Sept. 13, 2004
In 2003, University of Tennessee Women's Golf Head Coach Judi Pavon's goal for the team was a return to the NCAA Championships for the first time since 2000. Pavon achieved that feat, as the Lady Volunteers had an extremely successful regular-season and earned a berth to the championships. At the national invite, the Big Orange finished in 11th place on the strength of a program-record score of 1193, besting the previous mark of 1197 set in 1997.
For 2004-05, the goals are significantly higher, as all five starters return from the record-setting squad, including National Golf Coaches' Association All-American Jessica Shepley and first-team SEC honoree Violeta Retamoza. Add in four talented newcomers and the orange-clad linksters have one of the deepest squads in the nation and are ready to "Stake Their Claim" this season as one of collegiate golf's elite teams.
Guiding the way for the Lady Vols will be Pavon, who enters her fifth full season as the head coach. Pavon continues to impress, as under her tutelage Lady Vols have earned National Golf Coaches' Association All-America status five times, garnered All-SEC accolades on 14 occasions, earned six tournaments titles and four individual winners. For that success to continue, Pavon realizes the squad must strive to achieve its preseason objectives.
"I have high goals for the team this season," Pavon said. "I'd like to win the SEC Championship and finish in the top five at the National Championship. In addition, I would like to see us win more than once as a team and have more than one individual victory as well. It's not often that you have a team that really has the potential to be great. This team has that potential. I have nine strong players who are good students and great people. I'm looking forward to working with them and seeing what we can accomplish together."
Joining Pavon in the coaching efforts will be former UT golfer Caroline Cole (1998-02), who returned to her alma mater in July 2004 to serve as the assistant golf coach. The first-year coach has spent the past two years playing on the Futures Tour before working as an operations intern with the National Junior Golf Coaches' Association. Previously, Cole followed her playing career by serving as a volunteer assistant coach with the Lady Vols during the 2001-02 season.
"I think Carrie will play a huge role in recruiting," Pavon said. "She is a very personable, well-spoken individual who has first-hand knowledge of being a student-athlete at Tennessee. She will bring a unique perspective to our coaching staff. I think Carrie will also relate to the players very well, which will help day-in and day-out with the rigors of being a student-athlete. Carrie and I have a great relationship and will work really well together. I'm really looking forward to having a friend as my assistant coach."
Pavon and Cole welcome back all five starters from last year's record-setting squad. In addition to Shepley and Retamoza, senior Teesha Ash, junior Golda Johansson and sophomore Holly Cantwell return for the Lady Vols. Joining the returning letterwinners are North Carolina State transfer Sarah Bonner-Shanks, Tennessee high school state champion Jennifer Davis, America Junior Golf Association All-American Christie Reed and 2003 Miss Kentucky Golf Marci Turner.
"This team will only be limited by themselves," Pavon said. "Sometimes when you haven't won the big tournaments or competed to be the best, you can't see that it's possible. We are going to work day-in and day-out to get this team to dream big and believe in themselves. With self-confidence I think we can achieve all of our goals. We definitely have the best team in the country players 1-9 and, probably, players 1-7 also. On paper I believe we're one of the top five 1-5. We just have to believe it and prove it.
"Having so many good players on the team is a real luxury. It will be tough on the players as individuals, because they will never feel safe in their spot. But for the team, it will be terrific. I can see any of the nine players making the top-five lineup at one time or another. We are going to be very competitive every day, which will ultimately make us a stronger, mentally-tougher team."
With this year's squad returning Retamoza and Shepley, Pavon has two solid top players who can be counted on each tournament. She also understands, however, that to accomplish the goals this year that it truly will take a team effort.
"When you have goals like winning the SEC or finishing in the top five nationally, you can't do it with just one or two players," Pavon said. "Jessica and Violeta have always been players we really lean on, but in order to be one of the best teams, we are going to need five players step up. I'm looking for Golda, Teesha, Holly, Marci and Christie to really compete against each other for a spot in the lineup and to perform well in competition. No matter who fills the role, we are going to have to have strong performances from the number three and number four spots. The one and two players are so important to the success of the team, but the three and four scores are the difference in being a good team or a great one."
