Members of the East Carolina cross country team during practice.

East Carolina University’s men’s cross country team was awarded a top-15 regional ranking after its successful hosting of the Pirate Invitational in Greenville, North Carolina last weekend.

Departing from the Pirate Invitational with the regional ranking, a first place finisher and an overall second place finish for the men’s team, the Pirates look to roll into the American Athletic Conference Championship hot on Saturday.

ECU is looking to turn its season success into a tournament title and added confidence moving forward, according to sophomore Dean Abushouk.

“That race showed how good of shape we are (in) and that we can run with any team in the conference at the conference championship,” said Dean.

Senior Bakri Abushouk managed to finish atop the podium for the Pirates and overall in the race with a time of 24:00. Dean, Bakri’s younger brother, took home third place overall with a time of 24:34 and said the race was absolutely a confidence booster. According to Bakri, the two have managed to evade any kind of sibling rivalry when running together.

“This sport has been embedded in us for years from early high school. Dean and I are the closest siblings you’ll find,” Bakri said. “We have no rivalry or egos between each other. I want the absolute best for him. In fact I would be all the more comfortable if he finished right alongside me in races.”

The women's team also saw its fair share of success as senior Grace Sullivan finished in first place overall as she raced ahead for a finishing time of 20:37. Sullivan earned the AAC’s Female Athlete of the Week with her performance at the Pirate Invitational.

“It was a great honor to receive athlete of the week but our conference is so competitive that you never know what is going to happen,” Sullivan said.

The Pirates are hoping for all their recent success to vault them to a possible AAC championship as well. ECU will be running alongside conference foes such as Temple University, University of South Florida, University of Connecticut and the University of Houston.

The Pirates men's team, however, isn’t the only AAC Championship participant that holds a current regional ranking. There are seven other men’s teams in the AAC that hold a regional ranking in their respective regions. Those seven teams include The U.S. Naval Academy, Tulsa University, Wichita State University, University of Connecticut, University of Houston and Tulane University.

The team has a tough road ahead but the Pirates and head coach Josey Weaver remain undaunted with heads held high in anticipation of the upcoming stiff competition.

“We will have to run extremely well against this great competition (and) I personally would not want it any other way,” Weaver said.

Ranked or not, Dean said the team isn’t letting the numbers go their heads.

“It doesn't change anything. Being ranked doesn’t mean anything if you don’t go out and perform,” Dean said.

The Pirates are doing just that as they look to rely on what they already know, and have done, in order to carry them through this conference championship meet up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Weaver even took to Twitter to compliment how well the men’s and women’s teams performed at practice throughout the week, stating: “Men & Women killed it this morning”.

“I will say there is the excitement to race the conference meet,” Bakri said. “I am confident that my training will fall into place very soon. I do know that every race is different from another however.”

The race in Philadelphia should expect to see different weather from a race held in Greenville, as the athletes traveling can expect cooler conditions. Tough conference competition and unfamiliar weather will push the pirates to their limits in the AAC conference championship.

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