"I'm 99 percent sure it will be Lubbock," Hester said. "Eight of the 21 teams there will advance to the NCAA Tournament, but we're not going just to qualify -- we're going to the regional to win it."
The Lady'Backs finished a program-best third in the Southeastern Conference Championships at Tunica, Miss., just one shot out of a first-place playoff with Auburn and Georgia, and UA freshman Stacy Lewis won the individual crown by a whopping six strokes.
"We were in seventh place with six holes left," Hester said. "But everyone on our team played those last six holes under par. We were still seven shots behind when we finished, but then the other teams came almost all the way back to us while we were eating lunch."
Third-ranked Auburn won the title in a two-hole playoff over No. 4 Georgia.
Lewis, the one Lady'Back who got off to a good start in the final round, was three-under-par through five holes and kept the hammer down to shoot a UA-record 67.
"I can't tell you how proud I am of Stacy for playing so well under pressure," Hester said. "She bogeyed No. 12 when a five-foot putt spun around the hole at her, but that didn't faze her. She birdied two of the next three holes."
Lewis, ranked 10th nationally and a good bet for All-America honors, wasn't about to sit on her lead.
"My plan going in was to play as if someone was always beating me, even if I was ahead," Lewis said. "It's starting to sink in that I won. It's pretty awesome."
Hester said the 5-foot-5 Lewis is "sneaky long" and very accurate off the tee, a good iron player and an excellent putter.
"Shauna Estes, our assistant, told me 'Lewie' was going to win when she saw the course setup, with a lot of fairway bunkers," Hester said. "And Shauna should know. She once won the SEC Tournament by nine shots when she played for Georgia."
Hester said Lewis' greatest strength is that "she doesn't have a clear weakness."
If Arkansas is successful at regionals, it will play in the NCAA Championships at Sunriver Resort in Corvallis, Ore., May 17-20.
TENNIS TEAM AT SEC TOURNEY
The Arkansas women's tennis team, ranked 58th before a 4-3 loss to LSU last week, begins play in the SEC Tournament against No. 24 South Carolina today in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
"LSU was No. 39 and we missed a chance to move up in the rankings," said UA coach Michael Hegarty. "But we were very much in the match against South Carolina last time, and a win over them could give us a chance for NCAA Tournament consideration."
Vlatka Jovanovic, Arkansas' No. 1 player, ranks 65th nationally in singles, so a win today could vault her into the 64-woman NCAA individual tournament.
The Lady'Backs are missing freshman Yawna Allen of Phoenix, Ariz., who suffered a torn knee ligament while leading a match against No. 4 Vanderbilt last month.
"We were leading four matches at the time Yawna got hurt, but we ended up only winning one of them," Hegarty said. "Her injury affected two of our other players."
LADY'BACKS RUNNERS At HOME
Arkansas' women will use the John McDonnell Invitational on Saturday to try some athletes in different events and perhaps add to their 24 NCAA regional qualifying performances.
"We're about maxed out on qualifiers," said coach Lance Harter. "But Jessie Gordon hasn't run the 5,000 meters yet, and we'll try Tiffany Redlarczyk in the steeplechase at the Penn Relays."
Aneita Denton, who ran the year's second best 800-meter time (2:03.94) in the Mt. SAC Relays last week, will run the 1,500 meters on Saturday.
Erica Sigmont, healthy again, is just four seconds off the national lead in the 1,500.
Freshman Paige Farrell of Springdale got "body slammed" in the 800 meters at Mt. SAC, but is ready to run fast on Saturday, Harter said.
McQUILLIN REPRESENTS GYM'BACKS
Junior Dana McQuillin will compete in the all-around at the NCAA Gymnastics Championships at Auburn, Ala., today through Saturday.
"We're proud to have Dana represent Arkansas at nationals for the first time in history," said UA co-coach Rene Cook. "Her strength is consistency. The top four advance in each session, and her best chance would be balance beam."
Arkansas co-coach Mark Cook said, "Dana performed a pike front vault with one-half twist for the first time at regionals, and it clicked. She really went for it. She'll have to perform cleaner at nationals, but she can have fun and communicate her experiences to her teammates."
UA junior Audra Loveless, who suffered a broken foot three weeks ago, says she'll be fine for next season.
The Gym'Backs will have a team banquet at 6 p.m. next Wednesday at Embassy Suites in Rogers.
Lewis, Lady'Backs Golfers Set For Regionals
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