College golf is just a few short weeks away. To get you ready, Asher Wildman is breaking down the top 60 men’s and women’s teams. Today, it’s No. 40 on the board with the East Carolina men and Washington women.
EAST CAROLINA MEN
2010-11 final ranking: 40
Coach: Press McPhaul (sixth year)
Top returnees: Harold Varner, David Watkins
Top newcomers: Junior Matt Kocolowski (transfer from Mercer)
Projected starting 5: Harold Varner (Sr.), David Watkins (Sr.), Zach Edmondson (Jr.), Matt Kocolowski (Jr.), Connor Sock (Sr.) or Jackson Stuckey (So.)
Key losses: None
Key fall tournament: VCU Shootout
2010-11 recap: There was plenty of excitement for East Carolina last season. Coach Press McPhaul guided the Pirates to the postseason for the first time in 20 years.
“Last year was the year we’ve been waiting for,” McPhaul said. “These guys are hard workers willing to be pushed.”
The Pirates posted seven top-5 finishes – including a fall victory at the ODU/OBX Collegiate and a spring triumph at the River Landing Intercollegiate – before finishing sixth at the Conference USA Championship. ECU finished ninth and failed to advance out of NCAA regionals.
Player to watch: David Watkins. Said McPhaul: “He’s left-handed and hits the ball very straight. Extremely level-headed and is always steady on the golf course. Has a great mind-set, but doesn’t overpower any golf course. . . . He just chips and chips and chips away at it.”
2011-2012 preview: This season, ECU once again will probably be a team that goes relatively unnoticed by the college golf world as it climbs the rankings. But make no mistake, even with so much attention going to in-state rivals such as Duke, North Carolina, N.C. State and Wake Forest, the Pirates may be the second- or third-best team in the state this year.
Harold Varner is unheralded but shouldn’t be for much longer. He ended last year at No. 28 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. ECU’s No. 2 player is no slouch either: Watkins finished the year ranked 87th. “Those two guys are leaders and record-breakers,” McPhaul said. “Varner now holds the school’s all-time low scoring average and Watkins is third, not too far behind.”
ECU clearly has a lethal 1-2 punch atop its lineup, but the rest of the starting five is up in the air. The Pirates have quality depth, but they’ll need at least one more player to step up and help the Pirates crack the top 25. According to their coach, Varner and Watkins are the first players to practice and the last to leave. The Pirates need that work ethic from top to bottom if they hope to be a top-25 team.
ECU’s biggest splash of the year could come at the Conference USA Championship. The past few seasons, ECU has had mediocre finishes, but is expecting this year to be different. “We’re better than a middle-of-the-pack finish there this year,” McPhaul said. “This team will be better than last year, and we’ll be trying to win it.”
Bottom line: Sleeper alert! Although Duke was a national semifinalist at Karsten Creek, ECU may be the team to talk about in the Tar Heel state this year. ECU has a player of the year candidate in Harold Varner and a solid No. 2 in David Watkins. The Pirates quietly have flown under the radar and will probably do so once again this year. However, don’t be surprised if you see ECU at the NCAA Championship at Riviera next June.
2010-11 final ranking: 40
Coach: Mary Lou Mulflur (29th year)
Top returnees: Senior Sadena Parks and sophomore Kelli Bowers
Top newcomers: Freshman Soobin Kim of Canada, freshman Jennifer Yang of Canada, freshman Cyd Okino of Honolulu, freshman Jennifer Liedes of Olympia, Wash., freshman Monica Huang of Canada
Projected starting 5: Sadena Parks (Sr.), Kelli Bowers (So.), Soobin Kim (Fr.), Jennifer Yang (Fr.), Cyd Okino (Fr.)
Key losses: Anya Alvarez, Karinn Dickinson
Key fall tournament: Pac 12/SEC Challenge
2010-11 recap: Washington had a great fall, finishing in the top 5 at three out of four tournaments. In the spring, it was quite the opposite. The Huskies played in six spring tournaments and posted only two top-5 finishes. “We struggled in the spring which was hard to explain,” Mulflur said. “We finally got things turned around when we needed it, though.”
After finishing eighth at the Pac-10 Championship, the Huskies were helped by the home-course advantage for the NCAA West Regional at Washington National, finished seventh to advance to the NCAA Championship for the first time since 2006.
Player to watch: Soobin Kim. Said Mulflur: “A real solid player who won the Canadian Am a few years ago. She can take it deep, and isn’t afraid to shoot the low numbers. She shot 67 at the last round at Junior Worlds and is legit.”
2011-2012 preview: Despite having three freshman expected to start, the Huskies aren’t calling this a rebuilding year. “We will be young for sure,” Mulflur said. “We’re asking these freshman for a lot, but we feel they are college ready to come in right away.” Two of the freshman – Soobin Kim and Jennifer Yang – were teammates in high school.
Leading the way for Washington will be returnees Sadena Parks and Kelli Bowers, who will be asked to lead and guide the incoming recruits’ transition to college. Mulflur has high hopes for Parks, her team’s new No. 1. “Sadena has the focus and discipline to know that this is her last chance in college,” Mulflur said. “She doesn’t put pressure on herself and knows how to focus on her game.”
Washington’s only other returning starter is Bowers, who was a three-sport athlete before choosing golf full time. Bowers not only had a scholarship for golf, but could have been a basketball player for the Huskies as well.
Bottom line: How Washington does this year will depend on its freshmen and how quickly they adjust to college competition. If the Huskies’ rookies come in and take control of the lineup like their coach thinks they can, then this could be the start of something special in Seattle.