Aug. 22, 2003
University of Tennessee Women's Golf Head Coach Judi Pavon and Assistant Coach Mike Whitson hope to prove that success will be found during the 2003-04 season by way of increased "Synergy" developed within the ranks of the Lady Vols. Pavon and Whitson both look to impart a lifelong lesson of accomplishment, which comes not only from a balanced mixture of the various phases of a student-athlete's life, but also from the creation of a team chemistry that instills loyalty to the overall goals of the squad.
Armed with the unfailing support of a highly-trained women's athletics staff and an impressive array of academic, athletic, strength and mental training facilities at Tennessee, the orange-clad linksters have all the necessary tools at their disposal to produce a triumphant outcome to this season.
The Big Orange now hopes to improve individually and as a combined unit during an intense campaign of competition against some of the top-ranked programs in the nation and arrive at the 2004 NCAA Championships hosted by Auburn University in Auburn, Ala., over May 20-23.
The Lady Vols return a pair of experienced coaches who are dedicated to the academic, athletic and personal development of each of their pupils. Pavon, who enters her fourth full season as the head coach, continues to induce incredible performances from her charges. Last season, Pavon guided the squad to numerous program records, including lowest first-round score, with matching 289s at the Lady Gator Invitational and Auburn Tiger Derby; lowest third-round score with a 285 at the Derby; most coaching titles in a career with Pavon's sixth title at the Lady Boilermaker Invitational; and most titles in a campaign by tying the 1996-97 squad's record three crowns (Lady Kat Invitational, Derby and Lady Boilermaker).
Pavon understands that in order to expand on this string of excellence, the team must strive to achieve its preseason objectives.
"My number one goal for this season is to qualify for the NCAA Championship," Pavon said. "I would like to have a top-three SEC finish and a top-eight ranking at the end of the season. To achieve these goals, we are going to work day-in and day-out to improve our putting, driving and short game."
The other half of the coaching duo is Whitson, who is in his third season assisting the Lady Vol golfers. Whitson, a former head golf coach at Transylvania University, came to Knoxville with experience gained on the Hooters, Central Florida and Developmental Players Tours. Whitson led the Pioneers to a No. 16 ranking in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) as well as guiding one of his golfers to a third-place NAIA Championships finish. Whitson will add his first-hand understanding of pro and collegiate golf to the combined coaching effort of the Lady Vol golfers.
Pavon and Whitson welcome two newcomers to an already nationally prominent group of five returning letterwinners. The squad welcomes back two seniors (Mary Jan Fernandez and Tai Perry), one junior (Jessica Shepley) and two sophomores (Golda Johansson and Violeta Retamoza) from last season's record-setting team.
"We are in a position to really accomplish some great things this season," Pavon said. "All of the top five players from last season return, Teesha Ash is eligible to play, and we have Holly Cantwell coming in. We are going to have all the talent we had last year, plus some much needed depth.
"I see us being much more competitive in practice, and that should make us stronger and mentally tougher in competition. It will also give us the luxury of resting a player who is injured, struggling with their game or behind in school. We will have one of the strongest programs in the country through our entire lineup and, hopefully, that will all result in great play throughout the season."
Fernandez looks to improve upon her second-straight outstanding performance at the SEC Championships in which she equaled a career-best-tying fifth place. Her 223 total included a first-day one-under 71. The senior from Henderson, Nev., is coming off a solid season in which she put together a 77.87 stroke average. She also finished in the top 20 at four tournaments with three of those finishes being in the top 15. At the Auburn Tiger Derby, Fernandez lit up the course on the final day of competition with a 67, just one shot shy of her personal standard set at the 2002 SEC Championships, to conclude a 14th-place effort.
"Mary Jan has been a good player for us throughout her career," Pavon said. "She has the ability to be great and we're hoping to elevate her play for her senior season. She is capable of shooting very low scores when her confidence is high, so we will be working on that aspect for most of the year."
Completing the senior contingent for the Big Orange this season is Perry. The Unionville, Pa., native proved herself to be a key contributor to the golf squad as she finished in the top 20 at five tournaments last season with four top-15 showings. Perry broke out of a mid-season slump when she strung together a trio of performances that began with a seventh-place effort at the Lady Gator Invitational. She notched a career-low first-day 69 along with a third-day 70 in Gainesville, Fla., and finished the three-tourney tear with a personal watershed event at the Lady Boilermaker when she tied for fifth place with a 224. After finding her swing in the spring when she strung together 11 of 14 rounds in the 70s and one round in the 60s, Perry maintained her position as 10th in Tennessee history with a 77.59 career stroke average, while moving into eighth in most career rounds with 82.
