There used to be times in the 1990s when Vanderbilt women’s golf was a virtual joke in college circles.
No more. Led by senior Liebelei Lawrence and junior Jacqui Concolino, the Commodores are making their ninth straight appearance in an NCAA regional when their team tees off Thursday morning in Athens, Ga.
Lawrence is enjoying her best season at Vanderbilt with a cumulative average of 75 per round to lead the team. Concolino (77.7) hasn’t been able to equal the phenomenal year she had last spring as a sophomore, but she’s making strides of late.
Last year, Concolino became the first golfer in school history to win an NCAA Regional title when she took medalist honors at the Central Region in Ann Arbor, Mich., firing a five-under 208.
Concolino became the second VU golfer to be named first-team All-America after May Wood in 2004. She holds the school record for lowest three-round individual score with her 204 in the Arizona Wildcat Invitational in ’06 and tied for best ever one-round score with her 66 final round in that tournament.
Last year, the Commodores qualified for the NCAA championships, becoming just the fourth Vanderbilt team to do so. To become the fifth, they must finish in top eight of the 23-team field this week in Georgia. The three-day event runs through Saturday.
“To me, the turning point of the program came when Vanderbilt won the SEC championships in ’04 with that group of May Wood and Sarah Jacobs,’’ said Concolino, of Orlando, Fla. “It had a big influence on my deciding for Vanderbilt.
“This season hasn’t gone exactly like we wanted it to (Vanderbilt finished a disappointing ninth in the SEC tourney), but we’re getting re-focused for regionals. It’s a new season,’’ she said.
“Last week, our team was invited to play on the Augusta National (Masters) course, that was really special, I hope we use that experience to play well in regionals,’’ she added.
Lawrence, of Luxembourg, heard about Vanderbilt when she was training in Florida and has played in every event in her college career. She’s hoping her last will be her best.
“We’re really looking forward to NCAAs,’’ she said. “Our goal all along has been Albuquerque (N.M., site of nationals). I think that course suits our games as a team,’’ said Lawrence, who was also a tennis player and figure skater early on.
Asked about Lawrence’s senior leadership, Concolino laughed and said, “I love how bubbly she is. She’s always bouncing around on the course, so full of energy. It rubs off on the rest of us to see how much fun she’s having out there.’’
Fittingly, Lawrence and Concolino are on the cover of the Vanderbilt media guide. And the playful Concolino is pictured with a golf club in her teeth in a recent issue of Commodore Nation. But she’s all business on the course.
“I’ve been working with my driving coach, and we’ve made a few little adjustments to that part of my game,’’ she said. “It’s coming, it’s almost there.’’
“Our motto for regional has become, ‘unfinished business,’ ‘’ said Vanderbilt first-year coach Greg Allen, who came aboard after seven years at Arizona. There, he led the Wildcats to Pac-10 titles in ’01 and ’02 and an NCAA runner-up finish in ’02.
“We were disappointed in our SEC tourney finish, but in Georgia, we’re looking for a fresh start,’’ Allen said. “We have a lot of talent on this team, and it’s only a matter of time before we put everything back on track. We’re all trying to move on.’’
Sophomore Brooke Goodwin, freshman Megan Graham and junior Amber Lundskog round out the lineup.
“I’ve really enjoyed working with these girls, they’ve all made the (coaching) transition so easy for me,’’ Allen said.
“To finish high, we need a projected score of about 300 per day. That means each of us has to shoot in the 75 range (the fifth and worst score is thrown out). That’s something we’re all capable of,’’ Allen said.
He’s hoping it all comes to fruition in sunny Georgia.
• Vanderbilt junior Jon Curran has been selected to compete in the NCAA men’s East Regional Championships at Council Fire Club in Chattanooga May 15-17. Curran tied for second place at last season’s NCAA West Regional in Tempe, Ariz. He’s posted four top 10 finishes this year, including earning medalist honors for the first time in his collegiate career in March at the Seminole Intercollegiate in Tallahassee, Fla.