Shepley returns for her senior year after coming off a tremendous 2003 campaign. It culminated with a record-setting performance at the NCAA Championships, where she set the program mark for low score in the tournament with a 286 and tied current LPGA golfer Young-A Yang's team standard with a fifth-place finish. After her first three years, the Oakville, Ontario, native has a career scoring average of 75.68, which ranks as the third best in school annals. In 2003, Shepley had a stroke average of 75.62 while finishing in the top 25 at four tournaments with three top-10 finishes. Shepley also turned in a strong performance at the SEC Championships, finishing in a tie for fourth place with a 218. The standout will also be counted on in a leadership role again, serving as the team captain for the third consecutive season.
"I really can't believe Jessica is already a senior," Pavon said. "She was my first recruit as head coach and will always be special to me. She has been a great player and a great leader for our team. She really started to play some great golf late in the year last season, and I know her confidence will be high starting this season. She is one of those people whom everyone depends on and looks up to, and she loves being in that role. I know Jessica is looking for her first collegiate win, and that will be a very strong motivator for her during her last season."
Completing the senior contingent is Ash, who will be playing in her second year with the Lady Vols. She will be counted on to provide solid play behind Shepley and Retamoza and appears ready to do so. In her first year with UT, the transfer from Mississippi had a scoring average of 77.87 in 31 rounds. Ash led the Lady Vols at the Las Vegas Founder's Women's Collegiate Showdown with a 219 that put her in a tie for sixth place. In addition, at the NCAA Championships she became the third Lady Vol golfer in history to make a hole-in-one in competitive play. The historic moment came on the 145-yard No. 17 hole and spurred the Chattanooga native to a 69th-place-tying 303.
"Teesha was such a pleasant surprise last season," Pavon said. "Because she had to sit out after transferring, I had no idea what to expect from her in competition. She proved that she has the game, both physically and mentally, to really play well. She had several rounds in the low 70s during the season and had a lot of rounds under par about two-thirds of the way through. If Teesha believes in herself, she will make a strong contribution to the team."
SEC first-team selection Retamoza is back for her junior campaign and is poised to regain the All-America status that she earned in 2002. The Aguascalientes, Mexico, native enters the year with the lowest career scoring average in Big Orange history, currently sitting at 74.32. She is coming off a year in which she played in 33 rounds, accumulating seven top-25 finishes with three of those coming in the top 10. At the SEC Championships, the sophomore battled Vanderbilt's May Wood down to the wire, tying her adversary on the 18th hole to force a playoff. Although Retamoza succumbed on the first playoff hole, her three-under 213 was the third-lowest shot total in an SEC Tournament by a Lady Vol.
"I can't say enough about Violeta and her talent as a player," Pavon said. "She really had a tough sophomore season because of injury, but she had a few really great showings. She is motivated this year to regain the form she had as a freshman and to make sure that people know who she is. With self-confidence and a great attitude, I think Violeta can be one of the best players in the country. If she can get off to a good start this season, I think she will be great. She should be one of the top contenders for SEC Player of the Year."
Johansson is the other junior on this year's team. The Lund, Sweden, native provides the Lady Vols with another strong presence in the lineup. After overcoming an injury early in the year, Johansson finished strong. She turned in a 222 en route to a 14th-place finish at the SEC Championships. She then backed up that performance with a 226 that tied for 20th at the NCAA East Regionals. The performance was key, helping spur the Lady Vols to a seventh-place finish in the region, which qualified UT for the national tournament.
"I am so proud of Golda and the hard work she puts in," Pavon said. "She won the 'Carrie Cole Effort Award' last season as the hardest worker on the team. Her good attitude and work ethic have really paid off, and I think she is ready to play the best golf of her career. I expect Golda to be in our lineup and make a strong contribution to the team's success this season.
