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The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, May 23, 2012

By Bethany Bradsher

Golfers hit the big time, aim to impress

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

Press McPhaul had a visual image of what his East Carolina golfers might do if they qualified for the NCAA National Championship. In his mind’s eye, McPhaul imagined a dogpile on the 18th green, like you might see after a World Series victory.

The reality last Sunday, after a second place finish at the Athens, GA, regional that definitively sealed the Pirates’ first ever trip to collegiate golf’s biggest stage, was considerably less dramatic. In fact, McPhaul’s Pirates treated the milestone as just another step on the way to their goal.

“They were very unfazed,” said McPhaul, who has been to nationals twice as a player at N.C. State and twice as the head coach at Vanderbilt. “When we got in the van, I thought tenor would be different. I turned around and told them what a great job they did, and Harold Varner said from the back, “The job’s not finished yet.’”

When they tee off next Tuesday at the Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, CA, the Pirates will be the only squad from either North or South Carolina in attendance at the tournament. It’s a select invitation issued only to the top 30 teams in the nation – five from each NCAA Regional.

The Pirates learned on Tuesday that they were given a No. 23 seed in the field that includes such powerhouses as Texas, Alabama and UCLA. The Crimson Tide won first place in East Carolina’s Regional, defeating the rest of the field by 23 strokes.

For the first two rounds of play, the ECU squad will play with No. 22 seed Oklahoma and No. 24 seed Illinois. The third round seedings will be based on the scores from those 36 holes, and the Pirates’ goal is to be one of eight teams still standing when match play begins on Saturday.

“It’s a really, really good field,” McPhaul said. “Twenty-two teams are going home after Friday and we don’t want to be one of them.”

Ryan Eibner, a redshirt sophomore from The Woodlands, TX, was the Pirates’ pacesetter at the NCAA Regional, shooting a 3-under 210 over three rounds and finishing fourth overall behind three players from the winning Alabama squad. He said that the ECU golfers have been characterized this season by encouraging each other and creating a culture of excellence that allows different players to emerge every tournament.

“Anytime someone wouldn’t play good, another person would, and we would just battle back and forth with each other,” Eibner said. “We really try to bring each other up.”

As McPhaul has watched the season unfold, he has been struck by his squad’s consistency – the Pirates have finished in the top five of every tournament – and by their inner drive that has brought them to this point. With a strong senior class that includes standouts like Harold Varner and David Watkins and young contributors like Eibner, it’s a team with the right formula to shine on a national stage.

Article continues below the following photos...

Coach Press McPhaul

Senior Harold Varner

Senior David Watkins

Redshirt sophomore Ryan Eibner

(Photos: ECU Media Relations)

“In order to do something that’s never been done before, you have to think differently than you’ve ever thought before, sacrifice more than you’ve ever sacrificed before,” McPhaul said. “This group has done that. They have accepted the challenge.”

Since day one of the preseason, the squad has fixed its gaze on the postseason goals they are now in the middle of achieving, Eibner said. The players decided they wanted to make it to a regional, qualify for nationals and be competitive once they arrive. And as they go out onto the course to practice every day, they see people from the community who recognize that they have accomplished something special.

“This is awesome,” he said. “We haven’t even made it to the championship yet, and this is the most fun I’ve had.”

E-mail Bethany Bradsher

PAGE UPDATED 05/23/12 01:48 AM.

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