If the East Carolina women’s golf season was a movie, the first half would depict a series of dire events, defeating the characters and making the viewers wonder how things could turn around by the time the credits roll.
But in Hollywood and in golf, happy endings can arise from the unlikeliest of circumstances, and Pirates head coach Kevin Williams is seeing signs that his team is in the midst of a dramatic renewal featuring newfound confidence, some significant victories and plenty of hope for postseason success.
After a promising fourth-place finish at the Minnesota Invitational, Hurricane Florence swept through the East and took the Pirates’ early mojo with it. The next two occurrences were the cancellation of the team’s home tournament due to the weather and a trip to the Illini Women’s Invitational in Chicago, where they “were embarrassed,” Williams said, by finishing last in the field (15th out of 15) for only the second time in program history.
“We played horrible in Illinois and didn’t play much better at Louisville or Atlanta to finish out the fall,” he said. “It’s one of the worst fall seasons we’ve had in a long time.”
They went into the holiday break ranked 63rd in the nation, Williams said, which did not reflect the team’s true ability. Thankfully, 2019 has been much more promising, as the Pirates have progressively cleared hurdles at tournaments in Florida and Puerto Rico and dual matches against Louisville and Central Florida.
At the UCF Challenge in Orlando in early February, ECU came in ranked 13th out of 16 and finished 10th. At the Puerto Rico Classic the following week, they came in ranked 12th out of 14 and finished fifth.
In almost every case, the team defeated opponents with higher national rankings than theirs, including a victory in Puerto Rico over a Texas Christian squad ranked in the Top 25.
One contributing factor in the Pirates’ revival is the confidence of top players like junior Dorthea Forbrigd, who shot a 54 in Puerto Rico for both her career low and a share of first place in the tournament.
“She’s the hardest worker I’ve ever coached,” said Williams of Forbrigd, who came to ECU from Oslo, Norway. “She not only works hard, she knows what she’s working on.”
The ECU women are playing at such a high level right now that Williams has to choose who to put in his fifth spot before each tournament. Six golfers—Forbrigd, Carley Cox, Kate Law, Kathryn Carson, Siranon Shoomee and Grace Yatawara — are playing excellent golf, but only five can play at each event.
The second root cause of the team’s progressive success is the elevated strength of schedule that Williams has committed to instituting to make sure that Pirate teams are competitive in any situation. After several seasons of playing subpar teams, he has sought invitations to the most prestigious meets and positioned his team so that they are forced to face top competition week in and week out.
“It is absolutely the strongest schedule we’ve ever played in the history of our program,” he said. “We’re better prepared because of the level of competition we have been playing against.”
This weekend ECU will have a chance to test its mettle against more top-ranked opponents at the Suntrust Gator Women’s Invitational on the University of Florida camps. Three of the 12 teams — Clemson, Florida and Miami — are ranked in the Top 25. A dual meet at UCF on Tuesday followed by this weekend’s event meant that the Pirates could practice all week in Florida rather than endure winter’s last gasp this week in Eastern North Carolina.
The remainder of March will feature tournaments hosted by College of Charleston and Wake Forest, followed by the American Athletic Conference Championships in mid-April.
“I kind of like where we are right now,” Williams said.
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