By Greg Laudani, Staff Writer
Relationships built within sports are often some of the strongest an individual can make. That dynamic was on display this spring for the UNH club golf team, as players united to dedicate their season to the memory of a beloved teammate.
Tragedy struck the team last December when former player and 2014 UNH graduate Brian Colbert was killed in a car accident.
CJ Konkowski, team captain and UNH senior, was good friends with Colbert. Konkowski and other senior players helped stabilize the team in the midst of grieving. The Wildcats went on to capture their sixth consecutive National Collegiate Club Golf Association (NCCGA) Northeast Regional championship and placed 12th at nationals after qualifying with the regional title.
UNH generated its success while wearing Colbert’s “BC” initials on their caps all season. The initials served as a sign of respect for Colbert, as well as a symbol of the team’s solidarity. With Colbert on their minds and in their hearts, players did not lose the drive to continue the team’s tradition of fun and success.
“Everyone loved Brian, not just the guys on the team,” Konkowski said. “Everyone who knew Brian loved him. One of our goals was to go out there and have fun because that’s what Brian always did. He had fun no matter what.”
Coach Rick Wolchko, who coached Colbert during his time at UNH, said he was proud of his team responding to adversity.
“They [current senior players] were all really close to Brian because they were on the team together for the last three years,” Wolchko said. “All the players that knew him really well wanted to dedicate the season to him. So it was great to witness in that sense that they were very mature about it and chose to honor him.”
Wolchko paid tribute to Colbert as a person and a player.
“Brian was an exceptional young man,” Wolchko said. “He used to keep the team loose and he was an outstanding player as well. Losing him was a tragedy and it was very sad.”
Colbert, a Hampstead native, was a key contributor on the UNH golf club team after celebrating a decorated playing career at Pinkerton Academy. In fact, Colbert holds the lowest nine-hole score in Pinkerton history. He also competed at nationals three times during his UNH career.
In addition to the Wildcats wearing Colbert’s initials, their entire league joined to create an even stronger connection between this season and Colbert’s memory.
The NCCGA holds two national championship tournaments every year. One takes place in the fall and the other during the spring. The league held its 2015 spring tournament at Bryan Park Golf Course in Browns Summit, N.C., April 25-26.
Teams all over the country used the hashtag “#Battle4Bryan” with the goal of qualifying for the national championship tournament at Bryan Park. It is only coincidental that this slogan, which features Colbert’s first name, had taken shape while UNH competed in honor of their fallen teammate.
Konkowski said it was an interesting coincidence in regards to Colbert’s first name taking center stage throughout the league. However, he added that UNH adopted “#Battle4Bryan” as a slogan to embody the team’s mission.
“They [NCCGA] came up with that hashtag and we embraced it as a team,” Konkowski said. “That was the way we embraced the season; we dedicated it to him.”
People cope with grief in different ways. It is very difficult for some to come up with a way to digest painful and catastrophic situations.
But according to Wolchko, his team has navigated this season in momentous fashion. He said the Wildcats incorporated Colbert’s love and enthusiasm into their own game, setting the tone for the team’s continued success.
“I was very proud of the team for staying strong through some very difficult times,” Wolchko said. “It gives you a different view on life if you’re never experienced something like this before. So it was a nice thing for them to do in honoring his memory and remembering his contributions to the team and how much everyone misses him.”