More than 400 East Carolina student-athletes started the 2017-’18 school year after a summer of training, full of hopes for their upcoming season.
After campaigns for 18 different sports with varying degrees of success, only two are still competing.
Hosting a regional didn’t end the way the baseball team or the Pirate Nation had hoped, and even with the happy news of three ECU players drafted by major league teams this week, Diamond Bucs fans still have to wait eight months for the next first pitch — and football is still 86 days away.
But up in track and field mecca Eugene, Oregon, shot putter Galissia Cause and 800-meter runner Stefano Migliorati represent the 0.5 percent of Pirate athletes still battling in purple and gold at the NCAA Outdoor Championships.
Head track and field coach Curt Kraft, who has already seen 61 athletes compete in either the indoor or outdoor national championship in his previous 12 years leading the program, said that a trip to Eugene is the ultimate in his sport.
“To get somebody to this meet is very difficult, and to get two is even more gratifying,” Kraft said. “There’s a lot of representation from Power Five schools out here, and to represent our university at this meet and to wear that uniform, it’s a pretty neat thing.”
Migliorati, who has won the American Athletic Conference 800-meter title for the past two years, set the ECU record at the NCAA East Regional last month, running the distance in 1:48.28. A native of Calvisato, Italy, Migliorati also won the Italian national title in the 800 meters last summer.
He ran his preliminary heat at the NCAA championships Wednesday night. The top eight finishers qualified for the finals to be held on Friday, but Migliorati finished 20th with a time of 1:51.68.
The eighth place runner, Robert Heppenstall representing Wake Forest, ran the two laps in 1:47.40, four seconds faster than Migliorati in that meet but less than a second faster than Migliorati’s personal best and school record.
Thin margins like the one Migliorati faced in the 800 meters are one of the defining characteristics of the national meet, along with the large, track-and-field-savvy crowds that fill the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field.
Migliorati and Cause are both seniors competing at the pinnacle of their sport for the first time, working hard to perform their best while also embracing an experience they will never forget.
“They’re excited to be here, there’s no target on their back,” Kraft said. “Not that they don’t want to do well and not that the expectations aren’t very, very high, but they are coming in very loose and very relaxed.”
Cause, who came to ECU from Gainesville, VA, competes in both the shot put and the discus, and even though the shot put is her primary event she won the American conference title in the discus. She competed in both events at the NCAA East Preliminary at the end of May and finished eighth in the discus to qualify for the championship meet. She threw 16.58 meters for her second-best performance of the season, and she is scheduled to throw in the national championship at 9:10 (eastern time) Thursday night.
If Cause finishes in the top eight, she will be named All-American and finish her college career with a bang. But regardless of the result, both Cause and Migliorati have fulfilled their chief goal since arriving at ECU. In earning a trip to Eugene they are among the 24 from each event who get to experience collegiate track and field’s crowning event.
Just as Omaha is a one-word destination to which college baseball teams aspire, Eugene now hosts the Outdoor Championships every year. Kraft’s goal is that Pirate athletes — the last men or women standing — will make it an annual pilgrimage.