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The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, August 3, 2011

By Bethany Bradsher

Olympic sports teams itching to occupy new digs

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

The hardest part of overseeing the construction of the new Olympic sports complex hasn’t involved bricks and mortar, said J.J. McLamb, East Carolina's assistant athletics director for administrative affairs. The biggest challenge has been keeping eager athletes and coaches from dropping into their new facilities before they were completed.

Finally, this evening, the East Carolina women’s soccer team will jog out onto their brand-new field for their first practice of the 2011 season. Head coach Rob Donnenwirth thinks that his players might feel the need to pinch themselves.

“I think at some point they’re waiting for me to say, we’re not really able to go on it yet,” said Donnenwirth, who is entering his 13th season as the Pirates’ head soccer coach.

These Pirates have become proficient at patience. When ground was broken on the new stadium, they were told that last year’s season would be played in the new digs. Then, at this time last year, they learned they would actually play at the North Campus Recreation Center, but they held out hope that they might still break in the new field for a few games in 2010.

But the only reality of a capital project is that deadlines are slippery creatures indeed, and so last year’s seniors finished their soccer careers without a go in the new stadium.

The current crop of players is finally christening the complex that Donnenwirth calls the finest in Conference USA.

One of the chief advantages of the new soccer field is something that might not be evident to those unschooled in the sport: The field is wider and longer than the previous one, McLamb said, and that expansion will make ECU a more appealing destination to big Division I opponents and to selection committees for events like the Conference USA Championship.

“The old Bunting Field was only one yard wider than what the minimum requirement was,” McLamb said. “So with this, we wanted to build a wide field. Some teams will not play on a short field. When we did all of our research, everybody kept telling us, build it as wide as you can, and build it as long as you can. The bigger, the better.”

The first opponent to come play, South Carolina on August 19, should have no adjustment from the Southeastern Conference stadiums where it usually plays to the field at ECU. Donnenwirth rates his home field in the top 10 percent in the nation, and he can’t wait until all of its 1,000 seats are filled and some fans are forced to stand. The crowds his teams have attracted have swelled in recent years, so he has reason to believe the Pirate faithful will pack the house this season.

Of course, the soccer stadium is only one part of the project that has turned Charles Boulevard into a major construction zone for the past year. The softball stadium was completed early in the year, soccer was given the keys this week, and members of the ECU track and field teams will get to run on their brand-new track by the time classes begin, McLamb said.

The track is a practice facility — the stadium doesn’t have bleachers or the capacity to host a large track meet at this time — but it is state-of-the-art and will provide an excellent place for the athletes on ECU’s most diverse sports squad to hone their particular skills.

At the center of the new complexes is a two-story building that is slated to be open in early June. Called the Teams Building until officials arrive at a better name, the building will house a training room, weight room and equipment room for the Olympic sports on the first floor and new offices for the Olympic sports coaches on the second floor.

As soon as this phase of construction is completed, McLamb and others will turn to the next project: An practice gym, adjacent to Minges, that will be used by the volleyball and men’s and women’s basketball teams. It’s all part of the giant facelift that will elevate ECU in the eyes of the nation and hopefully spur the Pirates on to greater things.

E-mail Bethany Bradsher

Bethany Bradsher Archives

08/03/2011 03:03 AM

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