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AN EAGLE MAKES A SPLASH

Swimmer Eyan Eagle aims to follow his parents' paths at ECU


By Crystal Baity
ECU News Services


Eyan Eagle will join East Carolina’s swimming and diving teams this fall under longtime coach Rick Kobe, working to duplicate the success of the athletes Kobe has coached during three decades at ECU.

But Eagle is a little different. He’s following both of his parents who swam and dove for Kobe in the 1980s.

Scott ’86, ’92 and Lisa Sink Eagle ’93 were in the Pirate dive and swim program when Kobe was starting his ECU career. They were part of Kobe’s first of many winning seasons. The veteran coach recently celebrated 500 career victories, becoming the winningest coach in ECU athletics history.

It’s unusual but not unprecedented to have the child of a former swimmer join the program, Kobe says. “I was fortunate to start this job when I was young,” he says. “It’s neat that he comes from a Pirate family. Scott was a top diver and Lisa was one of our top distance swimmers. They were both a big part of starting what we’ve built here.”

And after more than a 25-year hiatus, Lisa returned to the water in 2010. Since then, she has won multiple events in her age group at state and national competitions.

Familiar surroundings

ECU’s pool has changed very little since Lisa and Scott Eagle met there as students in 1982. He was the state champion at R.J. Reynolds High School in Winston-Salem before coming to ECU in 1981 on an art scholarship. Originally from Roanoke, Va., she came a year later.

It was actually her mother who pointed to a photo of Scott Eagle in an ECU guidebook before she left for college. “She said ‘he would be a good one for you,’ ” Lisa Eagle says. “After I got here, I looked over at the diving board and said ‘who is that?’ It was sort of destiny.”

Scott Eagle held the ECU varsity record on the 1-meter springboard from 1983-2003 and the varsity record on the 3-meter board from 1983-2005. An accomplished artist, he is director of graduate studies and assistant director of the School of Art and Design at ECU.

“I’ve had hundreds and hundreds of kids, and Scott was very, very talented,” Kobe says. “He was an outstanding diver for us.”
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Scott Eagle, left, and Lisa Sink


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Both majored in art, and the demands of being a student-athlete would show up periodically.

“He could sleep sitting up,” Lisa Eagle says. “For me, it was hard to get to sleep on time to get up at 5 a.m. to swim. Nobody else is on the same schedule as a swimmer.”

Now an assistant food and beverage manager at Cypress Glen, Eagle swam her freshman year before a shoulder injury forced her departure. Her goal now is to be ranked in the top 10 in the nation in her age group. She gets up at 4:20 a.m. for ECA masters practice at 5 a.m. three days a week. The group also practices on Sunday afternoons.

“Lisa competes in some of the most grueling and time-consuming events at masters competitions, like the mile, 1,000 freestyle and 500 free—in the same weekend of competition,” says ECA coach Casey Charles, who initiated the masters program for the local club. “No one swims more competition yardage than Lisa.”

This year and in 2013, she placed first overall and scored the most points in the women’s 45-49 age group at the Dixie Zone and North Carolina Short Course Championship. Also in 2013, she placed 10th in the nation in the 3,000-yard freestyle at the Postal National Championship.

In 2011 and 2012, she ranked first in North Carolina in the 400 and 1,500 freestyle and 100-meter breaststroke.

A potential record-setter

One of six recruits who signed at ECU in November, Greenville J.H. Rose product Eyan Eagle is one of the top six swimmers in the state, according to collegeswimming.com.

“Our incoming class of 2014-15 is one of the most talented groups ever,” Kobe says. “Each one of our incoming freshmen will have the potential to make a big impact on our team. Eyan has the ability to be one of our top swimmers and we look forward to watching his progress as a Pirate.”

Eagle, who swims year round with East Carolina Aquatics, set a Minges Natatorium record in the 200 freestyle with a time of 1:38.74 in December. He also is an ECA team record holder in the 200, 400 and 800 freestyle relays. ECA trains at Minges.

