Here are some numbers that help explain the sustained success of the East Carolina track and field teams:
- 14 – Number of Pirate seasons for head coach Curt Kraft
- 16 – Number of Pirate seasons for throwing coach David Price
- 11 – Number of Pirate seasons for sprints, relays and hurdles coach Udon Cheek
- 22 – Number of seniors on the current roster
- 6 – Number of outdoor school records broken this season
- 4 – Consecutive championships for the women’s team at the Bill Carson Invitational
The first four figures, representing depth of experience and maturity on both the coaching staff and the roster, contribute directly to the final two.
As the head coach with the second-longest continuous tenure at ECU, Kraft has seen clear evidence that when coaches and upperclassmen have skin in the game, it trickles down to achievement in every part of the program.
“With stability comes success,” said Kraft, who took the baton in 2005 from Bill Carson, who had led the program for 40 years. “We’ve been blessed to be able to stay in one place as long as we have.”
With just one big invitational at Duke left on the schedule before the American Athletic Conference Championships in Wichita in mid-May, the two Pirate squads are well positioned for dramatic finishes on both the team and individual levels. The highlight reel of the past few months includes toppled records and other triumphs that represent growing potential as the postseason approaches.
The athletes who guaranteed their place at the top of the ECU records columns include senior Grace Sullivan (10:12.62 in the steeplechase), senior Nick Ciaccia (14:22.67 in the indoor 5,000 meters and 8:29.30 in the outdoor 3,000 meters), sophomore Sommer Knight (4.00 meters in the indoor pole vault), junior Bria Stith (3,587 points in indoor pentathlon) and freshman Anna Bristle (35:09.70 in the 10,000 meters).
Their next challenge, competing against a crowded field including Atlantic Coast Conference teams like Duke, North Carolina, N.C. State and Wake Forest at the Duke Invitational, will offer another opportunity for new standards, Kraft said, and hopefully the tough competition in Durham will lead to NCAA qualifying marks for some Pirates and confidence in the American field.
“We look forward to this every year,” he said. “This is our one last opportunity to get tuned up for the AAC championships, so were putting a lot of kids in a lot of different events. The biggest goal is to come out healthy and to create some momentum going into the conference meet.”
Last year at the conference event the women’s team placed a close second, marking their highest outdoor finish since ECU joined the American in 2014. There are plenty of strong teams at the top of the conference, but Kraft places the Pirates among them and looks forward to seeing the women contend for a trophy.
The goal is to try to win the thing, but you’re talking about four or five women’s teams who are always in that mix,” he said.
On the men’s side, Houston has been a dominant force this season, he said, and Connecticut and Wichita State are both always strong as well, but success at Duke could provide the boost the men need to put themselves in the top tier with a shot at the podium. They just missed the top spot two weeks ago at the Pirates’ one home meet of the season, the Bill Carson Invitational, placing second to a strong UNC-Charlotte team, while the women claimed the title on their home turf for the fourth straight year.