Cantwell rounds out the returning starters. As a freshman, the Morristown, Tenn., native competed in nine of 11 tournaments, compiling a scoring average of 78.46. One note of interest is that Cantwell's average lowered after each round of play in competition from 79.89 to 77.67 to 76.33 in the final round. With that type of effort to never give up, Cantwell should be a solid performer this season for the Lady Vols.
"Holly has come a long way since she stepped on campus last season," Pavon said. "She has gained a lot of yardage and knowledge and will be very prepared for this season. Holly probably is one of the best fighters on our team. She never gives up on a round and that makes a huge difference. Now that Holly knows what to expect in competition and practice, I think she will really have a strong year."
With two outgoing players in Mary Jan Fernandez and Tai Perry, Pavon turned to the recruiting path to round out this year's squad. Bonner-Shanks returns to eligibility after transferring from N.C. State. As a member of the Wolfpack, Bonner-Shanks ranked second on the team with a scoring average of 77.00 in 2001-02 and was third with an average of 77.6 in 2002-03. She compiled four top-ten finishes while competing for the Wolfpack, including a career-best tie for seventh place at the Lady Seahawk Invitational in 2001-02.
"Sarah spent last spring recovering from a broken arm and is now healthy and back to 100 percent," Pavon said. "She has had some great collegiate experience and also had a great junior career. She knows what it takes to succeed at the collegiate level and has been working hard this summer to get her game back in shape. Sarah is very enthusiastic and will help keep the players excited about golf when we start to get tired. She has a solid short game and will have a great chance to earn a spot in the traveling lineup."
Davis is one of three incoming freshmen, all of whom come in with high credentials. She joins the Lady Vols from Seymour High School in Seymour, Tenn., where she earned all-state recognition each of her four years. Davis took home the state crown in 2001 and was the runner-up in both 2000 and 2002. In addition, Davis represented the United States as an amateur at the 2002 Junior Ryder Cup.
"Jennifer has almost fully recovered from knee surgery she had last spring," Pavon said. "She has been working very hard on her short game, and her long game is coming around. Jennifer had a great junior career and will be a great collegiate player when she's healthy. She has made a smooth transition into college, and I'm looking forward to getting her into competition this season."
The second of the incoming freshmen is Reed, a native of Coral Spring, Fla. Reed joins the Lady Vols from Westminster Academy where she amassed three regional titles and led her squad to a top-five finish at the state championship each year she competed. As an amateur, she was a two-time AJGA All-American, finishing 2003 as the sixth-ranked player in the United States. She won 72 titles as well as earning 15 top-three finishes, earning a spot on the AJGA Canon Cup Team (East Squad).
"Christie committed to Tennessee almost two years ago, so I feel like she's been a Lady Vol for a long time," Pavon said. "She is a great player and a very hard worker. She has high hopes and expectations for herself and her team while she's at Tennessee, and I think she will really help motivate her teammates to be their best. Christie has spent the last year working on her game and swing to be prepared for collegiate golf, and I'm looking forward to watching her compete for us. She has had a phenomenal junior career and has a lot of experience competing against the best juniors in the world. I think she will be eager to test her game against the best collegiate players."
The third member of the freshman class is Turner, coming to UT out of Monroe County High School in Topkinsville, Ky. At MCHS Turner won the 2003 Kentucky state championship crown with a two-round 141 (73-68) that set the state championship winning margin at 12 strokes. She was a nine-time letterwinner and served as the team captain for eight of those years, competing with the high school golf team since the fourth grade. As an amateur the past three years Turner has posted nine top-10 finishes and claimed three crowns in national tournaments. She was a 2003 Polo Golf Junior All-America selection in 2003 and finished her career ranked No. 20 in the nation.
