For East Carolina University's head women’s golf coach C.C. Buford, this season can only be described as unexpected, as the team went through a wild season with unpredictable situations.
“What a roller coaster,” Buford said. “From a hurricane affecting our first tournament, to COVID-19 bringing us to an abrupt end, unexpected is probably the best way to describe it.”
On March 15, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the American Athletic Conference announced the cancellation of all athletic competition and championships for the remainder of the academic year. Unfortunately, this ended the basketball tournaments that produced March Madness, the spring football game and practices, baseball and softball season, lacrosse, and also ended men’s and women’s golf.
Although the season was cut short, Buford made it a point that her team would not remember this season because of their current circumstance, however they would remember it because of what they accomplished.
“One of the things (Assistant Coach) Robbie (Fields) and I wanted to focus on was that COVID-19 was not going to define the season, but that the many memories from an incredible season would,” Buford said.
Everyday was a new and challenging situation for the Pirates’ coaching staff and players. While the canceling of their season was a hard pill to swallow, the team and coaches were still able to reflect on the special memories they’ve made this year.
Early in the fall season, under the new leadership of Buford, the ECU women's golf team proved they could compete against anyone. The first tournament was the Minnesota Invitational, held in Woodbury, Minnesota.
The tournament was originally scheduled for 54 holes, but was minimized to 36 after bad weather conditions. The Pirates ended the contest with a score of 580 at the par and finished second out of 15 teams in a field stacked with Power 5 schools. The Pirates racked up wins over Louisville, Oklahoma, Virginia Tech, Miami, and former NCAA Champions San Jose State.
The Pirates were able to accomplish this mainly because of seniors Siranon Shoomee and Dorthea Forbrigd. Shoomee shot a career-low posting a score of 138, 6-under-par, to lead the Pirates and to place third in the entire event. Forbrigd earned a share of seventh place as she posted a 1-under-par 143 (72-72), while she simultaneously earned her 12th career top-10 placement.
Early in the season Shoomee and Forbrigd both displayed individual moments of greatness and created high expectations.
“Siranon opened the season with a third place finish at a highly ranked field shooting 70-68 (-6). After that the bar was set very high for the season, and we knew it was going to be a special year for her,” Buford said. “ Dorthea not only earned medalist, and runner-up honors at events this season, but she had four top-10 finishes in seven tournaments. That kind of consistency proves why she is one of the top amateurs in the world.”
The next event was the Pirate Collegiate Classic, held in Greenville, North Carolina. Yet again, The Pirates came to play. ECU defeated the University of Alabama at Birmingham by 14 strokes, subsequently all five of the ECU players finished in the top-20 and they posted the fourth lowest team score in the history of the Pirate Collegiate Classic.
Forbrigd claimed her third career win, with a score of 210 ( 6-under-par). Shoomee finished the tournament as one of the leaders in birdies (nine) and 31 pars. She also posted a consecutive top-11 placement of 224 8-over.
Despite a hot start to the season, the Pirates struggled to keep it going. In the last five tournaments the Pirates failed all but one time to have a top-10 placement. Individually, the Pirates also only had three top-10 finishes.
“It was unfortunate that we had some tournaments where as a team we struggled because when you saw the potential of who we could beat, we knew that we could beat anyone in the country,” Buford said. “But we had some events that dropped us so far in the rankings that we really had to fight our way back up the rankings this spring. “
Despite the season being ended, the NCAA has made a unique arrangement for student-athletes who have been affected by the cancellation. The NCAA Division I Council has announced that all NCAA Division I student-athletes who participate in spring sports have been granted an extra year of eligibility to compensate for the season that they have lost.
For the Pirates, this is something that immediately affects Siranon Shoomee, Dorthea Forbrigd, and Grace Yatawara, the senior members of the team. Although staying certainly is an option, the players and Buford realize that their decision is critically important to their futures.
“Having conversations with their families and mentors is obviously important in this time, because this isn't just a one-year decision, it has a domino effect for the rest of their lives,” Buford said. “So each of them is weighing this option and making the decision that is best for them.”
As more details come to light, the Pirates will prepare to make the best decision and if they do choose to return, they will continue to compete with anyone in the country.