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The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, February 29, 2012

By Bethany Bradsher

Women's track and field title spurs men

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

Curt Kraft’s office is full of boxes. Not too surprising, since he and his staff are in the process of moving to the brand-new Olympic sports building. motivate

But one of those boxes in the middle of the floor has nothing to do with his move. It’s overflowing with T-shirts and watches printed with the sweetest words he has seen written in his six years as East Carolina’s head track and field coach: Conference USA Champions.

In Birmingham this past weekend, the Lady Pirates track and field team excelled across the board, earning 123 points and their first C-USA Indoor Title in the program’s history. And to cap the attainment of that ultimate team goal, Kraft was awarded the trophy as C-USA Indoor Women’s Coach of the Year.

“This is the ultimate,” he said, “I know it sounds cliched, but I don’t think it gets too much better than this. Work hard, stay focused, have the right attitude, eat the right things. We say these things as coaches, and sometimes we think it goes in one ear and out the other. But hard work really does pay off.”

Kraft will proudly display that award on his new shelf, but he is quick to point out that any track and field championship comes only through excellent team leadership. His staff of eight coaches deserves plenty of credit for building a program that is making winning a habit, he said.

“It’s all about the coaches,” he said. “You don’t win championships if you don’t have good assistants or you don’t have good athletes.”

Some of the top performers at the conference meet have established themselves as perennial record breakers for the Pirates. Junior Tynita Butts, one of the most decorated athletes ever in ECU track and field, won the high jump with a height of 1.85 meters that tied the C-USA record and qualified her for the NCAA Indoor Championships. Butts has also qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials this summer.

Other established standouts who pitched in to the Pirates’ top point total were senior Brittany Copeland, who captured a new C-USA record in the 3,000-meter run with a time of 9:30.08, and sophomore Tania Minkins, who placed second in the 200 with a time of 23.73.

Emerging ECU stars, like junior Brooke Kott and freshman Tyshonda Hawkins, also put their mark on the Pirates’ championship effort. Kott won the 800 meters for her first-ever league title, and Hawkins was a member of the 4X400 relay team that clinched the title for the Pirates.

“The 4X4 girls knew what they needed to do,” Craft said of the relay team, which also include Minkins, Tiffany Harris and Aiesha Goggins. “I think they enjoyed that moment. I think they enjoyed being in that position.”

The men’s team didn’t hoist a trophy at the end of the weekend, but the C-USA performance yielded their top point total in history and third place overall. Stellar individual performances from athletes like junior Montrell Morrow and senior Dennis Aliotta, who won the weight throw and the shot put, respectively, helped boost the men.

Now that Kraft and company are back in Greenville and looking for excuses to wear their new T-shirts, both of the ECU teams are still motivated to future excellence — because the first meet of the outdoor season is just over two weeks away. Kraft has pointed out to the women that they now have a target on their back and consequently have to work even harder, and the men’s team is determined to get a trophy of its own.

“The men finished third, and that team championship by the women is obviously in the limelight. “We are a family, we are a team, we’re not a women’s team, we’re not a men’s team, we’re a track and field team. So the women winning this, it kind of motivates the men now.”

E-mail Bethany Bradsher

PAGE UPDATED 02/29/12 02:11 AM.

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