"Tai is a very talented player," Pavon said. "She is very creative and can hit almost any shot. She will be a huge factor in the success of the team this season. It's her senior year and I know she has a lot of goals she wants to accomplish. We will rely on her leadership and experience."
Junior standout Shepley should occupy a strong leadership role for the Lady Vols. The product of Oakville, Ontario, put together the fifth-lowest single-season scoring average in school history with a 74.87 en route to an incredible nine-straight top-15 finishes. With a 16th-place tie at the SEC Championships, the skein of success fell just one shot short of tying former Lady Vol Abby Pearson's stretch of 10 tournaments in the top 15. The effort earned her recognition in Golfweek magazine, as the publication ranked her 19th in the country. The squad captain also garnered first-team All-SEC accolades for her performance. Additionally, Shepley shaved nearly a shot off her career average, as she currently sits in third-place in UT history with a 75.71. She also carded a personal-low 69 during the first day of the Lady Kat Invitational and a career-best second-place tie in Lexington.
"Jessica has been a great player for us, and we will count on her heavily this season," Pavon said. "She is a great leader on and off the course. Jessica had a very good season last year, and I'm sure will continue to improve. She was very close to being named All-America last year and will strive for that honor this season."
Sophomore Johansson offers the Lady Vols a strong presence in the lineup who is capable of vying for a top-15 spot at any competition. The Lund, Sweden, native opened her maiden season with a successful fall performance. During the first half, Johansson finished in the top 20 in each of her performances. Additionally, she logged a career-high 11th-place tie at the Mercedes-Benz with a 229. As a rookie, she also sparked a UT run to the Auburn Tiger Derby title with a career-low first-round 70 and a personal-best three-round 223.
"Golda will be another key to our success as a team," Pavon said. "She has everything she needs to be a very strong collegiate player and has worked very hard over the summer to iron out any flaws in her game. She was disappointed with her play last spring and will be striving to reach her goals this season."
Retamoza plans on proving her initial season in Tennessee orange was no fluke. The 2003 SEC Freshman of the Year became the first Lady Vol to win two tournament titles in a single season. She did so by knocking off Auburn's Celeste Troche in a three-hole playoff at the 2002 Auburn Tiger Derby. She also fired a three-day 211 at the Tiger Derby, including back-to-back under-par rounds of 70 and 67. Her tourney total also was the second-best 54-hole tally in program history. The second-team National Golf Coaches Association All-American paced UT's eighth-ranked freshman class with five top-five finishes, which included a runner-up showing at the league championships in Lexington, Ky. Additionally, the 10th-ranked player in the nation tied for 13th as a member of the Mexican National Team at the 2002 World Amateur Championships in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. A clutch performer, Retamoza is the most lethal returning final-day golfer on the squad with a third-round average of 72.57. Tennessee's current career scoring average leader, with a 74.15 mark, matched teammate Fernandez's third-round 67 at the 2002 Auburn Tiger for the lowest final-day tally in UT history. She also carded a 68 at the 2003 Arizona Wildcat Invitational for the third-lowest final-round mark.
"Violeta is a great collegiate player and has set her sights high for this season," Pavon said. "She is very talented and has a very strong mental game. She really can achieve anything if she works for it. We will rely on her day-in and day-out to contribute to the team score."
With no outgoing players, Pavon faced a welcome experience on the recruiting path as she had no holes to fill for the initial time during her stretch at the helm of the Big Orange. Over the next season, Pavon can count on a pair of newcomers with ties to Tennessee to provide much needed depth to the lineup.
Junior transfer Ash brings two seasons of collegiate play that demonstrated a marked improvement from her rookie year at the University of Mississippi. During her sophomore season with the Lady Rebels, the Florence, Ala., native put together a career-best performance at the Beacon Woods Invitational in Bayonet Point, Fla., with a third-place 217. Additionally, Ash finished in the top 20 three more times during the campaign.
"I'm thrilled about Teesha being eligible to compete this season," Pavon said. "She has a lot of experience and a great short game. Teesha worked hard over the summer and will be ready to compete and make a difference to our team this year. She also sets a great example off the course for the other players."
