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The Bradsher Beat
Friday, November 9, 2007

By Bethany Bradsher

C-USA stature on the rise in Greenville

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

Anyone who has ever strolled through the tailgating regions surrounding Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium knows that Pirate fans know how to entertain.

And now it seems that East Carolina itself is gaining a nationwide reputation as a university with the gift of hospitality.

Barring a major stumble, Dec. 1 will bring the Pirates’ second major Conference USA championship game in this calendar year. In late May, when the baseball team had the chance to roll out the first conference red carpet, ECU proved to be warm and efficient hosts, said Russ Anderson, the assistant commissioner for football and baseball operations for C-USA.

Anderson could be very comfortable organizing another championship game in Greenville, he said, even if the choice of hosts wasn’t exactly made because the Pirates make better hors d’oeuvres. The conference member with the best winning percentage gets to play at home, and so wins over Marshall and Tulane would pave the way nicely, and even with one more loss the game might come this way.

It’s a development that corresponds with the Pirate Nation’s escalating alertness to all things C-USA. If the conference was once like your annoying uncle who you put up with because he brought good presents, it’s becoming more like the guest of honor.

In the days leading up to the N.C. State game, I had several die-hard Pirate fans tell me that they would choose a conference championship over a drubbing of their rivals from Raleigh any day.

That wish is being granted, as the memory of the Oct. 20 Wolfpack win already seems to have faded into the background of a 5-1 C-USA record.

In the interest of ECU’s ever-closer relationship with its conference, here’s a look at the some of this fall’s highlights in this affiliation, both from the gridiron and other venues:

• Amber Littman was in early grade school when ECU joined C-USA in 1996, but this fall she earned the rare honor of being named Conference USA Women’s Golfer of the Week two weeks in a row.

On Oct. 30 and again on Wednesday, Littman topped all other golfers in the conference with her performances first in the Edwin Watts/Palmetto Intercollegiate and then in the UAB Beach Bash, where Littman claimed the individual title after shooting a one-over-par 145 (70-75).

Conference USA has taken notice of Littman, a Stoney Creek, NC, native, even though the Lady Pirates have only competed against two conference opponents so far this fall. Marshall and UAB were both part of last weekend’s tournament, but typically the cost of travel keeps ECU away from conference opponents until closer to the postseason.

Sophomore Abby Bools and senior Emelie Lind also received the weekly award earlier in the season, and both also won individual titles in tournaments. The Lady Pirates have just completed an unprecedented fall in which they won four out of their five tournaments.

• ECU running back Chris Johnson is in good company as one of only three football players to be Player of the Week more than once this season.

Along with Johnson, Houston wide receiver Donnie Avery, Central Florida tailback Kevin Smith and Tulane running back Matt Forte have each been honored twice.

Johnson received the award first on Oct. 8 for special teams and then on Nov. 5 for an offensive display that included 491 rushing yards and four touchdowns against Memphis.

The weekly C-USA recipients are selected by a panel of sports journalists, one from each conference member’s region, Anderson said. Other football Pirates receiving the award this year were quarterback Patrick Pinkney on Sept. 10 and safety Van Eskridge on Oct. 15.

• Other players of other autumn weeks in other fall sports included: Katie Koop (Sept. 10) and Kelley Wernert (Sept. 17) in volleyball, Chris Ault for men’s golf (Sept. 12) and Kat Norris and Amanda Broz in women’s soccer.

Norris was recognized as the Defensive Player of the Week and Broz won the offensive award for the same week, Oct. 22, after leading the Lady Pirates to back-to-back shutouts over Houston and Rice the previous weekend. That was a shining moment in a sport that sometimes gets ignored at ECU, especially since the dissolution of men’s soccer two years ago.

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11/09/2007 02:04:23 AM

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