COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - South Carolina head track and field coach Curtis Frye remembered vividly the old track on which his athletes used to run.
While it wasn't an exemplary facility, Frye and his athletes made the most of their home over the years.
"In high school in the state of South Carolina, we were not in a high rating in high school facilities," said Frye. "We won a lot of championships on less than adequate, not because of the facilities, but in spite of."
That all changed in November when South Carolina's new track facility – the Sheila and Morris Cregger Track – finally opened.
"I was full," Frye recalled thinking back to seeing his athletes practice for the first time at their new facility. "Every day, I'd come to watch them build it. The day that our kids got out and got a chance, because they've been wanting to sneak out for months but I had guards around it, it was like a new toy for them and it was a great expression for me to see them enjoy after waiting."
Senior sprinter Ryan Bermudez said it felt surreal being at the facility for the first time and it's something he'll never forget.
"It wasn't even finished when we were allowed to practice here the first time," Bermudez said. "And it still felt like we were at a track meet ready to compete. That's how much adrenaline was going through me."
Frye said the $10 million facility has a solid rubber track surface called Mondo, which he said is the best in the world.
"There's no one better," Frye said. "There might be one equal and the one that's equal is in Rio. It's the same track that they run, the same width of the curve. It's a 130-degree radius. It's the same texture. It's the newest model of the Mondo. It's the X7 brand and it's going to be a few years before they change that. So, there will be schools that will upgrade, but they won't get better."
The upgrade to their track facility not only helps the athletes perform better, but it helps the Gamecocks as far as recruiting goes as well. However, the new facility won't just be home for current and future athletes.
"To open to athletes like the Barber twins and people whose shoulders the track was built on, of course, this is their home. Always," Frye said. "Natasha Hastings, this is her home. She can train here forever. Johnny Dutch, they can just come up and say, 'Coach, I want to do a workout today.' That works for them."
Sheila and Morris Cregger Track will also be home to this year's SEC Outdoor Track and Field Championships, which takes place May 11-13. It will be the first time the Gamecocks have hosted the event since 2002. According to Frye, it should be historic.
"In the SEC, it's going to be something that's incredible," Frye said. "There's over 20 Olympians in the SEC that ran in Rio last year. So, the records get set here for the SEC and there will be records set for this facility that I don't know can get broken in the next 15 years before the SEC comes back."
The weekend, according to Frye, is one that teams across the conference are looking forward to. The Gamecocks are also looking forward to having the biggest meet of the season.
"I'm very excited," said Bermudez, "but more so than that, I'm definitely excited to show off our athletes in front of the SEC. It's one thing to have confidence here. It's another thing to perform well in front of your home fans, in front of your alumni. We're going to have a lot of people here supporting us so we definitely want to do well and make them proud."