Despite the postponement of the season until spring 2021, East Carolina University head women’s golf coach C.C. Buford and her team continue to practice and prepare to accomplish the goals they’ve set for the upcoming season.
Buford, who will enter her second season as head coach, said by the time competition resumes, the team will have not competed since the Reynolds Lake Oconee Invitational last February where they finished third. She said, even though it has been a year since their last competition, the ladies on her team have remained competitive in their own ways.
“We are anticipating an excitement and a hunger for our girls,” Buford said. “When we do tee it up for the first time in February, that’ll be almost exactly 12 months from the last time we teed it up. Obviously, they have been playing individually and that keeps their competitive juices flowing and sharp, but to be in that specific team environment again. I think that each one of them is going to be so ready to represent ECU.”
The decision to postpone the fall golf season came about a week before classes started, according to Buford. The typical NCAA women’s golf season kicks off in the beginning of September and runs through mid-October before a winter break, and then resumes in February.
While the spring season schedule has yet to be announced, in years past the Pirate Collegiate Classic, which is the team’s home tournament played at Greenville Country Club, has always been played in the fall. During the 2019-2020 season, the Pirates saw their top finish at the Pirate Collegiate Classic with a team win for the fourth year in a row and an individual winner in senior Dorthea Forbrigd.
Several players who are from overseas decided to remain at home after the season was postponed, according to Buford. She said she and assistant coach Robbie Fields supported all of the players’ decisions to stay abroad during this challenging time.
“Currently, the majority of our international students are still abroad,” Buford said. “With our online education that ECU is having right now, in their minds it just made sense to stay at home and be able to compete at home given that we are still unable to compete this fall.”
One of the players who chose to remain at home to practice and compete with her national team while enrolled in classes online is Forbrigd from Oslo, Norway. Forbrigd returns to the team for her fifth year after she chose to utilize the NCAA’s fifth year offer due to the cancellation of collegiate sports last spring.
While some players chose to move forward in their careers with waiting job offers after graduation, Forbrigd has always had golf at the forefront of her plans, both collegiately and professionally which was a large factor in her decision to stay, Buford said. In the 2019-2020 season, Forbrigd saw some of her top collegiate finishes thus far. Last season’s early end left her with a 71.55 average, the lowest on the team, and brought her career average to a 73.06.
“For her (Forbrigd) to hold off turning pro for a year to come back and play for us (ECU) was such a joy and an exciting conversation for her to express that to us,” Buford said. “For us to be able to have her influence in our group for one more year is awesome.”
Buford said, despite the late start to the 2020 recruitment class due to her just being hired, the Pirates will see several new faces on the roster for the 2020-2021 season. Junior Julie Hillstead is one newcomer who transferred from Presbyterian College, another Division I school located in South Carolina.
Buford said Hillstead, another player from Norway, already had a previous relationship with Forbrigd and freshman Oda Sofie Kilsti, another native of Norway. These prior relationships gave Hillstead confidence that she would do well at ECU, she said.
“Super excited for Julie (Hillstead) to join us,” Buford said. “She had a great career in her two years at Presbyterian. She has had an awesome summer playing and so her trajectory is just on an amazing path and I can’t wait for her to tee it up for us this spring.”
Buford said Forbridg, Hillstead and transfer senior Michelle Forsland are all training together with the Nowegian team this summer. Buford said Forsland has a lot of Division I experience and the team is fortunate to get her at what is probably the best that she has been thus far.
Freshman Riley Hamilton will take to the course for her first season as a Pirate in the spring as well. Hamilton is a North Carolina native from Rockingham County High School (RCHS) where she was four-time all-conference, three-time North Carolina All-State, three time Team MVP selection and held multiple team state titles.
Buford said Hamilton was a player whom she had heard about previously and seen on leaderboards before while in the recruitment process. She had already come on a visit with her high school coach Mike Williams last season and Hamilton was already very passionate about ECU, according to Buford.
“When you find a player that wants to be here and is at the caliber we are looking for, it is an easy thing to ask them to be on the team,” Buford said. “I think it was the beginning of July last summer when she and I had the conversation and she committed. That was very early on in my time here, so it was a really awesome initial ‘we’ve got some momentum going,’ which was really exciting.”
Buford said the team has been allowed to resume a more normal workout and practice routine for about a month now and that none of the team has tested positive for COVID-19 which has made things easier. She said the team has been working out three times a week with the assistant strength and conditioning coach Ashton Farmer.
The whole team, including the overseas players, have been highly motivated throughout the whole process, according to Buford. She said it has been fun to hear from the overseas players about how they are doing in competition abroad and getting videos and pictures of them playing.
“We are going to be doing everything that we can, Robbie (Fields) and I, to prepare them for that moment (of returning), because it is going to be almost surreal,” Buford said.