A Spring Unlike Any Other For Covich, WVU Golf Team
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – March 13, 2020 is a day WVU golf coach Sean Covich will long remember.
It was his birthday, but besides turning the big 4-0, it was also the day he learned that college golf – indeed all NCAA sports – was being halted.
“The news kept changing,” recalled Covich. “We woke up on Thursday, March 12, getting ready to leave the next day for our spring break, which every year we have a trip planned for the Carolinas. This year we were going to Pinehurst, Hilton Head and then we were going to play in a tournament hosted by South Carolina.
“We woke up that Thursday thinking we were going to leave the next day, but then I started getting some calls from (WVU senior associate athletic director) Steve Uryasz, who is our sports administrator, and then from (WVU director of athletics) Shane (Lyons), saying, ‘Hey, you may want to sit tight. We may not be able to do the spring break portion.’ Then it went from we’re not going on spring break to that tournament is cancelled and then later that day the NCAA cancelled all spring sports championships, meaning no golf.”
His golfers were stunned but not completely unaware to what was happening.
“Our guys kind of had a pulse on the situation,” noted WVU’s coach. “They knew that when March Madness got cancelled, it was probably going to happen to us as well.”
Just like the winter sports that were in the midst of their postseasons, West Virginia’s five spring sports programs (golf, track & field, rowing, tennis and baseball) were unable to finish their respective seasons.
“Obviously everybody was upset, but the seniors took it harder than anybody,” stated Covich. “Each day we’re trying to come to terms with the situation, but we do realize that golf is insignificant compared to what’s happening all over the world.”
WVU featured two seniors – Philipp Matlari of Germany and Etienne Papineau of Canada – on its eight-man roster this past year. While the NCAA is allowing spring sports student-athletes to gain an additional year of eligibility to make up for the one they lost, Covich did explain that Matalari and Papineau have not yet decided if they’ll return to college next year or will instead move on with the next stage of their lives.
It all came to such an abrupt end for a year that showed so much promise.
“We had a great season going,” noted Covich. “In the fall we had won our home tournament at Pete Dye, finished third at Wake Forest against a really good field and had a really good showing at Minnesota.
“I think at one point in the fall we were ranked in the Top 25, and then played a few events in the spring and were doing pretty well,” added Covich. “The highlight was Logan (Perkins, a junior) shooting a school record 62 in Florida. We were gaining some momentum and confidence, but unfortunately the season came to an end.”
A native of Meridian, Mississippi, Covich was hired in 2014 to resurrect a Mountaineer golf program that had been shuttered since 1983, when it was disbanded due to budget cuts. Since taking over, Covich has quickly built a team that has moved from infancy to national respectability in just four seasons. Last year WVU earned a spot in the NCAA regional tournament field for the first time since 1947, and there it came within a whisker of advancing to the NCAA’s national tourney.
“I knew we would improve some every year,” explained Covich of his expectations when restarting the program. “Making it to the NCAA regionals last year was great, and we were a lock to get there again this year. It’s been a fun ride.
“It’s about the quality of guys,” he continued. “I’ve been lucky to have some guys who have handled their business in school and also work out and practice the right way. They’re also fun to be around. That’s the hard part of losing this year. We started from scratch a few years ago, and we’ve had a crew the last two years that has been great to be around. We’ve gone to tournaments with traditional southern powers and have been beating them.
“It’s been a lot of fun. Hopefully this situation doesn’t take a lot of momentum away from us and we can keep this going.”
To continue the program’s ascension, Covich and the WVU athletic department administration have plans to construct a $5 million practice facility on the site of the old White Day Golf Course just south of Morgantown.
The economics of college athletics, like those in many areas throughout the world, have changed a great deal since the pandemic struck, so Covich is unsure if the practice facility is something that is realistic for the near future.
“We haven’t had specific discussions on that,” Covich said of the practice facility, which is to feature six holes that could be configured multiple ways, as well as a driving range with heated bays and a clubhouse featuring various amenities. “I’m definitely very realistic in that a practice facility for a golf team right now is probably not the top priority in the world, which I totally agree with to be honest with you.
“We need to look at the big picture. We just want the world to return to normalcy,” added WVU’s coach. “Let’s just get the world back to normal, healthy and safe. After that, we want to see the Old Gold & Blue compete at anything – baseball, basketball, football, golf, anything. After that we’ll get back to fundraising (for the practice facility) at some point. We’re just so happy that people have donated to our program in the past, and we’ll get back there when the time is right.
“I’ve always said you do the best with what you have. If we have a practice facility in a year, great. If it takes 10 years, we’re still going to try to do the best we can with what we have. That’s the way we’ve always done it. We have to take care of the world we have right now.”
Like so much else, golf has taken a spot on the back burner for the moment. Covich is spending a lot more time at home than he normally would this time of year, and he’s enjoying the extended moments he’s had with his wife Kate and their son Keenan. He also can’t wait to get back to being the Mountaineer golf coach full time again, though he understands there are other priorities at the moments.
“There are bigger things in the world than our golf season, but when you do invest a lot of time and effort into something, it’s disheartening to see it taken away,” Covich said. “But whatever keeps everyone safe, I’m all for that.”