If there’s one thing that the University of Tennessee women’s golf team has, it's experience.
The Vols are counting on this experience as well as a balanced effort to lead them to success as they head into the 2017 SEC Championship on Friday in Birmingham, Alabama.
The Vols roster is loaded with players who have played on this stage before. In fact, four of the five players who will be competing at the SEC Championship have played at the course before.
Coaching for her 17th season, head coach Judi Pavon is the definition of experience. The 2006 SEC Coach of the Year is confident that this experience can give Tennessee an edge over the competition.
“We do have a lot of experience on this course,” Pavon said. “Even our freshman (Michaela Williams) has played here before because she had a junior tournament here. I think that we’ll be in good shape because each player has played well at one point or another on the course.”
Williams could be the team's darkhouse in this tournament. The Alabama native is the only player to not have competed at this stage on the course. However, through the 20 rounds of golf she's played this season, Williams is averaging a score of 72.65.
Coach Pavon also believes that the key to the Vols playing well in this championship will be controlling their nerves and emotions. This has been one of the Vols few weaknesses throughout the season in which they would finish strong after having a mediocre first round.
“It helps having an older team because they know how important the tournament is and the need to stay calm,” she said. “They need to just play their game and get us in a good position in the first day.”
The Vols will have a better chance with veterans Hannah Pietila and Anna Newell on the course. This will be the two players' third appearance at the SEC Championship. In fact, Newell finished tied for 13th in the tournament last year and tied for 10th her freshman year.
Pietila, who finished tied for 23rd in the tournament last year, says her experience with the course will definitely help the Vols succeed in the SEC Championship.
“I think that playing this course for a third time will be very important. I’ll have a big advantage on others by just knowing that there are some holes out here that you can make a bogey and that there's a lot of holes that you can make up for it on,” Pietila said.
Although Pavon knows that any one of her players can step it up on a given day, she believes that another two players may be primed to have a great weekend at the tournament.
“I would say that a couple of our experienced girls could have a good weekend. Lucia Polo has been playing well and is coming off a good week. Blakesly Warren, who’s a junior, has played well here last year and really has her sights set high,” Pavon said. “I think if they’e both on top of their games this week, we can have a good finish.”
Warren says that she has thought a lot about how she played last year at the course and has focused her efforts on improving her game for the course.
But for Polo, this year's SEC Championship will be a final shot at solidifying her legacy as a Volunteer after she finished tied for seventh in the tournament two years ago.
“I'm just really excited. It's my last SEC Championship and one of my last opportunities to represent the University of Tennessee,” Polo said. “I want to make the most out of it.”
The competition will be tough in Birmingham, however. The participant list includes five Top-15 teams, including the No. 1 ranked University of Alabama.
Despite this, Coach Pavon is confident in her team's ability.
“We have tough competition, but we’re a really good team too,” Pavon said. “I’d like to just see us play our game as well as possible and see if we can finish in the top three at the end of the championship.”