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The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, April 25, 2012

By Bethany Bradsher

A salute to those who stay the course

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

John Calipari and his Wildcats provided a vivid visual for the concept of “one and done” last week at a Lexington, Kentucky press conference, with a few cases of “two and through” thrown in for good measure.

There they stood, the entire starting five of the nation’s best collegiate basketball team, posing for a final photo together before they depart for the professional ranks. Before Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist even experience a true Kentucky spring, they have set their sights on the wonders of New Jersey or Toronto, steeling themselves to face hazards like Metta World Peace’s elbow and Dwight Howard’s ego.

I’ll save the debate about this practice for 24-7 sports talking heads who blame the NBA’s minimum age limit or the vaunted recruiting expectations among big-time Division I programs. Personally, as a college basketball romantic, I think they should all be made to drink up the experience in its glorious four-year entirety – four years of final exams peppered by all-nighters, four autumns capped by Midnight Madness, seemingly endless days of walking across tree-lined quads on the way to stone libraries.

Obviously, no one ever offered me ten million dollars to cut my own university experience short, and the typical East Carolina athlete has no such incentive to leave either. But even if agents aren’t knocking, the intensity of the Division I sports experience leads many men and women to quit their sport before they finish the entire four-year course, even if they do stay enrolled in school.

It’s rare for a complete recruiting class to persevere and graduate together, but collegiate coaches know that they should treasure their seniors as the linchpins of their program – the athletes with the accrued maturity to play with perspective and toughness and lead young upstarts with little idea of the arduous road ahead.

Senior Pirate athletes, especially those who are still plugging away this week with only xx class days remaining, deserve accolades. And so what follows is a quick salute to seven seniors who are still competing in purple and serving as an inspiring example of a phenomenon I’m calling “four before the door.”

   Softball’s Priscilla Velasquez. As the 2011 Conference USA Tournament MVP, Velasquez entered the season carrying the weight of the team’s expectations, but she has thrived under the pressure. Her impact on the Lady Pirates’ success has been the most profound in Conference USA play. Velasquez has collected 15 hits, eight RBIs and seven runs over 17 C-USA games, whereas in the first three seasons of her ECU career she had a combined total of seven hits, five RBI and five runs against all conference opponents.

   Baseball’s Tim Younger. OK, so Younger hasn’t technically spent his whole career at one college, transferring to ECU from St. Petersburg College. But whether it’s representing the best of ECU baseball as the wearer of Keith LeClair’s No. 23 jersey or earning the Diamond Bucs’ second-best batting average, Younger has been an invaluable part of the Pirates’ nationally ranked squad. He also leads the team in walks and on-base percentage, and he has started in 40 of 41 games.

   Golf’s Amy Otteson. Otteson has been a spark for the Lady Pirates at the C-USA Championships, shooting a 2-under 74 in the second round to put her squad in a tie for fourth place. The Championships, which conclude today in Gulf Shores, AL, also featured Otteson in a tie for sixth place heading into the final round. A Wilson native, Otteson has twice been named All-CUSA, and she placed 15th overall at the 2011 C-USA Championship tournament.

   Golf’s David Watkins.  Watkins has been steady most of the time and spectacular some of the time throughout his four years in a Pirate polo. Led by Watkins and classmate Harold Varner, the ECU squad finished third in the C-USA Championships for their best conference showing since the program began. Watkins has placed in the top 20 in 11 tournaments during his Pirate career.

   Track and field’s Dennis Aliotta. During his years in Greenville, Aliotta has so dominated the shot put event that his name and the shot put have become synonymous. He has already captured three C-USA titles in the shot, holds both the indoor and outdoor records in the event and has qualified for the NCAA East Regional in the past two seasons.  Last weekend at the Charlotte Invitational, Aliotta added another highlight in the warmup to the conference meet by breaking his own school record, throwing the shot put 18.14 meters.

   Track and field’s Brittany Copeland. Like Aliotta, Copeland has been excelling so long in Coach Curt Kraft’s program that she seems to have stayed longer than four years. At the Raleigh Relays in early April, Copeland ran the fastest 5,000 meters in the nation and was named C-USA Track and Field Athlete of the Week. Her ECU career highlights include felling two outdoor and two indoor distance records, finishing second in the 3,000 meters at the C-USA Championships as a junior and winning the indoor 3,000 title in February, setting a new C-USA record at the same time with a run of 9:30.08.

E-mail Bethany Bradsher

PAGE UPDATED 04/25/12 01:50 AM.

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