The four East Carolina soccer seniors who returned for their extra season of eligibility have different backgrounds and different reasons why they wanted to play again and continue their education, but their similarities centered around how a recent spring season didn’t feel complete.

Women’s soccer in the last academic calendar was one of the sports moved from last fall to the spring semester because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The NCAA also allowed for all players to retain their eligibility from the truncated spring season, which created myriad scenarios, especially for seniors, in conjunction with coaches as part of overall roster management.

Seniors Kim Sanford, Alexia Moore, Tori Riggs and Carsen Parker remained with ECU for a new and traditional fall soccer campaign.

“I was really happy we got to play that shortened season (11 matches) in the spring, but it just wasn’t enough for me,” said Sanford, a Philadelphia native and preseason All-American Athletic Conference defense selection who has started since 2017 when she was a freshman and played the second-most minutes on the Pirates. “I’ve been playing this sport for 18 years, so I wanted to finish it on a full season.”

The Pirates’ opening match was Thursday, a 2-1 overtime loss at Old Dominion. It was the first of 18 matches on their regular-season schedule.

ECU’s volleyball team, which begins Friday at Liberty, has returning seniors Sydney Kleinman and Bri Wood back as experienced leaders. Wood was named a preseason All-AAC pick heading into her extra season.

Pirate soccer coach Jason Hamilton described the roster management aspect as difficult, knowing that not all of the spring seniors would be able to return. Some stopped playing and some transferred.

“It’s a very unique situation and it’s not just affecting this year, but it’s affecting future years of recruiting,” Hamilton said. “Everybody having an extra year of eligibility doesn’t mean we can necessarily offer that to everybody. There are financial decisions and roster decisions. ... It was tough, as a coach, because you don’t want to have someone sent off in their last season not being exactly what they wanted.

“That part was challenging, but I think on the positive side of it is we do have four young ladies who are good leaders and they work hard for us. It’s exactly what we need with the group we have. ... It’s experience, and that’s one thing as a coach that we can’t coach.”

Hamilton added that having more than 30 players on a roster is not ideal, citing playing time issues.

ECU’s current roster is trimmed to 29, including a new freshman class that already has impacted the team.

“It feels real because it’s here and it’s happening, and I’m very excited because we have an extremely talented group,” Parker said. “It’s like the best freshmen we’ve ever had. That is really exciting, because I never would have gotten to play with this group. Now I do get to play with them, so I’m really excited and I’m also hoping it doesn’t fly by because I know how fast everything goes by now.”

Sanford is still focused on her research project as a Master’s student in sports psychology, with hopes of later earning a doctorate degree. Parker is a Pirate Club student intern. Moore is continuing her Master’s education in criminal justice. Riggs is enrolled in one class this semester.

“I kind of kicked my butt last semester to get all the things done I needed to get done, so this semester I’m only taking one class,” Riggs said. “They have a form that is less than full-time that allows me to do that in my final year of college. I graduated last December and then started my certificate program, which is basically like a mini Master’s program. I have one more class left and I’ll be done with it.”

One of the minor details for returning seniors is how they are identified by schools. The term “COVID senior” and “super senior” are popular choices.

“I like super senior, and I’ve heard some of the team call us that, too,” Riggs said.

This was the second straight season the Pirates started with a one-goal loss to ODU.

Parker had the assist on ECU’s lone goal by Peyton Godbey, a freshman.

“We have a young team and this is a great learning opportunity for us,” Hamilton said in a release about the defeat. “Games on the road are extremely tough and when you go into overtime, you have to think safe.”

ECU will host Virginia Military Institute on Sunday at 4:05 p.m., and then welcome Southeastern Conference member South Carolina to Johnson Stadium for an anticipated matchup Thursday at 7 p.m.

The Pirates, who started 1-3-1 in the spring but rallied late in the campaign during American Athletic Conference action, took fourth place in the AAC a season ago. ECU’s only other top-five finish in the league was in 2018 when it tied for fourth.

“I know that this is it, so I’m just excited, happy, sad, all of it,” Moore said.

Contact Ronnie Woodward at, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.

Hoops begins Nov. 9

East Carolina’s opening trio of basketball games will be against South Carolina State (Nov. 9), Canisius (Nov. 12) and Western Carolina (Nov. 14) before the Pirates begin play in the Myrtle Beach Invitational with a matchup against Oklahoma on Nov. 18.

There are no true road games on ECU’s nonconference schedule, which was released Thursday. The Pirates will play three games in the Myrtle Beach Invitational and also face Liberty on Dec. 17 in Charlotte. The final nonconference contest is then against Conference USA member Southern Miss in Minges Coliseum on Dec. 21.

Earlier home nonconference games are versus Coppin State, Old Dominion, Gardner-Webb and N.C. A&T in late November and early December.

New assistant coaches

ECU announced Viershanie Latham, who was previously at Lubbock Christian University, as an assistant coach in track and field, and that men’s golf coach Kevin Williams hired Mike Cato as an assistant coach for the Pirates.

Cato served as the golf operations manager and head pro at Bradford Creek Golf Course, implementing the first junior golf program at the course, and he was president of the Eastern North Carolina Junior Golf Association for 17 years (2000-17).

“He has an excellent background in Junior golf, is a really good player, teacher and has a tremendous feel for how the game is played,” Williams said in a release. “I have known Mike a long time and I’m excited about the impact he will have on our program.”

Latham was a collegiate standout in the triple jump at Texas Tech and later a volunteer coach there before going to Lubbock Christian to mentor the jumps.

“(ECU) student-athletes will be excited to learn from a proven coach and former athlete that was a four-time All-American and Big 12 champion,” head coach Curt Kraft said in a release.