One of the toughest opponents the Colonials faced this weekend, head coach Terry Shaffer said, was their nerves.
GW traveled to the NCAA Greensboro Regional for its first NCAA regional appearance since 2006, competing among a field of 14 teams for a slot in the next round of competition. After falling to the bottom of the leaderboard on the first day of the tournament, the Colonials climbed back up a slot, posting a 64-over 928 to ultimately tie for 13th place with Mount Saint Mary’s.
The team that earned its first Atlantic 10 championship by upsetting six-time defending champion Charlotte had loftier goals. But the NCAA regional was also the largest stage this roster had ever competed on, Shaffer said.
“We’re right up there competing with the number two ranked team in the nation, so we really had our work cut out for us. We’re using this as a building block for the next time we come,” Shaffer said. “There’s a comfort level that you start to build as you become better, and winning the conference championship was one of those things.”
The Colonials shot an 18-over-par 306 Saturday, solidifying their ranking. Senior Andres Pumariega finished at the top of the individual pack for GW, carding a 4-over 76 Saturday for a 54-hole total of 11-over 227, which tied him for 44th overall.
After the first day of competition, the Colonials sat in last place, with a combined score of 24-over-par 312. Over round one of play, Liberty was the only program that could break par, sitting on top of the leaderboard Thursday night with a 5-under 283 total.
The course was so challenging it inhibited the team’s game, Shaffer said. Holes in play were amplified by wet fairways that caused balls to pick up mud and slow their trajectory down the greens.
“The guys hit the ball pretty well, so that wasn’t the problem. The course was so tough that, if you did make a mistake, it was magnified,” Shaffer said.
Pumariega paced GW through the first day of competition, shooting a 4-over 76 to sit in an 11-way tie for 39th place individually. Senior Taylor Fuqua was next, with a 5-over 77 that sat him in 51st, followed by freshman Jack Persons, who shot a 7-over 79 to tie for 60th. But collectively, GW was 29 strokes behind the Flames, and the team was staring down 36 more holes in a bid to rise up the leaderboard.
The Colonials moved up a slot over round two of competition, carding a combined score of 22-over-par 310 Friday to sit in 13th place overall. GW lost just six shots to move up the leaderboard, bypassing Mount Saint Mary’s, which dropped 19 shots on the day to fall down the ladder.
“Our region had some of the very best teams, some of the greatest teams in the country,” Shaffer said. “I really feel that we were at the most difficult venue of the six venues that the NCAA chose for the regionals.”
The course continued to challenge all of the programs across competition, with every team failing to break par for the tournament. Liberty remained in the top slot after round two. Compounding the challenge for all players, Shaffer said, were “severely undulating” greens that were difficult for the golfers to read.
“The course was really a challenge,” Shaffer said. “Not only were our scores higher than what we’ve put up, if you look at teams like Florida and Auburn and some of these other schools, they also had the same problem. We were facing a venue that was extremely tough.”
Overall, the regional competition was a learning experience for the team, Shaffer said, one that he intends to be the beginning of a tradition for years to come.
“The goal is to get our program into more difficult tournaments,” Shaffer said. “That’s going to put this program on a whole new level next year.”