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The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, May 26, 2010

By Bethany Bradsher

Eventful spring for ECU athletics

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

Collegiate athletics may be divided into three distinct seasons, but fall and winter combined donít put as many teams into play as spring. More than half of the 14 East Carolina teams compete between March and May, and that spring frenzy produced ample opportunities for triumph, inspiration and heartbreak.

Some highlights and noteworthy trends:

  • The softball team emerged from the wings of the national stage to take a little bit of spotlight. Just as 2007 was a seminal year for womenís basketball because of that invitation to the Big Dance, the Pirate Nation will likely remember 2010 as the year everything pivoted for the Lady Pirates softball program. They toppled giants like 12th-ranked Texas, they featured a pitcher (Toni Paisley) who led the nation in strikeouts and they came within five runs of advancing to a Super Regional. Maybe it wasnít exactly a storybook season, but the plot was captivating enough to ring in the hearts of the seven departing seniors for years to come.

    Every team misses its seniors when they go, but I canít think of many groups that have defined their team like Cristen Aona, Marina Gusman-Brown, Nicole Jordan, Christina Merrida, Vanessa Moreno, Charina Sumner and Kaui Tom. There is one bright spot amid all of those sad goodbyes, though: Gusman-Brown is listed on the Pirates volleyball roster as an outside hitter. Like Greg Paulus, who went from Duke basketball to Syracuse football last year because he completed his undergraduate eligibility in four years and gained permission to compete in another sport during the same year, Gusman-Brown, a 5-8 outside hitter, will change venues but remain a Pirate.

  • More individual Pirate athletes than ever got the chance to see how they measure up in national competition. Even if some of their teams were stopped at the conference level, golfer Harold Varner and track and field athletes Drew Kanz OíShea, Dennis Aliotta, Matthew McConaughey, Tynita Butts and Maegan Lewis exhibited enough excellence to qualify for NCAA Regionals without their teams.

    Varner, a sophomore from Gastonia, went to New Haven, CN, for the NCAA Regional and finished tied for 33rd with a three-over score of 213 over three rounds. He was the first ECU menís golfer to qualify for the national tournament as a walk-on since 1993.
    The six track and field athletes are headed to Greensboro, to the track at North Carolina A&T, where they will compete for the chance to move on to the NCAA Outdoor Championships in Eugene, OR, on June 9-12. Several runners have had solid seasons as well, but there is absolutely no doubt that the coaches who recruit and train field events are doing something right.

  • At least the cranes and bulldozers that seem to outnumber cars on campus right now boast a nice gold paint job. Heavy construction equipment might not be the typical canvas for Pirate spirit, but the dirt movers and builders are doing their part to ensure Pirate success well into the next decade.

    The new softball stadium needs only finishing touches, the football end zone project with its 7,000 new seats is progressing on schedule, and the new soccer stadium is underway with plans to open when the Lady Pirates play their first game in August. Track and field and tennis complexes arenít far behind.

    It might be a mess on campus at times, with giant cranes hovering overhead and roads closed from time to time, but when every Pirates team is playing in a venue that measures up to the ones they see on the road, ECU athletics will have what it needs to create an enduring winning spirit. And, if an ECU recruit hears that fans are checking webcams every day for visual confirmation of the construction progress, that will be an indisputable testimony of the uncommon passion this Pirate Nation has for all things purple.

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05/26/2010 02:50 AM

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