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View from the 'ville
Thursday, January 5, 2006

By Al Myatt

Challenges ahead growing in magnitude


The impact of athletic director Terry Holland on major sport scheduling at East Carolina has been underscored during the recent progression of football bowl games and in the Pirates' latest basketball matchups.

The demands of the 2006 ECU non-conference football schedule intensified as all four programs the Pirates will face next season — Virginia, West Virginia, Navy and N.C. State — obtained valuable offseason momentum with bowl triumphs.

The Pirates will be at home next season to Virginia and West Virginia. The Cavaliers rallied for a 34-31 win over Minnesota in the Music City Bowl, while the Mountaineers held off favored Georgia in the Nokia Sugar Bowl for a 38-35 triumph.

ECU will travel to play Navy, which rolled past Colorado State 51-30 in the Poinsettia Bowl and NCSU, which posted the only shutout in the postseason, 14-0, over South Florida in the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte.

Holland's dual intent in future scheduling to renew regional rivalries and compete against bowl opponents has been achieved on both fronts for 2006. West Virginia is currently No. 6 in the Sagarin power ratings, Virginia is No. 31, State is No. 32 and Navy is No. 52.

East Carolina, which capped a 5-6 season with wins over Marshall and UAB, is No. 92 among 239 Division I-A and I-AA teams in the Sagarin listings.

The improvement curve the Pirates established in their first season under Coach Skip Holtz obviosly must be maintained. That was made clear to Holtz from the get-go.

"When we first came in and met with Terry Holland and Chancellor (Steve) Ballard, the expectations of where we want to go with the schedule that we are playing, the insinuation was that we are going to have to step it up," Holtz said in his postseason summary. "We are a long way away from where we need to be because it will only get harder as we go."

The success of future ECU opponents in the postseason doesn't make ECU's task any easier. Upcoming adversaries have in effect had an extra spring practice while Holtz's staff has been focusing on recruiting. The Pirates did get a head start on 2006 preparations by starting offseason weight lifting before Christmas.

The 2006 season will start over the Labor Day weekend in Annapolis, MD, according to an official source, against a Navy team that will feature running back Reggie Campbell, whose six TD's helped the Middies' option attack riddle Colorado State.

The Pirates are expected to play at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh over the Thanksgiving weekend and the Wolfpack will provide an indication of just how far ECU has progressed since a 52-14 loss to State in Charlotte closed the John Thompson coaching era in 2004.

Holtz has no illusions about the magnitude of the task at hand.

"We have made some strides but the hurdles that we have left to climb are just as high as the one that we just climbed," said the Pirates coach. "You'd like to think that that we made some progress, but we are still a million miles away from being able to compete at the level in which we are stepping into next year."

Hoops challenges

The last week also has represented new beginnings — and one happy ending — in basketball scheduling.

The Pirates played UNC-Wilmington for the first time since Feb. 17, 2001, and parlayed a large first half lead into an inspired 82-69 win in Greenville. ECU dropped 8 of 16 attempts from behind the arc, causing Seahawks coach Brad Brownell to say that his program had a breakdown in its scouting evaluation of the Pirates' shooting ability.

ECU stopped playing UNCW after the Pirates left the Colonial Athletic Association for Conference USA, partly because former ECU athletic director Mike Hamrick resented the Seahawks for joining other CAA members in blocking the Pirates' participation in the 2001 league tournament. Former ECU coach Bill Herrion wasn't interested in continuing the series because of the extreme challenges he had to deal with against the old membership in C-USA.

But Brownell, first-year ECU coach Ricky Stokes and Holland have all expressed interest in continuing the UNCW-ECU series.

"The ADs want to play twice next year," Holland said. "At noon there and at 7 p.m. here."

Then Holland suppressed a grin.

"Think the folks at ESPN would take notice of that?" he said. "We'd like for them to know we're here."

The folks at Wake Forest certainly took notice of ECU's return to the Deacons' schedule on Tuesday night in Winston-Salem — the first step in Holland's efforts to line up area ACC opponents in basketball. Wake coach Skip Prosser had to resort to a 2-3 zone defense over the final nine minutes to help his club pull out a 58-54 win.

The Deacs also benefited from ECU having no timeouts to make adjustments over the final three minutes. Pirates point guard Japhet McNeil made a mental mistake in the closing seconds as he drove for a lay-up attempt rather than kick out to the wing for what could have been a tying 3-point shot with Wake leading 57-54.

Deacons forward Trent Strickland admitted that the officiating crew gave Wake a break by denying the Pirates possession after the ball went out of bounds off of Strickland's foot at the ECU end with the score tied at 54.

The Pirates suddenly look capable of making things interesting against No. 4 Memphis in ECU's C-USA opener. That's in Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum at 7 p.m. next Wednesday.

Stokes' role defined by Holland

Holland is obviously in firm control of ECU's athletic future from making schedules to hiring coaches to facilities development. Coach Stokes has been used to Holland's leadership going back to his playing days at Virginia.

Asked if he had ever struggled to the extent of the 2-for-15 shooting effort by UNCW's John Goldsberry on Saturday, Stokes quipped, "Coach Holland told me just to play defense and get the ball to Ralph (Sampson). Fifteen shots was a career for me. I never took that many shots in a game."

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02/23/2007 12:29:44 AM


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