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The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, January 30, 2013

By Bethany Bradsher

Bethany Bradsher

Track and field: Success feeds success

By Bethany Bradsher
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Curt Kraft has noticed a shift in the mindset of his athletes in the last year or two, and it’s a new perspective he embraces: the East Carolina track and field teams expect to win.

When Kraft arrived to lead the program and its 80 athletes eight years ago, he and his staff worked hard to speak confidence into their athletes, to convince them that they had what it took to excel in Conference USA and to compete on the national stage. This season, he said, his charges seem to have internalized those pep talks.

“The group is running with a lot of confidence right now, they’re running with a lot of enthusiasm,” he said. “And winning breeds winning. Winning breeds confidence. We’ve gotten to the point where we don’t have to constantly remind them of this.

"They’re talking about this on their own. And when we can step back as coaches and let them talk about it, and we can let them set that goal and set that vision, it’s so much better.”

This renewed attitude on the track was fueled by the ECU women’s C-USA indoor championship last February, Kraft said, a victory that served to validate the women’s legitimacy and push the men to prove themselves worthy of a trophy as well.

Need evidence? In their last two indoor meets — at Virginia Tech and Florida State — the Pirates broke 10 different school records and saw runners, jumpers and throwers surpassing personal bests as well. High jumper Tynita Butts, whose accolades during her ECU career would already fill her own personal hall of fame, jumped 6-02.75 for a personal best and the second-highest mark in the nation.

A senior who will redshirt her outdoor season and return next year for one last hurrah, Butts already owns five C-USA championships and four All-American honors. With her stellar performance last weekend she qualified for the USA Outdoor Championships this summer.

Kraft isn’t sure where her ascendancy will end.

“She just never ceases to amaze me,” Kraft said. “It’s safe to say that these records that she’s putting up are going to last a long, long, long time. She’s putting stuff up there that it’s going to be tough to touch.”

Drew Kanz, also a high jumper, broke a 30-year school record at the Virginia Tech meet. Not only does Kanz study tapes of Butts’ jumps to study her form, he is convinced that the encouragement of each Pirate toward the other is the factor that has propelled them to new heights this season.

“Track can be very individualistic, but it’s nice to have a team that’s like a family,” Kanz said. “We have teammates who are so invested not only in themselves but in the team. It’s like a waterfall effect, a domino effect. Someone throws great, you hear everybody cheering for them, and then someone jumps great, and you hear the cheers for them, and then someone runs great.”

With Kanz and other breakout performers like Dylan Spadaccini and Cameron Hudson leading the way, Kraft is convinced that this is the most talented men’s team he has coached at ECU.

Beside Kanz’s jump of 7-2, other men who toppled ECU records in recent weeks were Spadaccini in the heptathlon and Henry Johnson and Stephen Hodapp in the pole vault. Johnson and Hodapp demonstrated a classic example of teammates pushing one another when Johnson set the record at Virginia Tech and Hodapp broke it at Penn State.

“I think the goals of the team are continue to do what you’re doing, continue to make small improvements, prepare yourself physically and mentally,” Kraft said. “We’re contenders now. Any time you’re a contender, you always have a chance to win.”

Tiffany Harris, a senior sprinter who has watched the program’s rise, set a school record of her own in the 300-meter dash at Virginia Tech, and every triumph is more meaningful as she nears the end of her road as a Pirate. Even if C-USA opponents might be gunning for her team as they seek to repeat at the Feb. 23-24 championships, she is confident and winning really does beget more winning.

“I know we had a couple of our great athletes graduate, but I feel like we have a couple of strong freshman coming in,” Harris said. “I feel like we can do it again, and again and again.”

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01/30/2013 01:45 AM

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