Sept. 14, 2012
GREENVILLE, N.C. --- The East Carolina men's golf team begins its quest for a return trip to the NCAA Championship finals on Saturday at the Tar Heel Intercollegiate at Finley Golf Course in Chapel Hill.
The Pirates enter the 2012-13 campaign looking to build upon and exceed their accomplishments from a year ago. Last season, the Pirates made their first-ever trip to the NCAA Championship finals and have set their sights on moving onto match play in 2013.
With only three returning players that participated as part of the lineup last season, ECU has a very inexperienced roster that will look to make the program's third-straight NCAA Regional appearance. Senior Zach Edmondson along with juniors Eric Brady and Ryan Eibner are expected to consistently comprise the top three spots in lineup for coach Press McPhaul's seventh Pirate squad.
"All those guys are birdies waiting to happen," McPhaul said. "Ryan developed really nicely last year; Zach has just continued to get better and better since getting over a foot injury about a year-and-a-half ago and Eric, being an old baseball guy, has gotten acclimated to the nuances of competing in golf.
"All three of those guys have developed pretty well and there is a lot of fire power. We've still got a lot of growing up to do and may take some things on the chin early on, but if we can find a couple of guys to step up into those last two spots and those three guys can be the players that they've already demonstrated they can be, then we have the capability to be as good, possibly better, than last year's team."
Eibner is poised to occupy the No. 1 spot in the Pirates' lineup this season after playing at the third, fourth and fifth positions a year ago. He competed in all 13 tournaments as a sophomore and recorded four top-10 finishes, tied for second-most on the team.
Competition for the fourth and fifth spots will be strong between senior Matt Kocolowski, sophomore Jack Keefe and redshirt freshman Al Dickens along with a quarter of talented freshmen ¬- Josh Chandler, Jacob Hicks, George Kilgore and Stephen Lavenets - looking to enter the mix.
Along with having a young team, the Pirates will face a challenging schedule this season that features six new events. ECU will compete in a trio of events hosted by three teams in the Preseason GolfWorld/Nike Golf Division I Coaches Poll - No. 6 Auburn, No. 16 Florida State and No. 21 Duke.
"As we've gotten better, we've been able to schedule better," McPhaul said. "It's going to be a great challenge for us because we are playing in some really good tournaments.
"I think we are playing some golf courses that suit us really well. There is a lot of strength and power in the style we play and a lot of the courses that we will play, allow us to maximize our style."
Here's a class-by-class look at the 2012-13 ECU Pirates:
The continual improvement of Edmondson will be key to the Pirates' success. Regarded as an excellent ball striker, his development was slowed by an injury that sidelined him for six months as a sophomore. However, Edmondson has been able to come back from injury and is considered one of the top players on the team.
He earned a spot in the lineup during the final five events of the 2012 spring semester and posted the team's lowest score in two of those tournaments, along with a runner-up finish at an individual competition. He finished his junior campaign with a 74.0 stoke average, shaving six strokes off his freshman season mean.
"He's got a lot of the tools to play really good golf," McPhaul explained. "He's growing in confidence and he's beginning to learn to work on focus on his process and trust that his process will yield good results. "
The only other senior on the team is Matt Kocolowski. After spending his first two seasons at Mercer University, he joined an extremely deep roster in 2011 and was unable to qualify to compete in any spring tournaments.
"He needs to get in the rhythm of competing," McPhaul stated. "He's a guy that can help us and I think will do pretty well once he gets into that rhythm."
An All-Atlantic Sun Freshman Team player in 2010, Kocolowski carded a 74.7 stroke average in three tournaments last fall.
Eibner has developed into a premiere college golfer. He reduced his scoring average by more than a stroke as a sophomore, leading the Pirates into their first NCAA Championship appearance. Eibner finished fourth at the Southeast Regional in Athens at 3-under.
Eibner posted the third-lowest scoring average on the team and earned the No. 3 spot in the team's NCAA Championship lineup. He posted 10 eagles as sophomore, third-most among NCAA Division I players, before qualifying for the 2012 U.S. Amateur Championships.
"He is physically imposing on the golf course," McPhaul said. "He has worked very hard to improve his wedge game and his putting, as well as his body. He is very talented and very hungry to win."
Brady spent his freshman season and half of his sophomore campaign as a member of the Duke University baseball team. However, his love for golf brought him to ECU following the 2011 fall semester.
Brady played in fall tournaments during the spring, compiling a 72.8 stroke average. In his first collegiate tournament, Brady helped the Pirates capture the 2012 Seahawk Intercollegiate title. He fired a 4-over in his first tournament, improving to 1-over by his fourth tournament of the year.
"I've never coached as gifted an athlete that works as hard as Eric Brady does," McPhaul stated. "He is extremely talented and has developed really fast."
Jack Keefe returns for his third season with the program. Keefe has played in just three tournaments in his first two years, but is continuing to improve and is expected to compete for a qualifying spot throughout the season.
Al Dickens is the lone member of the Class of 2015; however he is just a redshirt freshman eligibility wise. He was a three-time all-conference player for Coach Bob Plyer at Charlotte Country Day.
"He had a hard year last year," McPhaul said. "He's gotten a lot better, but he's got a long way to go. There is no question that he can help us with his golf clubs, but what he brings to us in terms of being a teammate is immeasurable."
"This class is very serious-minded," McPhaul stated. "They love the game; they want to play it, and want to play it well. They have goals that they want to achieve and I'm looking forward to watching them develop and succeed over the next four years."
Chandler, a native of Washington, N.C., was a seven-time Eastern North Carolina Junior League Golf Champion and winner of the 2008 Coastal Plains Junior Amateur Championship.
Hicks was a two-time North Carolina Christian School Association (NCCSA) individual medalist, winning the state title in 2010 and '12, and leading Alamance Christian School to three consecutive state championships (2010, '11, '12).
Kilgore also experienced the elation of winning a state golf tile, leading Raleigh Broughton to the 2012 North Carolina 4A High School Championship. A three-time all-conference performer and two-time all-region selection, Kilgore placed third at the 2012 state high school championships.
Lavenets is a two-time Piedmont Athletic Conference (PAC-6) Player-of-the-Year from Northern Durham (N.C.) High School and finished as an individual medalist runner-up at the 2012 conference championships.