NEWS, NOTES &
The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, May 11,
By Bethany Bradsher
More milestones ahead for ECU
(ECU SID image)
All rights reserved.
For the average East
Carolina fan, it might be tough to appreciate the significance of postseason
accomplishments from the Olympic sports teams. Individual swimmers and
runners qualify for the NCAA on a routine basis, and the ECU women’s golf
team has made seven NCAA regional appearances in its 11 years as an East
But the most recent ECU
team to qualify for the NCAA tournament hasn’t been there since George Bush
was president. That’s George Bush, Senior. When the word came that the
Pirate men’s golf team was awarded a 9th seed at the NCAA Regional in
Blacksburg, VA, next week, it was the fulfillment of Goal No. 1 in coach
Press McPhaul’s blueprint to bring his team to national prominence.
“It’s sort of the
first step,” said McPhaul, who is in his fifth year at the helm of the
program. "When we started
to rebuild this program five years ago, this was one of our goals, but not
our ultimate goal. Our goal is to go to the finals.”
When the Pirates travel to the Pete Dye River
Course for the tournament, which opens on March 19, it will only be their
second regional appearance ever, with the last one in 1991 before some of
the current golfers were born.
The bid didn’t come as a surprise, because ECU
has won two tournaments this season and finished in the top five in five
more events. Their national ranking after the Conference USA Tournament last
weekend was 35th in one poll and 51st in the other, good enough to ensure a
spot among the 81 schools that are selected for regionals.
It may have been two decades, but the golfers
took their selection in stride as well, sharing their coach’s view that it
is only one necessary stop en route to their ultimate destination. Before
every tournament since the season opened last September, McPhaul reminded
them that each drive and each putt could be the fuel that got the team to a
regional. Now that they have made it, they know that their goal has become
more ambitious — to finish the Blacksburg Regional in the top 5 and make it
to the NCAA Championship in Stillwater, OK, on May 31.
Not even the players fully grasp the
historical significance of the bid, said junior Adam Stephenson, a
Greenville product who played for J.H. Rose. But they do recognize that ECU
men’s golf is on the rise.
“I don’t think a lot of the team realizes what
we’re doing right now, but I think we understand that we have grown a lot,
especially over the last four years,” Stephenson said. “And the program has
jumped exponentially over the last two years. We deserve to be a top 20 or
top 30 school. We want to prove that we can play against any team in the
After capping off the fall season with a
victory in the Outer Banks Invitational, the Pirates were determined to
carry that momentum into the spring portion of the schedule. With the
exception of a disappointing performance in the C-USA Tournament, where they
finished sixth, the team was steady and consistent through the spring, even
winning their second title at the River Landing Intercollegiate in early
April. Two Pirate golfers — juniors Harold Varner and David Watkins — were
named first team All-Conference last week.
The River Landing victory made an NCAA
regional bid a certainty, so McPhaul thinks the team was off its game in the
league tournament because the men weren’t sure what they were playing for.
They wanted to win, but they had already grabbed the prize that had
propelled them to that point.
“We changed our outlook going into the
conference tournament,” he said. “It was almost like just a little bit of
air came out, and what replaced it was a little bit of tension about whether
we could win.”
The challenge ahead for the Pirates includes
four top 20 teams, including No. 5 Georgia Tech and No. 9 LSU. ECU will be
paired with host school Virginia Tech and Ole Miss for the first two rounds,
teeing off at 8:50 a.m. Thursday morning after a practice round on
Wednesday. The Pirates have seen five of the other 12 teams in previous
tournaments, and they will face plenty of tough opponents. But McPhaul is
also focused on the Pete Dye course, which is 7,665 yards long and features
lush Bermuda grass.
“The wild card at this event is not the field,
although the field is very good,” McPhaul said. “It’s the golf course. It’s
400 yards longer than most courses, and it has those soft Bermuda fairways.
You hit it and your club sticks in it, and you take a huge divot.
E-mail Bethany Bradsher
Bethany Bradsher Archives
05/16/2011 01:41 AM