The sole freshman added to the squad is Morristown native Cantwell. The 2003 East Tennessee Player of the Year notched a 3A state title sweep by leading the undefeated Morristown Hamblen High School West Trojans to the team championship with a final-day 70, the fourth-lowest tally in event history, helping her capture individual medallist honors as well. A National High School Coaches Association All-American, Cantwell also earned runner-up status at state her junior season after a fourth-place showing the previous year as a sophomore. Additionally, she captured medals at the region, district and conference tournaments her senior and sophomore seasons.
"Holly is a great addition to our team," Pavon said. "She was a state high school champ and has a lot of competitive experience. Holly is going to push all of the other players to be better and work harder, because she is going to want a spot in the lineup. She has a great personality and will add to the chemistry of the team as well."
With a deep and competitive lineup in place for the season, the Lady Vols are ready to dive into a crucible of nine regular-season tournaments, which they hope will help extend their streak to 12 consecutive postseason appearances. The Lady Vols will also look to earn a spot at the NCAA Championships for the first time since 2000.
"We have put together a very strong schedule for the 2003-2004 season," Pavon said. "I want our team to compete with the best teams in the country as often as possible, and this schedule accomplishes that. We will be tested week-in and week-out and, hopefully, that will make us a tougher team by the end of the season. Wins will be hard to come by, and we will be punished for poor play, but this team will be strong enough to face the best. We will learn how to bring out our best play in all types of situations."
The regular season opens where the postseason will hopefully end: the Auburn University Club in Auburn, Ala., the site of the 2004 NCAA Championships. The 2003 edition of the NCAA Fall Preview over Sept. 12-14 marks the seventh invite for the Big Orange to the prestigious event. Two weeks later, UT travels to Charlotte, N.C., as the Lady Vols compete in the Franklin Street Trust Tar Heel Invitational at the Finley Golf Course over Oct. 3-5.
Next, the Orange and White play host to the fall season's penultimate tourney, the seventh-annual Mercedes-Benz Women's Collegiate Championships at Fox Den Country Club in Knoxville. Last year, the Big Orange finished 10th among a field of 16 teams and looks to improve as an impressive field, including seven of last season's Golfweek/Sagarin Top 25 teams, travel to Volunteer Country over Oct. 19-21.
After six seasons at Gettysvue Polo, Golf and Country Club, the Mercedes-Benz Tournament will feature a change in scenery. Fox Den Country Club, the site of the 2003 Knoxville Open, part of the Nationwide Tour, will serve as home course for UT's only Knoxville appearance in 2003-04.
"Once again, we have a wonderful field put together for the 2003 Mercedes-Benz," Pavon said. "I'm excited to have so many top-25 teams coming to Knoxville. I know Fox Den will be a great host, and the course will be fair, but challenging for the players."
The fall season comes to a close over Nov. 10-12 as the Lady Vols head to Sin City for UNLV's Las Vegas Founders Women's Showdown at the Anthem Country Club. The Showdown will mark UT's initial foray into the Silver State and a homecoming of sorts for Nevada resident Fernandez, who hails from nearby Henderson.
The spring slate begins over Feb. 23-25 with a return trip to Tucson, Ariz., for the Arizona Wildcat Invitational at the Arizona National Golf Club. UT hopes to better last season's fourth-place finish in its fifth entry at UA's annual event. The Big Orange then heads into SEC country for its next two tournaments. Florida plays host to the first competition as the Lady Vols compete in the SunTrust Lady Gator Invitational at the Florida University Club in Gainesville, Fla., over March 7-9. Tennessee then follows with a trip to Athens, Ga., for the Liz Murphey Collegiate at the University of Georgia Golf Course over March 26-28.
The Orange and White continues the season over April 2-4 with its fourth-straight Bryan National Collegiate at Bryan Park in Greensboro, N.C., before heading to Baton Rouge, La., over April 16-18, to conclude regular-season play at the 2004 SEC Championships, hosted by Louisiana State University.
The Lady Vols then look to up their streak of 12-straight postseason appearances at an NCAA Regional, over May 6-8. This season, the Regionals will be hosted by one of three institutions: Illinois State University (Normal, Ill.), Stetson University (Howey-in-the-Hills, Fla.) or Stanford University (Stanford, Calif.) The top eight teams from each of these sites will then travel to Auburn, Ala., over May 18-21, to decide which squad will claim the NCAA Championship.
With that goal in mind, the stage is now set for the Lady Vols to harness the exceptional potential that a mixture of veterans and newcomers possess in order to bring success to the 12th edition of women's golf at the University of Tennessee. Should the Big Orange produce positive "Synergy" during the 2003-04 season, there is no limit to what heights the team can reach.