The margin between the second place East Carolina Pirates and the third place Cincinnati Bearcats at the American Athletic Conference Women’s Track and Field Championship was a half of a point. Put another way, the difference maker in ECU’s top team result ever in the American was less than the difference between an eighth and ninth place finish.
The women’s triumphant second-place effort in the conference meet in Cincinnati was truly a team affair, head track and field coach Curt Kraft said, as illustrated by the fact that just two Pirate athletes finished first in their events.
While the championships earned by Mohogany Baker in the hammer throw and Galissia Cause in the discus are certainly cause for celebration, they were just one key part of the team that accumulated 91 points in the meet with three second place finishes, two third places, two Pirates in fourth, two fifth place finishes, three sixth places, two finishing in seventh and one athlete taking eighth place.
“To bring a trophy home was just gratifying,” Kraft said. “It was just absolutely a testimonial to all the work they’ve put in.”
The triple jump was ECU’s deepest event, with freshman Brooke Stith finishing fourth, freshman Jada Terrell in fifth and sophomore Bria Stith (Brooke’s sister) in seventh.
Brooke Stith and Terrell weren’t the only freshman women to find places on the podium in Cincinnati — other newcomers who placed in the top three in their events were Sommer Knight (second place in the pole vault), Mackenzie Whitaker (second in the long jump).
“It was a culmination of leadership by the seniors, and also a nice effort by a number of young freshman who came through,” Kraft said. “The theme of the meet was every point counts.”
The reason every one of those points was crucial, of course, was the fact that the home team Bearcats claimed third place with 90.5 points. The meet champion was Houston with 113 points, but Kraft knows now that his women have their sights set on the top podium spot — and they will be determined to climb to that spot soon.
“Now they know, now they want to win it,” Kraft said. “Now coaching them just became a little bit easier, now when you’re having team meetings you have something to sell. That trophy makes believers.”
Baker teed off ECU’s campaign of excellence on the first day of competition with a personal record of 59.4 meters in the hammer throw to earn first place. Also that day, Ryan Davis won a silver medal in the men’s hammer throw with a meet-record distance of 62.9 meters and sprinter Courtney Warner finished fifth in the preliminaries of the 200-meter dash to advance to the finals.
The throwers’ success on opening day set the pace for the competitors in the other throwing events, said Cause, who took second in the shot put in addition to winning the discus. Despite a rocky transition from the indoor to outdoor season, the conference meet was the place where everything clicked for her.
“It just all came together at the right time at conference,” said Cause, a senior who is heading to her fourth NCAA East Regional May 25-27. “I was just really driven to do my best and go all out. I really wanted to make it all the way to nationals. I just figured I would give it my all this last go-round.”
At the end of the second day the women’s team sat atop the rest with 45 points, boosted by Cause’s gold medal throw of 52.2 meters in the discus and Grace Sullivan’s second-place finish in the 3,000-meter steeplechase with a time of 10:28.53. Sullivan was less than two seconds behind top finisher Ashley Barnes of Tulsa.
The final day included most of the finals in the running events, including Pirate accomplishments like Stefano Migliorati’s gold medal in the men’s 800 meters.
For the women, the second place trophy came down to the points they earned in the final event — the 4X400 relay. As a senior, Cause believes that future ECU teams will build on their accomplishments, refining their performances and pushing themselves to a conference title soon.
“They just have to believe it from here on out, because we’ve gotten this far,” she said. The little mistakes that we had this weekend, if this wouldn’t have happened, or this had gone different, it would have been ours.”
In addition to Cause in the shot and discus, several other Pirate athletes qualified for the NCAA East Preliminary in Tampa: Mohogany Baker in the discus and hammer throws, Sommer Knight in the pole vault, Hunter Roberts in the 100 meter hurdles, Brooke Stith in the triple jump, Courtney Warner in 100 meters and Grace Sullivan in the steeplechase for the women and Stefano Migliorati in 800 meters and Ryan Long in the hammer throw for the men.