"I'm really looking forward to coaching Marci for the next four years", Pavon said. "She has such a solid golf swing and a solid overall game. Marci had an outstanding junior career and has plenty of experience to be able to step into college golf without a significant transition. She is also an excellent student and will be a great representative of the university."
With one of its deepest and most talented squads in place for the season, the Lady Vols are ready for another challenging schedule. The Mercedes-Benz Collegiate Championship tournament highlights the slate, which includes five fall and four spring tourneys before culminating with Southeastern Conference and NCAA postseason play.
"We have a very exciting schedule planned for this season," Pavon said. "I think it's a good mix of very tough tournaments with strong fields and great tournaments with smaller fields. We will be playing to win more often this season, which will be fun for one thing. Our schedule last year was so strong that finishing fifth some weeks was really good, but that doesn't help our confidence. Having some opportunities to win will really help us get more confident and will prepare us for how to close out tournaments in the last nine holes the last day. Our toughest fields will be at the NCAA Fall Preview, the Hooters Match Play, the Arizona Wildcat, Liz Murphey Collegiate and the Landfall Tradition. We are looking forward to some events we haven't been to before, the Cougar Classic and The Landfall Tradition, which are both at phenomenal golf courses and are really well-run events."
The Big Orange opens the fall season Sept. 12-14 at the Cougar Classic at the Yeamans Hall Club in Charleston, S.C. UT then heads west to Corvallis, Ore., for the NCAA Fall Preview Sept. 19-22. The Preview, hosted by Oregon State at the Sunriver Resort, is the first chance many competitors get to see the site of the 2005 NCAA Championships. The tourney marks UT's eighth appearance in the prestigious event. Tennessee then returns to Rocky Top to host the Mercedes-Benz Collegiate Championship at Cherokee Country Club in Knoxville over Oct. 7-10.
"We are really excited about hosting the Mercedes at Cherokee Country Club this fall," Pavon said. "Cherokee is a great golf course that will really test the players. The greens are very difficult, and that is going to be the difference in scoring. The field this year is very strong with several teams that finished last season ranked in the top 30 and only three teams that were ranked out of the top 50. Of course, our goal will be to win the tournament, and I feel that this year will provide a good opportunity for us to do so."
The Lady Vols then head to Wilmington, N.C., for the Landfall Tradition at the Country Club of Landfall, hosted by UNC Wilmington Oct. 28-31. Tennessee concludes its fall slate over Nov. 13-16 with the exciting Hooters Match Play tournament, hosted by the Golf Coaches Association at Mission Inn Resort in Howey-in-the-Hills, Fla. The course is the site of last season's incredible finish at the NCAA East Regional that earned UT a berth in the NCAA Championships.
The spring schedule begins Feb. 20-22 with the Lady Vols' sixth trip to the Arizona Wildcat Invitational at the Arizona National Golf Club in Tucson, Ariz. UT then heads to the South Shore Country Club in Las Vegas, Nev., for the UNLV Invitational over March 14-17. The squad continues the spring season over March 24-27 with a foray into SEC country at the Liz Murphey Collegiate in Athens, Ga. The Lady Vols' last attack on the Liz Murphey ended with a sixth-place finish in 2004. UT concludes regular-season play over March 31-April 3 at the Bryan National Collegiate at Bryan Park in Greensboro, N.C., where Tennessee also finished in sixth place.
The Lady Vol golf squad then turns its attention to the SEC Championship April 15-17 at the Tunica National Golf Club in Tunica, Miss. The Lady Vols then look to make their 13th consecutive appearance at an NCAA Regional over May 5-7. The top eight teams at each of the regional sites advance to the NCAA Championships over May 17-20, hosted by Oregon State University in Corvallis, Ore., at the Sunriver Resort.
With everything in place, the stage is now set for the Lady Vols to embark on the 13th season of UT golf history. Under the steady guidance of Pavon and Cole, the orange-clad linksters are prepared to battle against the best in the country and "Stake Their Claim" as one of the nation's top programs.