The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, May 22, 2013

By Bethany Bradsher

Bethany Bradsher

Big goals motivate ECU women golfers

Frida Gustafsson Spang is a member of ECU's talented women's golf team. The freshman from Kinna, Sweden, won two individual titles this season. With its top five players returning, the team is aiming for the NCAA Championships next season.

Photo: ECU Media Relations


By Bethany Bradsher
All Rights Reserved.

View the Mobile Alpha version of this page.

Frida Gustafsson Spang is in Greenville this week, practicing golf at Brook Valley Country Club, instead of eating her mom’s cooking back home in Sweden.

Her East Carolina teammates all departed for home shortly after they finished 13th in the NCAA East Regional on May 12. But when Gustafsson Spang bought her ticket, she chose a return flight at the end of May to allow time to compete in the NCAA National Championships, which are being contested now at the University of Georgia.

Unfortunately, the Lady Pirates fell a little bit short of that ultimate goal — the top eight teams from each regional advance — but those days bouncing around a quiet ECU campus were a potent reminder of where Gustafsson Spang and her teammates want to be at this time next year — holding their own against the best teams in the country.

With six consecutive NCAA Regional bids under their belt, the ECU women’s team is poised and ready to break into that next level, said head coach Kevin Williams.

“Without question, this is the most talented team we’ve had in the program, but it’s missing some intangibles,” Williams said. “We didn’t accomplish our goal, which was to make it to the NCAA championship. We beat a few of the teams that are there this week and we have the talent to make it.”

Maybe even more impressive than six straight regional appearances is this statistic: The ECU women have advanced nine times in the 13 years of the program’s existence, a streak of prolonged excellence with few rivals among Pirate athletics. This month’s 13th place regional finish was their third highest ever; they were ninth in 2009 and 12th in 2010.

Weighing heavily in the positive column, as Williams reflects on the season, is the fact that he is returning all of his top five golfers — freshmen Gustafsson Spang and Nicoline Engstroem Skaug, sophomores Emily Eng and Katie Kirk and junior Fanny Wolte.

They are an experienced, unified group, Gustafsson Spang said, and they can’t to unleash the potential that another summer of training and competition will bring.

“We have a good team,” she said. “I like all the girls. All are very supportive. It makes us stronger to have a team like that.”

With 2012-13 accolades that included four top five team finishes and three individual championships (two for Gustafsson Spang and one for Engstroem Skaug), the table is set for bigger things. Williams’ focus looking toward next season will be twofold — a continued emphasis on the fundamentals and a concerted effort to build confidence into his players.

Any Saturday duffer knows that a mental lapse can ruin a round, and Williams saw several instances this spring when his team seemed to collapse for lack of confidence, especially during the second round of the Conference USA Championships when they fell to the Tulane team they played close earlier in the season.

“We acted inexperienced,” Williams said of the C-USA tournament, which ended in a second place finish for the Pirates. “This is an experienced team. These kids have played a lot of golf tournaments, but I thought we acted inexperienced when the moment came. We’re constantly working on ways to challenge ourselves in practice that can simulate game speed.”

“We sometimes try too hard, and it might stop us sometimes in our brain,” Gustafsson Spang said. “We want it so much and just get nervous.”

A member of the Swedish National Team, Gustafsson Spang has a busy slate of summer tournaments ahead that includes a British Amateur in Wales and events on the Scandinavian Tour that could include competition against her Pirate teammate Engstroem Skaug, a native of Norway.

But first, some of that home cooking.

E-mail Bethany Bradsher

Bethany Bradsher Archives

05/22/2013 02:00 AM