For the East Carolina women’s golf team, the difference between being a world-beater and a mild overachiever at the NCAA Auburn Regional was three uncharacteristically difficult holes.
The Pirates, who came in seeded 14th out of the 18 teams at the regional, made it clear on the first two days that they weren’t just happy to be there, standing tied for third after the first round and fifth after the second.
Since the top six teams from each regional advance to the NCAA Championship in Fayetteville, AR, head coach Kevin Williams figured his team could lose four or five strokes during Wednesday’s final round and still make the cut.
Unfortunately, the last day was the roughest, and ECU lost seven strokes to drop three places to eighth. They still finished ahead of six teams ranked in the Top 50 – Furman, Alabama, Houston, California, Clemson and Kennesaw State. But more than once on the van ride home, Williams replayed the three triple bogeys that added precious strokes in a field marked by talent and parity.
“At the end of the day, the margin for error to advance is really small,” Williams said. “We had two triple bogeys on 10 yesterday and one today on 11, from three separate girls. That’s considered an ‘other’ in the stats, and I know two of the girls haven’t made an ‘other’ all year. A bogey never hurts you, but the three triples came back to bite us.”
The tournament’s final round certainly was the low point of the event for the Pirates, in part because they didn’t play as effectively as a team as they did in the earlier rounds and in part because competitors like Auburn and Tennessee surged at the right time, finishing in fifth and sixth place to claim the last two qualifying spots for nationals.
Tennessee and Auburn played great,” Williams said. “Those were the two teams tied behind us and they did what they had to do. They just played better.”
As discouraging as the slide from possible national contention was for the Pirates, it shouldn’t detract from the fact that this was the highest regional finish in the history of the program and the lowest three-day score (881) in the school’s thirteen regional appearances. With top players like Dorthea Forbrigd and Kathryn Carson returning and two talented recruits coming in as freshman, the regional trip represents a key element in the program’s quest for national prominence.
As they spend the offseason sharpening their game and pursuing the tools that will allow them to string together three rounds like their opening NCAA regional round this week, the Pirates squad will continue as the standard-bearer for academic excellence. The average GPA for the team this spring was 3.88, Williams said, and they are consistently so strong in the classroom that the expectations in that area are close to perfection.
With the ‘student’ side of ‘student-athlete’ well covered, the team will regroup and then work to make sure that merely qualifying for NCAA regionals is no longer sufficient. Every time they topple a team from the ACC or the SEC, every time they surprise the experts just by playing their game, the ECU Pirates increase the possibility that national appearances will soon become as commonplace as regional qualification.
“We beat Clemson two out of thee, we beat Furman this time,” Williams said. “There were some good wins, and some really good highlights. When we’re pretty good, we’re really good, but when we’re a little off, we’re not good enough.”