Las Cruces, N.M.
Tennessee coach Judi Pavon has experienced her share of lows in past postseasons, but at the NCAA Division I Women’s West Regional, Pavon made a 180-degree turn that will send her to the national finals for the second consecutive time in her five years with the Volunteers.
Tennessee entered the final round May 7 trailing Southern California by six shots, but quickly made up that deficit and took the lead before being caught by UCLA and sharing the West title with the Bruins.
The Lady Vols shot even-par 288 Saturday to tie with UCLA with 889 totals at the New Mexico State University Golf Course. The Bruins’ 2-under 286 in the final round was the tournament’s best score.
Joining Tennessee and UCLA in the top eight were California, Southern Cal, Oklahoma State, UC-Irvine, Brigham Young and Stanford. The low eight teams advanced to the NCAA Championship May 17-20 in Sunriver, Ore.
Tennessee came through this time after three consecutive misses at regionals – each after having been ranked in the top 12 nationally in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings.
In Pavon’s first season, an 11th-place finish at the 2001 West Regional started a string of disappointing finishes the Lady Vols don’t like to talk about.
Tennessee also missed qualifying for nationals in 2002 with a 10th-place showing in the East and again in 2003 after placing 18th in the Central.
A year ago, the Lady Vols broke through with a seventh-place finish in the East Regional and went on to place 11th at the NCAA Championship. This year marks the first time in the program’s 13-year history it has advanced to back-to-back national championships.
“Last year we went (to the NCAA finals) and were one of the teams that was just happy to make it, and we noticed a big difference between the teams that were just happy to make it and the teams there to win,” Pavon said.
This year, the mindset is different at Tennessee.
“We really need to do something that puts us on the map,” Pavon said. “We have been a top-10 team for most of the last four or five years, and when people mention the teams that are contending, we are never on that list.”
The biggest stunner was that fifth-ranked Georgia failed to advance. The Bulldogs started the final round in third place, but fell to ninth after a 21-over 309, three shots behind eighth-place Stanford.
“We were going out to win the tournament today,” Georgia coach Todd McCorkle said. “We just had a bad day.”
The Bulldogs had not placed worse than seventh in any event this season and will not participate in the NCAA finals for the first time since 1997.
California junior Sophia Sheridan claimed her first college victory after posting rounds of 69-73-70 for a 4-under 212 total, five shots clear of Tennessee’s Violeta Retamoza (217).