The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, March 26, 2014

By Bethany Bradsher

Women's golf peaking for postseason

Coach with Credentials

Except for a stint as head golf pro at Goldsboro's Walnut Creek Country Club from 2005-2007, East Carolina alum Kevin Williams (class of '85) has been ECU's head women's golf coach since 2000. He has the team poised to earn its seventh straight berth in the NCAA regionals. Williams coached the ECU men's golf team from 1995-2005 before taking the reigns at Walnut Creek for 18 months. (ECU Media Relations photo)

Clutch Performers

Sophomores Frida Gustafsson Spang (left) and Nicoline Engstroem Skaug (right) put together strong performances to help East Carolina to a third place team finish behind Texas Tech and Penn State at the Briar Creek Invitational in John's Island, SC. The tournament featured 17 teams, including 11th-ranked Clemson. (ECU Media Relations photos)


By Bethany Bradsher
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Kevin Williams had a feeling a weekend like this one was coming — a breakthrough like finishing above six teams in the top 50. And in truth, it might have happened at the optimal time.

The East Carolina women’s golf team finished third overall out of seventeen teams at the Briar Creek Invitational in John’s Island, SC. The showing was propelled by efforts of Pirates like Frida Gustafsson Spang, who finished sixth overall with a three-over 219 for the three rounds, and Nicoline Engstroem Skaug, who was tied for twelfth with a five-under 221.

“We’ve kind of been waiting for this,” said Williams, in his 17th season of coaching. “We feel like we’ve got a top 40 team, but you’ve got to prove it on the course.”

The victory was a milestone for a team that is packed with talent but has struggled with closing the deal in previous tournaments this season. At Briar Creek, the women started and ended strong. Only the outstanding play of Texas Tech and Penn State kept them from finishing higher.

“We have shot ourselves in the foot in the final round in the past,” Williams said. “Today, we didn’t lose it. This kind of validates all of the work that they’ve been putting in.”

Williams hopes that the confidence boost from his team’s top three finish – which included a victory over 11th ranked Clemson – will fuel a strong postseason push. The Pirates travel to the Intercollegiate in Jacksonville on April 7, followed by the Conference USA Tournament in Gulf Shores, AL, and what they hope will be their seventh straight bid to the NCAA Regionals.

Like every ECU coach, Williams wants to leave Conference USA with a bang, and the quest for a championship will involve surpassing perennial conference power Tulane (ranked 33rd nationally) and upstarts like Texas-San Antonio and Florida International. The move to the American Athletic Conference in the fall will be accompanied by new challenges like Central Florida, ranked 16th in the last Golfweek standings.

Four Pirate golfers – Spang, Skaug, Fanny Wolte and Katie Kirk – finished in the top half of the field in this weekend’s tournament, which Williams considers a good indication of the team’s consistency at this point in the season. Skaug had a notably strong finish, recording five birdies in the final round, including four on the front nine. The team also got a boost from sophomore Lane Gekeler, who was playing in her first tournament of the season.

'Peaking at the right time' might be a sports cliché, but it might also be true for a squad that has hit its apex a little too early in the spring in seasons past.

“I think we’re trending up, which is good,” Williams said. “We’re getting better and better each week and seeing it come together.”

With their two international sophomores leading the way (Spang is from Sweden and Skaug from Norway), the Pirates will have their sights set on surpassing their 13th place finish at the NCAA East Regional last spring. They have qualified for the postseason berth six straight times, but Williams has been working to create a culture in which qualifying is only the first step and defeating any team is a possibility.

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03/26/2014 12:59 AM