round and finishing with a first-day score of 83.
Heading into the 2004 SEC Championships, the team knew it had the potential to capture Tennessee's first women's golf conference crown. A course tailor-made for Vanderbilt's long-driving team and built for LSU, however, would dash UT's league-title hopes at the University Club of LSU in Baton Rouge, La., over April 16-18, as the Big Orange wound up in fourth place with an 882.
During the course of the tournament, Retamoza also suffered her second-straight conference heartbreak by losing to Vandy's Wood on the first playoff hole after staging a valiant two-shot comeback to tie her adversary on No. 18. The result mirrored the one-shot loss Retamoza endured after overcoming a quintuple bogey on No. 13 during the 2003 league tournament in Lexington, Ky., to fall to eventual-champion Aimee Cho of Florida. Overall, Retamoza fired a three-under 213, which was the third-lowest total shot in an SEC Tournament by a Lady Vol.
The Commodores captured the first title sweep since South Carolina accomplished the double in 2002, by firing an 877 to hold off defending champion Auburn and host LSU's pair of 881 tallies. As for the rest of Pavon's charges, Shepley tied for fourth place with a 218, while Johansson posted a 222 to tie for 14th place. Cantwell carded a 233 to tie for 45th place, while Ash rounded out UT's performance with a 49th-place-tying 234.
At the completion of the league tournament, Retamoza was named to the All-SEC First Team. During the conference tourney, Retamoza became the first Lady Vol to finish in first at SECs since Katharina Larsson captured the conference crown in 1994. Additionally, with a pair of under-par rounds at the league tournament, Retamoza moved into sole possession of third place on UT's career rounds of par-or-under chart with a tally of 13. The super sophomore was also tabbed the Lady Vol Athlete of the Week for the second time in her career.
While the squad may have finished just short of a title sweep of its own, Tennessee could reflect on the positive signs that everything was coming together at the right time after improving from a last-place finish at the NCAA Fall Preview to a competitive fourth place at the conference event.
After being placed in the difficult East Regional, which featured 11 teams ranked in the Top 25, as compared to the seven apiece selected to the Central and West Regionals, the Big Orange battled against the odds at the Mission Inn Golf and Tennis Resort in Howey-in-the-Hills, Fla. In the end, UT finished in seventh place with a 918 to advance to its initial NCAA Championship since 2000. Duke took the team title with a 22-shot victory after firing an 869, while North Carolina's Meaghan Francella won the East Regional crown with a 209. In addition to UT, Duke, UNLV, North Carolina, Florida State, Wake Forest, Furman and Oklahoma State, which knocked off Florida in a playoff, moved on to Opelika, Ala., for the culminating event of the season, while South Carolina's Adrienne Gautreaux and East Carolina's Adrienne Millican earned berths at the championship as unattached players.
As for Tennessee, Retamoza led the Big Orange for the sixth consecutive tournament, which matched former Lady Vol standout Young-A Yang's program record, with a 15th-place-tying 224. For her efforts, Retamoza was named the Lady Vol Athlete of the Week for the third time in her career. Fellow classmate Johansson tied for 20th place with a 226, while Shepley posted a 239 to tie for 61st place. Ash and Cantwell tied for 74th place with matching 242s.
Since making it back to Opelika, Ala., for the program's fourth run at the national title was the ultimate goal for the squad, the Lady Vols were able to head to the Grand National Lake Course loose and ready for an enjoyable four-round journey. Pavon's team closed out UT's first NCAA Championship since 2000 by placing 11th with a school-record 1193. The team total set a program four-day standard by breaking the previous record set by the 1997 edition that totaled 1197. Additionally, Ash provided some excitement as she stirred up a buzz throughout the course with a hole-in-one on the 145-yard No. 17 hole.
In the national-title race, UCLA overcame continual lightning delays that pushed the finish of the event until a fifth day by posting a four-under 1148 to claim the 2004 team championship. Oklahoma State made a late charge to finish second, while heavily-favored Duke finished in third with a seven-over 1159. As for the individual championship fray, California's Sarah Huarte out-dueled Oklahoma State's Karin Sjodin by recording a 10-under 278 to claim the title, while the Cowgirl took runner-up status with a nine-under 279.
Individually, Shepley put together Tennessee's best NCAA Championship tournament in program history with a fifth-place 286 to best Yang's previous standard set in 2001 with a fifth-place 288. The fifth-place effort also tied Yang's NCAA Championship program standard set that same year. Shepley shot a remarkably solid round on her final day as she nearly made par-or-under the entire round. Additionally, the two-under 70 was the third-best final round at an NCAA Championship in UT history. For her performance, Shepley earned honorable mention National Golf Coaches Association All-America accolades and garnered her first Lady Vol Athlete of the Week honor.
Ash's ace spurred the East Tennessee product to a solid round as she was able to finish with a five-over 77 to tally a 69th-place-tying 303. The tale of the tape for Tennessee's third ace in program history read like a fated tale of d?j? vu, as great things seem to happen for the Tennessee Lady Vols on No. 17 at the Grand National Lake Course. Friday, May 21, was no different as Ash carded an ace with a hole-in-one on the same hole where former Lady Vol Skyli Yamada scored the first Big Orange ace on May 11, 1996. Yamada notched her third-career hole-in-one on the final round of the NCAA East Regional with a six iron on the on the 143-yard layout. Ash's version of the incredible shot came on a 145-yard setup with a seven iron. Tina Schneeberger scored the only other ace for Tennessee, doing so in the 2000 Mercedes-Benz on the 174-yard No. 13 at the Gettysvue Polo, Golf and Country Club.
Earlier in the season, Wake Forest's Christine Hallstrom posted a hole-in-one on the same hole during the final round of the NCAA Fall Preview. The ace was also the third witnessed at the Grand National during the 2003-04 campaign, since Pepperdine's Carolina Llano knocked in an ace on No. 15 during the third round of the Preview.
As for other Lady Vol finishers, Johansson came back with a vengeance after struggling throughout the tournament by posting a career-best-tying two-under 70 for a final tally of 307 to tie for 88th place. Johansson's classmate Retamoza, meanwhile, provided a solid third score with her third-straight three-over 75 to collect a 298 to tie for 49th place. Cantwell rounded out the UT effort with a 10-over 82 to record a 318 for the tournament and finish in a 118th-place tie.
Coach Pavon with Retamoza
Although the initial results of the season suggested that it might be a rough campaign for the Lady Vols, they remained dedicated throughout the season to their main goal of reaching the NCAA Championship. Mixing the hard work during the preseason with the re-tooling of the program throughout the season led to an incredibly successful end result. With the squad's 97 head-to-head wins, Pavon moved within striking distance of eclipsing former Lady Vol Head Coach Lori Brock's school standard (533) with 482 victories of her own. Academically, Ash and Retamoza were named to the 2004 NGCA All-American Scholar Team.
The Lady Volunteer golf squad has reason to be optimistic next season, as all five members of the NCAA Championship lineup return, while redshirt transfer Sarah Bonner returns to competition eligibility and Tennessee High School State Champion Jennifer Davis, America Junior Golf Association All-American Christie Reed and 2003 Miss Kentucky Golf Marci Turner join the Big Orange to replace the outgoing Fernandez and Perry. With an exceedingly deep mix of new talent and skilled upperclassmen, the squad plans to build upon another successful campaign of Tennessee women's golf during the 2004-05 season.