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Scott, Eyan and Lisa Eagle pose for a photo at Minges Natatorium.

Charles has coached Eagle since he was 14. “If I ask him to do something for the team, he doesn’t whine, he doesn’t complain, he just does it,” Charles says. “The moment I met Eyan, I liked him. He is hard-headed, opinionated and a competitor. He reminds me of myself at that age.”

Charles says Eagle will challenge the 50, 100 and 200 freestyle records at ECU. “He has the chance to be the greatest freestyler to ever attend ECU,” says Charles, who swam for ECU and Kobe from 1999 to 2003.

“He’s the team’s fastest kicker when he wants to be,” Charles says. “He can put his mind to something, not look back and succeed.”

Kobe expects Eagle to make an immediate impact particularly in freestyle relays, on a program that regularly sends swimmers to the NCAA championships.

Lisa Eagle was surprised her son made only one recruiting trip, to ECU. “He had many other schools interested, but apparently he had already made up his mind,” she says. “It’ll be nice to be able to walk up the street to see some of the meets after traveling all these years—and I’ve already got a purple and gold wardrobe.”

He has been swimming competitively since he was 7. He trains upward of 13 hours in the pool each week and likes to surf and fish when he gets the chance. “Summers are double practice, up to 24 hours each week,” he says. “After big meets, we get to take a day off or play water polo.”

In March, he swam in Charlotte against Olympic gold medalists Cullen Jones and Ryan Lochte and 2012 NCAA champ Dax Hill in the Speedo Champions Series.

“They were really relaxed and willing to talk and share experiences,” Eagle says about meeting the trio. “It really was amazing that I got that opportunity. It helps give true perspective as to how hard you have to work to get to the level they are at.”

Despite his dedication, he considered quitting before high school but renewed his commitment. “I trained harder; the coaches helped out,” he says. “You have to have a good mindset. If you go in thinking you can’t do it, you won’t. Discipline is important. If you don’t try, you won’t get anywhere.”

Kobe expects Eagle to improve with hard work and focus. “This is a different level now but he has an opportunity,” Kobe says. “Everyone’s got potential. It’s only a word without 100 percent commitment. Our goal is to always get kids to reach their full potential. But they have to reciprocate it.”

Kobe’s teams leave trophies in their wakes

It’s hard to argue with a coaching philosophy that has yielded more than 500 career victories. That’s the mark that ECU swim coach Rick Kobe notched this spring to become the winningest coach in Pirate athletics history.

“Every year I say, ‘This was the best year we’ve ever had,’” Kobe says.
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“Every single year I say that. And this was the best year we’ve ever had. And next year we will be even better.”

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Kobe is the sixth swim coach at the NCAA Division 1 level to surpass 500 career victories. He ranks second nationally among active college coaches. ECU has had only three swim coaches in the program’s 61-year history: Ray Martinez from 1953-66, Ray Scharf from 1967-82, and Kobe for the past 32 years. He was an assistant for two years under Scharf, so Kobe has been at ECU for a total of 34 years.

He has piles of plaques and trophies, but the two displayed most prominently in his office are recognitions the women’s team earned the last two years running as Academic All-Americans.

“We put equal amounts of pressure on our athletes,” Kobe says. “Typically, every single semester our programs are recognized as academic All-American teams, every semester. Last spring semester our girls were the No. 1 team in the country.”

ECU swimmers and divers often qualify for the NCAA championships. This year, for the first time, the team sent men and women competitors to the nationals. Kobe says the team’s continuing success is a testament to the dedication of his student-athletes.

ECU has competed in three different conferences during Kobe’s long tenure, and he has won at least one championship in each.

“I have had 12 of my former assistant coaches leave to become head coaches of their own programs,” Kobe says. “So we have a pretty good tree out there across the country of ECU folks running swimming and diving programs.”

One of those is McGee Moody, the head swim and dive coach at the University of South Carolina.

Kobe is a successful coach because “he connects with his athletes early on and lets you know that you are part of a family,” says Moody.

—Steve Tuttle

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