April 11, 2008
By Ryan Harringon of GolfWorld Magazine as printed in the March 21, 2008 issue
If the East Carolina women hadn't done so already, they tucked away any chance of entering the NCAA postseason as a "sleeper" school during last week's Pinehurst (N.C.) Challenge, turning a two-shot deficit to East Tennessee State into a 10-shot triumph. Rule No. 1 when attempting to keep a low profile: Try not to win six of your first seven tournaments--more than any other Division I women's program--let alone extend your school-record victory streak to five.
Making ECU's season even more remarkable is what the players overcame during a tumultuous off-season. Last May coach Kim Lewellen left the program after 18 months in Greenville, N.C., to take the vacant Virginia job. A few weeks later the Pirates' top player, Lene Krog, followed Lewellen to Charlottesville. "It was upsetting," says Emelie Lind, who was set to enter her senior year. "Everyone thought we had a pretty good team and then it was like, `Are we going to be any good at all?'"
Bringing back Kevin Williams, who started the women's program in 2000 and coached the men and women at ECU before taking a club-pro job in 2006, created some stability. In turn, Williams' decision to let any anger motivate his players eventually galvanized the squad. "Our theme was `Why not us?'" said Williams, who took ECU to NCAA regionals in 2003 and 2005. "When you go to a school like Virginia, you're say¬ing `East Carolina, you're a mid-major. You're not good enough.' That's the way I addresed it with the girls."
While East Carolina was missing a player who won the 2006 Conference USA title and and advanced to nationals in '07, Krog's departure forced some Pirates to step up their games. "People ask, `How good would you have been if Lene had s tayed?'" said Williams. "I'm not sure we would have been this good. I think Emelie would have stayed in the shadows."
Indeed, Lind, a Swede, had posted stroke averages of 77.28, 78.0 and 78.25 in her three previous seasons. In seven starts as a senior, she has a 74.0 average, with one win and four top-fives. Similarly, sopho¬more Abby Bools has a 74.67 average (down from 77.96), two wins and four top-fives while freshman Amber Littman has a 74.39 average.
Williams says the Pirates put to rest any hard feelings about Lewellen and Krog when they beat Virginia at last month's Qdoba Invitational. What remains to avenge is ECU's lone blemish, a 15th at October's Tar Heel Invitational, the only time they've faced more than one top-25 team in an event.
"They've got a lot of confidence [since then]," Williams says. "They are looking forward to being in that situation again and showing what they've learned."
While they might not be favorites come regionals, East Carolina certainly won't sneak up on anyone.