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The Bradsher Beat
Thursday, June 9, 2005

By Bethany Bradsher

Carson protégés sprint to national stage

B.J. Henderson and Hector Cotto are the latest in a long line of sprinters to advance to NCAA championship competition under the tutelage of East Carolina track icon Bill Carson (right).

Photo: ECU Media Relations


One is a seasoned competitor who is on his fourth trip to nationals in the third different event. The other is competing at his sport’s highest level for the first time.

But both B.J. Henderson and Hector Cotto know that their participation in track and field’s version of the Big Dance is something special. And they arrived in California hoping to turn in performances that will make their competitors remember the name East Carolina.

“It’s nationals,” said Henderson, a senior who will compete in the preliminary heat of the 200 meters on Thursday in the Sacramento, Calif. meet. “They’re the best of the best. It’s not a cakewalk, that’s for sure.”

Henderson and Cotto, a junior running in the 110-meter high hurdles, qualified for the NCAA National Meet with their performances in the East Regional Track and Field Championships on May 28 in New York. Henderson ran a personal record time of 20.64 in the 200 and Cotto finished the hurdles in 13.84, times that earned both of them fourth-place finishes.

The two runners arrived on the West Coast Sunday with ECU head track coach Bill Carson, who has been leading Pirate runners for 37 years and has coached 68 All-Americans. Carson, who has a reputation for building sprinters, said that national publications recently ranked Henderson 12th and Cotto 13th in their respective events.

Those rankings mean that the Pirates need to have plenty of respect for their faster opponents but that they could realistically aim for a spot in the semifinals and — if they peak at the just the right time — possibly in Saturday’s finals.

Unfortunately, Cotto’s national dreams came to an end Wednesday when he ran his preliminary heat in 14.20, considerably slower than his personal-best of 13.78, and failed to advance to the semifinals.

“He had a terrible start and he hit the third hurdle,” Carson said on Wednesday night.

Cotto, who was brimming with optimism Monday about his chances to run his fastest in Sacramento, will return to training with his sights set on an outstanding senior season.

“At regionals I knew how hard it was just to get out of regionals,” said Cotto, a junior from Holly Springs. “But I like the competition and I like to get psyched out before the race. It makes me run faster.”

Henderson, who was scheduled to run his preliminary race on Thursday, has been one of Carson’s most reliable sprinters since he arrived in Greenville as a freshman. He was recruited as more of a 400-meter runner, and in his first season as a Pirate he qualified for nationals in that event. But a hip injury during his sophomore year set him back in the 400, which requires more intense training and competition than the 200.

As a sophomore and a junior, Henderson returned to the national meet as a member of the 4X400 relay team, but it took three years for him to make it again in an individual event. It seemed like this was his year for the 200 meters when, after fighting another injury during the indoor season, he ran his best-ever time of 20.84 in the first outdoor meet.

“I PRed in the first meet, and he’s been letting me run the 200 ever since,” he said of Carson.

One of the competitors in Henderson’s event, Wallace Spearmon from Arkansas, has run the race in 19.97, and three others have finished better than 20.4, he said.

According to Carson, the 200 meters is the toughest event in the meet this year, but Henderson’s times knot him up with a host of other competitors in the middle of the group.

“After those four or five guys, anything is possible,” Henderson said.

The final results in the 200 are also unpredictable because so much depends on which lane a runner draws. Unlike a straight shot like the 100 or a course where the runners can cut in like the 400, 200-meter runners must contend with a curve and stay in their lanes for the entire race.

“In the 200, it’s all about lanes,” Carson said. “The bottom line is, if you draw an inside lane it’s fatal.”

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02/23/2007 01:11:25 AM

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