Lady Pirates host NCAA Regionals

Golf enthusiasts had quite a treat last week as East Carolina University hosted the NCAA 2010 Division I East Regional Golf Championship at Ironwood Country Club in Greenville. With more than 120 players, it was the largest women’s golf tournament ever hosted by ECU.

The tournament ran from Thursday to Saturday, May 6–8, with teams teeing off at 8:00 a.m. and throughout the day until approximately 2:00 p.m. to each play 18 holes each day.

“To be able to host this event is a great privilege and honor,” said ECU Athletics Director Terry Holland. “[Coach] Kevin Williams was great in looking ahead for a way to have the golf program interact with the community. It’s a great influx with parents coming into town, which is good for the economy.”

NCAA Golf Inset 1

ECU senior Abby Bools tees off as a group of Pirate fans watch the match.

According to Williams, the women’s golf head coach, ECU was one of four schools in the region to place a bid to host the NCAA East Regionals this year and was chosen by the NCAA National Committee.

“The success we had hosting NCAA baseball regionals/super regionals and cross-country regionals gave the NCAA confidence in our ability to be a great host school,” said Williams.

Not only did this event bring hundreds of players and spectators to Greenville and the Ironwood golf course last week, but it also created a boost in publicity for ECU, the golf program, and women’s sports as a result. Only three regional tournaments were played last week–Central Regional hosted by Indiana University and West Regional hosted by Stanford–bringing attention to all schools hosting.

“Hosting this tournament provides a significant amount of national exposure for our golf program and university,” said Williams. “For the city, the increase in tourism dollars generated by 26 schools being represented here and their fans will have an impact. It gives us a chance to showcase our city and university.”

According to Williams and ECU Women’s Head Volleyball Coach Pati Rolf, national recognition is key in recruiting quality students to ECU’s sports programs.

NCAA Golf Inset 2

The ECU men’s and women’s home golf course, Ironwood Country Club, hosted the NCAA East Regionals last week.

“Hosting definitely creates a lot of exposure for us and it will help immensely in recruiting in the years to come,” said Williams.

“Anytime you can host a national tournament, it is prestigious,” said Rolf. “To host brings credibility to the sport and to the school. Strong national exposure for golf is very important.”

Throughout the tournament, purple-and-gold-clad parents, friends, and fans could be seen around the course lending their support and enthusiasm to the Lady Pirates. At the first and 18th hole, it was typical to see roughly 35 to 50 fans looking and cheering on the women. Chancellor Steve Ballard and Holland could also be seen throughout the tournament as ECU played.

“It’s an unlimited amount of publicity and money for Greenville and for the university, and it gets us out to all these schools,” said Jane Reel, ECU alumna and avid Pirates fan. “Especially paired with graduation weekend–I can’t imagine how good it is for the community, school, and the golf course.

This was the Lady Pirates’ sixth team appearance in the NCAA Regional Championships in just 10 years of existence. ECU’s team included seniors Abby Bools and Ana Maria Puche, juniors Colleen Estes and Amber Littman, and sophomore Amy Otteson.

“This tournament means the world to me,” said Bools. “As a senior, this hopefully is not my last tournament, but if it is, it [was] an honor to have it at my home course. To have our fans out and cheering us on is a great honor. It will also raise the ECU golf program up in many eyes.”

NCAA Golf Inset 3

Coach Kevin Williams helps senior Ana Maria Puche line up a putt during the match.

After playing on Friday, Otteson, the youngest player participating in the tournament from ECU, was pleased with her team and home course.

“We struggled all year,” said Otteson. “Being here is incredible and I can’t be more proud of our team and coaches.”

ECU finished with a No. 13 ranking on Thursday, No. 15 by Friday, and despite the windy conditions, the team was at their best by Saturday at No. 12 of the 24 teams with Bools ranked individually at No. 7 for her performance over the three-day tournament.

“We are at our home course and there’s a comfortable atmosphere,” said Otteson. “Fans are out here supporting us. It’s a good feeling and the greens look the best they ever have. Other teams have commented on how nice the course is and nothing is better than hearing compliments from other players.”

ECU was paired with Coastal Carolina University and the College of Charleston, both of South Carolina, for the first two days of the tournament. On Saturday, the teams were placed based on their rankings after Thursday and Friday; and ECU played with Wake Forest University and University of Tennessee–Chattanooga.

According to a group of Wake Forest supporters and former athletes themselves, the course at Ironwood was ideal for onlookers and is in great shape. “[The staff] have been quick to respond to the needs of the players and spectators,” said Kelly Jordan, a Wake Forest fan.

The regional tournaments are the preliminary rounds that determine that players who qualify to play in the NCAA championships competition, and all national championships policies apply. Roughly 12 NCAA and rules officials attended the tournament.

NCAA Golf Inset 2

A volunteer looking over the scoreboard on the opening day.

A total of 369 participants were selected to play in one of the three regional competitions. Of these players, 126 have advanced to the NCAA Championship finals on May 18–21, hosted by UNC–Wilmington at the Country Club of Landfall.

The top eight teams from the East Regional Competition at Ironwood Country Club that have advanced to the NCAA Championship in Wilmington are: University of South Carolina, University of Tennessee, Auburn University, Duke University, Vanderbilt University, Tulane University, Pepperdine University, and Texas Christian University.

The tournament brought 24 teams and three individual players to Greenville who traveled from near and far. Local teams in attendance included Duke University, UNC–Chapel Hill, Wake Forest, and Campbell University.

Other participants came from as far as University of Washington in Seattle, Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, and Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas.