"Maria's punt was the exclamation point on a great finish," says Auburn coach Kim Evans, whose sixth-ranked Tigers last won the SEC Championship three seasons ago. One of the key players in winning the 2000 crown was at it again, this time as a senior. Danielle Downey shot rounds of 74, 75 and 75 during trying conditions that included rain in the first round and wind all three days.
Downey is a four-time All-SEC player and is two-time second team All-American. She is shown at last year's NCAA Championships where the Tigers are hoping to compete again this season.
"We knew we could do it and I am so proud of our team," Downey says. "We played with a constant wind of at least 25 miles per hour with gusts to 35 to 40 miles per hour. It was the toughest wind conditions I have ever played in. We had three girls shoot in the 70s on Sunday and I don't think any other team did that. We shot the lowest round and did what we had to do win. You could see the pressure getting to Tennessee and Florida. We hung in there and stayed tough when the other teams folded."
Evans says even though Auburn had nine strokes to make up on the final holes, she sensed her team had a great chance to win. "We just felt all day that we could win it," the coach says. "When we went through 12, I thought we were anywhere from eight to 12 shots back. I turned around and watched one of the girls from Florida play 15 and I was just talking to Danielle Downey and said it was going to be tough from here on out. I literally ran to her, about 50 yards, and told her, ‘We are going to win it. We have played the last few holes so well the previous two days we are going to win it. Go for it.' I just knew we felt so comfortable on those last holes.
"Danielle played so well on Sunday," Evans adds. "Maria Martinez's birdie really put the icing on the cake. Winning the championship wasn't just about the final round. It was about all three rounds and staying confident and being persistent. That is what we did as we got better every day."
Martinez closed with a 34 on the back nine to finish with rounds of 76, 72, 76 to tie for eighth place individually at 225. Celeste Troche tied for 10th with rounds of 75, 74, 76, junior Diana Ramage shot 74, 77, 83 to tie for 22nd and sophomore Kingsley Barrett was tied for 27th with rounds of 78, 78, 80. Aimee Cho of Florida won the individual title with rounds of 72, 73, 71.
Troche, a two-time first team All-American, says she is thrilled with the victory. "I came in with a sweet win my freshman year and I am leaving with one as a senior," she says. "It is very emotional, very exciting. I think this tournament reminded us how good we are and what we could do."
Defending SEC champion South Carolina finished fourth at 914, 11 shots behind the Tigers. Vanderbilt was fifth at 919 and was followed by Arkansas at 925, Georgia at 937, Kentucky at 944, Mississippi State at 960, LSU at 975, Ole Miss at 982 and Alabama finished in last, 80 strokes behind Auburn.
The Auburn team, which has been plagued by illnesses, injuries and rainouts this season, will be back in action May 8-10 at the NCAA East Regional in Winston-Salem, N.C. "I think this team is ready to play its best golf," Downey says.