**Story by Kyle Heck/photo courtesy of South Carolina Athletics Media Relations**
Over the past two to three years, you couldn't get too far into a conversation with South Carolina track and field coach Curtis Frye without the topic of the new track coming up. After years of trying to put it all together, Frye and the Gamecocks were finally getting a brand new, state-of-the-art outdoor track.
Of course, it took years to build, and all during the process Frye found himself making the short walk past Carolina Softball Stadium to look at the progress.
The new Sheila and Morris Cregger Track officially opened in March, and while that was a monumental event, it doesn't compare to what will be going on this weekend.
For the first time since 2001, the University of South Carolina will host the SEC outdoor track and field championships. The fun gets underway on Thursday.
"We've been waiting for almost 17 years," Frye said. "It's been a while since we've had the SEC Championships here. I think we're going to have a great crowd."
Tickets for the event are nearly sold out, and fans will receive a chance to watch some of the best athletes in the world compete for championships. The Southeastern Conference is easily the best track and field conference in the nation, and athletes from the league regularly compete in the Olympics every four years.
The Gamecocks themselves will send an impressive group of athletes to compete on the home track. South Carolina has won the SEC outdoor track and field championships three times, the last coming in 2005.
This year, Frye said he wants the Gamecocks to be a top-15 team overall on both the men's and women's side by the end of the outdoor season. That's an incredible accomplishment, but it could also mean that South Carolina is No. 10 in the SEC because of how incredible the conference has become.
"We're probably a better national team than a conference team," Frye said.
The Gamecocks are coming off an impressive showing at the prestigious Penn Relays where several athletes were named champions. The women's 4x200m relay team took first, as did Rougui Sow in the women's long jump, Tye Williams in the men's high jump, Clarence Gallop in men's hammer throw, Armand Woodley in men's pole vault, Josh Awotunde in men's shot put and Yann Randrianasolo in men's long jump.
"Our kids are at an all-time high," Frye said. "We're going to give it our best shot."
Awotunde was extremely pleased with his performance at the Penn Relays. The event took place in Philadelphia, and the New Jersey native had friends and family come over to watch him.
Awotunde finished sixth in the discus and won the shot put event at Penn Relays. He had personal bests in both events, and like everyone else is extremely ready to put on a show in front of the home crowd at the SEC outdoor championships. He's expecting family and friends to again come down to watch him compete.
"I'm going to go out here and do it for the Gamecocks and put my best on the line," Awotunde said before SECs. "I only have one opportunity to host SECs at home."
All of the aforementioned South Carolina athletes have a chance to make some noise this weekend in Columbia. Looking at last year's performance at the same event, keep an eye on the women's 4x400m relay team. A group that includes Aliyah Abrams, Tyler Brockington and Precious Holmes placed second at the SEC outdoor track and field championships last season.
When Sheila and Morris Cregger Track was being designed, Frye and the track and field coaching staff had a lot of input. The head coach wanted to make sure that his athletes would have the very best, and that's exactly what they received.
"That was one thing we asked (Athletics Director) Ray Tanner is to not limit what our kids would have the opportunity to perform on," Frye said. "There's no limit to this track. It can't be better. It can be equal, but there are a lot of schools in the SEC that don't have this facility."
Awotunde, a junior, has seen the rise of the facility over the past few years. It will all culminate this weekend when the university hosts one of the biggest track and field events of the year.
"Everything is changing around our athletic facilities," Awotunde said. "I think that's going to really change the culture here for the next couple of years. It's cool to see South Carolina track and field on the walls and SEC logos in the middle of the field because that stuff wasn't here when I first got here. The school wants us to succeed, and I want to succeed for the school."
Being able to host the SEC outdoor track and field championships will bring a lot of exposure to not only the South Carolina track and field team, but the university in general. Many events will be nationally televised, and schools from all around the SEC will bring in some of the top athletes in the entire world.
"This is a market," Frye said of the University of South Carolina. "The more exposure our university gets and the more the story gets told about what a great place South Carolina is, that's what sports do."
Frye is the first to admit that his program has struggled in recent years without a top-notch facility. It's been years in the making, and now that the world-class track is a reality, the Gamecock track and field program is reaping the rewards.
"We are having the best recruiting class that we've had in probably 10 years," Frye said. "We had drifted a little bit because we didn't have a facility. The idea that if you build it they will come, that has come to fruition. We have some international kids that are interested in being here, so we're probably about two years ago from seeing the results from that."