2006: Tide rises in East Regional

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Browns Summit, N.C.

When the hugs, high fives and tears began to subside, Mic Potter turned to his Alabama team and said something he’s never uttered in his 23 years of coaching: “It might be a while. I can’t get ahold of the pilot.”

That’s right, the Tide rolled into the NCAA Division I Women’s East Regional on a private jet. Welcome to the Big Time.

In his first season at the helm in Tuscaloosa, Potter transformed the Tide from a team that didn’t qualify for regional play last season into an NCAA Championship contender. Of course he had a lot of help from Jenny Suh and Sarah Sturm, two Furman players who followed Potter to Alabama and immediately took over the top two spots.

Alabama squeaked past Virginia by one shot in a sudden-death playoff May 13 to earn its first trip to the national championship in 19 years. The two teams ended regulation play in a tie for eighth at 23-over 887 and waited more than four hours to commence their playoff on the 18th hole. In the end, it came down to a high-stakes putting contest.

“I feel like doing cartwheels across the green, but I don’t want to mess up the green or hurt myself so I guess I’ll refrain from that,” said Suh, tears of joy still welling up in her eyes.

Suh and Sturm two-putted for par from 75 feet and 54 feet, respectively, in the final playoff group, and senior Carina Sorensen drained a 10-foot par putt.

Virginia’s Rachel Smith had a chance to tie things after hitting a brilliant bunker shot to 6 feet. But the freshman couldn’t convert her curling par putt and the Cavaliers finished one shot short.

“It was a tough loss for us,” said Virginia coach Jan Mann. “Mic has done a fantastic job in a year’s time. It’s nice to see him come into the program and do what he’s done.”

Seventh-seeded Virginia wasn’t the only team seeded in the top eight to come up short. Vanderbilt, No. 6, and South Carolina, No. 8, also won’t be making the trip to the NCAA Championships.

Tennessee, however, seems to have solved its postseason puzzle. The Volunteers, who were plagued by regional setbacks early in coach Judi Pavon’s career, finished atop an NCAA regional for the second consecutive season, clipping LSU by six shots. California, Florida State, Arizona State, Auburn and Wake Forest rounded out the top eight.

Since some players in the field weren’t even born the last time Alabama played in the NCAA Championship, Potter told his players they had nothing to lose.

Suh was certainly in a win-win situation since she and Virginia’s

Leah Wigger were guaranteed a ticket to Columbus, Ohio, based on their individual play. But only one player could move on with her team.

Shortly after Sturm sealed the eighth spot for ’Bama, she and Suh shared an emotional embrace.

There was a similar scene when the pair made their way around the green to Potter, the laid-back coach with a penchant for instruction. After all, these two players took a gamble and came to Alabama for one reason.

“I can’t imagine staying at a school without him,” Suh said of Potter. “I knew that it wouldn’t be the same (at Furman), no matter who the coach was or how great they were – even if it was Butch Harmon or David Leadbetter.”

And now look, Potter even comes with a private jet.

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