The Loop

Vanderbilt gives fans something to cheer for in Round 2

__FRANKLIN, TENN.--If you felt a sudden gust of wind blowing around Vanderbilt Legends Club late Wednesday morning, you have__Greg Allen to thank for it. The sigh of relief that the Vanderbilt women's coach exhaled was measurable after his squad posted a four-under 284 during the second round of the NCAA Women's Championship

Indeed, the performance was significant improvement from the previous day, in which his squad shot a 18-over 306 to finish the first round in a tie for 22nd, 20 strokes back of Alabama.

Perhaps the anticipation of playing the national championship on its home course got the better of them. It was a moment that the entire squad had been looking forward to throughout the 2011-12 season, if not longer. Allen noted that when the school put in the bid to host the 2012 tournament, it was knowing that the Lady Commodores would have two of his team's most talented players, senior Marina Alex and junior Lauren Stratton, coming in with plenty of experience, a recipe he hoped might lead to big things.

What played out Tuesday, however, was anything but memorable. Alex, the SEC player-of-the-year who was considered by some a favorite to capture the individual title here, shot an opening 77 while Stratton posted a 75, unfortunately the best score of any Vanderbilt player.

"I was shocked," Allen said. "That wasn't the team we saw at Ohio State [during the NCAA Central Regional]. That wasn't the team we saw all week here preparing for this."

Working in their favor, perhaps, was the quick turnaround they faced going into Wednesday's playing as part of the wave that played the first round in the afternoon and the second round in the morning. Unable to dwell too long on the poor start, the team proved to itself and its fans that it was better than it showed.

Despite the rough start, the squad received encouragement from the Vanderbilt faithful. Former Commodore All-American Brandt Snedeker sent a text message to Allen to relay to the team, telling them to keep their heads up and understand there was still plenty of golf left.

Sure enough, the group responded, Alex bouncing back with a 68 while Stratton shot a 70.

Key to the turnaround was Vanderbilt's play on the North course's back nine. On day 1 they shot 13 over on that stretch of holes while shooting five under on day 2. Similarly, the squad went from posting an even par score on the short par-5 ninth hole, which played the easiest of any in Round 1, to a four under total during the second round.

"Obviously they were more relaxed and had some more fun out there," Allen said. "Obviously when you make birdies you have more fun."

The question now is whether they have enough holes ahead of them to get back into contention. At the end of the morning wave Wednesday, Vanderbilt was still 19 strokes back of first-place Alabama.

"We've just got to take the mindset that we know how to play this course and we know we can play it well," Allen said. "From there, we'll see what we can do."