Erica Popson, the last Tennessee golfer to finish the 16th annual Mercedes-Benz Collegiate Championships on Sunday at Holston Hills Country Club, birdied No. 18 to help the Lady Vols finish alone in second with a 7-over 871, one stroke ahead of Purdue.
Penn State (3-over 867) won, and let out its trademark "We are… Penn State" cheer after 21-year Nittany Lion coach Denise St. Pierre gave an emotional victory acceptance speech, thanking the Penn State administration for its support through her ups-and-downs with the program.
Aiding the Tennessee effort were Chessey Thomas (74-218), who finished tied for 11th; Sara Monberg (71-219), who tied for 15th; and A.J. Newell (72-220), who tied for 20th.
Monberg had four birdies in her final round and was UT's low scorer Sunday.
Freshman Ashlee Pickerell (84-245) tied for 78th.
Despite not winning, coach Judi Pavon was still pleased.
"We actually played pretty well this weekend," she said, adding that the team had a slow start Sunday. "We just didn't have any low scores today to put us over the edge."
Monberg, however, was hoping the team could do even better.
"We finished second," she said. "Our goal was to win. I'm a little disappointed about that."
Purdue University golfer Paula Reto found her situation on the final holes
changing as often as the wind.
She hit her tee shot near a tree on No. 16, but her approach shot on No. 17 ended up only about 12 feet from the hole.
And on hilly No. 18, she returned to flirting with danger when her wedge approach shot hung precariously on the front fringe of the green.
However, she was able to weather the golf storms in steady fashion and more, as she finished par, birdie, and par to win the individual title.
Reto's 3-under-par 69 Sunday put her at 5-under 211 for the tournament, one stroke ahead of Laura Wearn (74) of Furman. Mary Michael Maggio (70-213) of Texas A&M finished third.
The highest Tennessee finish came from Popson (73-214), who tied for fourth with Hana Lee (72-214) of Northwestern.
While winning is not new to Reto — who has won two collegiate tournaments and was a quarterfinalist at this year's U.S. Women's Amateur — the game is, relatively speaking.
Unlike many college golfers, she did not start playing until being introduced to the sport by her father while she was a freshman in high school.
"I used to play field hockey and run track," said Reto, who grew up in both South Africa and Coral Springs, Fla.
John Shearer is a freelance contributor.