The Bradsher Beat
Thursday, March 13, 2014

By Bethany Bradsher

Indoor title lifts women's outdoor goals

ECU ladies were stars of the show at conference meet

Kayla Padgett (pictured) was one of three East Carolina competitors who captured individual titles as the women's team won the Conference USA Indoor Track and Field championship meet in Birmingham, AL. Padgett (weight throw) will represent ECU in the NCAA championships this weekend in Albuquerque, NM. (Photo: ECU Media Relations)



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By Bethany Bradsher
All Rights Reserved.

It’s an old adage that rings true in athletic competition — it’s not how you start that counts, but how you finish.

East Carolina track and field coach Curt Kraft isn’t the only coach on campus to adopt that principle not just for a game or a meet, but also for the Pirates’ stint in Conference USA.

The coaches have used the idea of a memorable swan song – a conference title to leave with a bang – as motivation for their athletes in their final C-USA tour before departing for the American Athletic Conference.

The difference for Kraft? So far he is the only one whose team has made that vision a reality. When the women’s indoor track and field team won the championship trophy at the conference meet in Birmingham, AL, it was exactly the kind of farewell Kraft and his athletes had hoped for.

“They want to leave this conference knowing that we were one of the ones to bring a title home,” said Kraft, who is in his ninth season leading the program.

It was the second indoor championship in three years for the women’s squad, but they actually entered the meet this year as an underdog, Kraft said. Top performers like sprinter Tania Minkins were recovering from injuries, and most observers regarded Tulsa or UAB as frontrunners for the title.

But Minkins was in top form, actually winning the 200 meters as one of three Lady Pirates to claim individual titles, along with Kayla Padgett in the weight throw and Aiesha Goggins in the 400 meters. Another stellar performance came from Erin Tucker, who set a new school record and personal record in the 60-meter hurdles.

Even if the Pirates weren’t regarded as contenders by many of their opponents, Kraft and the women on the squad knew that they had what it took to win the meet. The roots of that confidence go back two years, when the women won their first-ever indoor conference title. This team includes nine athletes who were part of that earlier championship team.

“Two concepts I stressed with them were leadership and momentum,” he said. “We had people that had been there before and knew how to get it done. And we had momentum. I told the ladies going into this meet that if we could go on a roll, momentum would be in their favor.”

The team won’t compete together in any more indoor meets, but Padgett, whose top throw of 21.95 meters earlier this year was a personal best and a school record, qualified for the NCAA Indoor Championships this weekend in Albuquerque, NM.

For the rest of the athletes, their focus turns abruptly to outdoor competition and the prospect of winning another conference title in just over two months. That’s a tall order in a sport with three distinct seasons and an abundance of moving pieces. But Kraft feels that after this recent triumph, the team has the confidence to try for back-to-back trophies.

“Now we have a target on our back, and they want to do it again,” he said. “They want to be able to say, ‘We can win it outdoors too.’”

The C-USA trophy didn’t just provide a boost to the women’s team; the men are more determined than ever now to come out on top themselves. The men’s team placed third in Birmingham, spurred by performances like Drew Kanz’s overall win in the high jump. But they were disappointed because they felt they left some points on the track and they were good enough to place at least second, Kraft said.

Kraft was in a position faced by few coaches — being in a room with one jubilant team and one downcast team that were both under his leadership.

“They are very happy for the women, but this shows them that they have to get better,” he said.

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03/13/2014 03:44 AM