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The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, June 6, 2012

By Bethany Bradsher

Bethany Bradsher

A salute to ECU's Olympic sports stars


A salute to ECU's Olympic sports stars
ECU loss spelled w-a-l-k-s
Chapel Hill regional ECU- UNC-CH photo gallery
Audio: Billy Godwin & select players postgame
Star of the game: Joyner answers the call
Chapel Hill regional ECU- Cornell photo gallery
Storm clouds Pirates' opener
Chapel Hill regional ECU- St. John's photo gallery

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

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The house lights go down, and the big screen is emblazoned with purple and gold words reading, “Pirate Olympic Sports: More Than One Shining Moment.” What follows is a highlight reel from every corner of the East Carolina athletic universe over the course of the 2011-’12 season:

SOCCER: Senior Kimmy Cummings takes aim from the right flank during the first round of the Conference USA Championships. The ball ricochets off of the left post and lands in the goal to give ECU a 1-0 lead that sets the tone for the program's first-ever victory over Central Florida. The Pirates lost in the second round to top-seeded Memphis, but the UCF win was a showpiece for the program and for Cummings, a former walk-on who ended her senior season with a team-high nine goals, national academic accolades and an opportunity to play professional soccer in Northern Ireland.

VOLLEYBALL: This segment starts with a shot of Jeri Estes helping to coach the Russian national team during the 2004 Olympics, then cuts to a shot of Estes working with Pirate volleyball players. One of the brightest spots for a squad that has only collected four wins over the last two seasons, Estes spent six weeks assisting head coach Pati Rolf last fall and committed to ECU as a full-time assistant in April. Estes’s credentials include stints with both the U.S. and Russian national teams as an assistant, as well as jobs in collegiate coaching, Russian professional club coaching and a span as a head coach with the St. Louis Quest in the United States Professional Volleyball League.

SWIMMING AND DIVING: As the spotlight shifts to the pool, viewers are treated to a quick-fire montage of highlights from the C-USA Championship Meet, which was the most successful conference final in Rick Kobe’s three decades at the helm of the program. Over four days in Houston, ECU swimmers set 17 varsity and 14 freshman records and saw 18 athletes honored as All-Conference USA for their performances. Two promising freshmen, Rokas Cepulis and Nikola Simic, combined to make all-conference in nine total events. Danielle Morrin was the top newcomer for the women, earning medals in both the 200 butterfly and the 400 individual medley.

TRACK AND FIELD: With three distinct seasons and 80 athletes, the Pirate track and field squads have a plethora of bright spots to choose from. But no moment left a more indelible memory than this shot: The women’s indoor squad, holding a Conference USA trophy aloft. To cap off that milestone, in which the Lady Pirates outscored defending champion UCF 123-113.5 to win the title, head coach Curt Kraft was named C-USA Indoor Women’s Coach of the Year. The final 10 points of the meet, which clinched the crown, came from the 4X400 relay team of Tyshonda Hawkins, Tiffany Harris, Tania Minkins and Aiesha Goggins, who edged out UCF in 3:39.00 for a new C-USA championship record.

MEN'S TENNIS: The screen fills with a Belgian sophomore named Joran Vliegen, the winningest Pirate player this season with an overall record of 14-6 and 3-1 in conference. Vliegen, the No. 1 singles player for ECU, was so dominant during the middle of the schedule that he defeated nine opponents in a row. In mid-March he was named C-USA Men’s Tennis Athlete of the Week for a tri-meet against the College of Charleston and UNC-Charlotte in which he won both the singles and doubles matches in straight sets.

WOMEN'S TENNIS: The Lady Pirates struggled to prevail against conference opponents this season, but one triumphant moment belonged to junior Yilian Zhang, who won her No. 5 singles match against UAB’s Menanteau Moolman to give her team a 4-3 edge in the first round of the C-USA Tournament. Zhang’s tenacity gave ECU its lone conference victory of the year, but her win helped pace the Pirates to carve out a more competitive place next season.

SOFTBALL: This sport’s highlight reel belongs to a Greenville native and a senior, a player who deserves a little bit of face time for persevering and coming out as one of ECU’s top performers in her final campaign. Suzanne Riggs, a D.H. Conley High School product, was named Second Team All-Conference USA for a season in which she led all hitters with a .325 batting average, eight home runs and 33 RBIs. She also finished eighth on ECU’s all-time list for walks, finishing with 70 over her career.

WOMEN'S GOLF: With another senior who proved the value of consistent play and strong leadership, the women’s golf spotlight zooms in on Amy Otteson, a player who carded seven top-20 finishes over her final season and finished tied for seventh at the C-USA Championship Meet. Otteson was also the top ECU finisher at the NCAA Central Regional, shooting an 18-over 234 for a share of 50th place.

MEN'S GOLF: For this film’s big ending, look no further than the only Pirate team to make its sport’s national tournament. The glamour shot would depict the ECU golfers on a plane to beautiful Pacific Palisades, CA, to the spectacular but humbling Riviera Country Club. As the only team from North or South Carolina to even make the field of 30, the Pirates finished 26th in the event and gained a new understanding of what it takes to compete at collegiate golf’s highest echelon. The squad also said goodbye to its backbone, seniors Harold Varner, David Watkins and Adam Stephenson.

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06/20/2012 01:42 AM

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