04/28/04 — Kirkland chooses MOC

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Kirkland chooses MOC

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on April 28, 2004 2:06 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Barton or Mount Olive?

At first, the choice seemed logical when Alexxis Kirkland received a Presidential Scholarship to attend Barton College. But when she walked into the volleyball tryouts and felt like a fish out of water, Kirkland began pursuing other avenues.

Next stop, Mount Olive.

Kirkland participated in a three-hour workout and then met with athletics director Dr. Alan "Mac" Cassell and new women's coach Oleksandr "Sasha" Gutor. Kirkland emerged from the short conference brimming with confidence.

"Dr. Cassell said that I should really get to know Mount Olive College well," a grinning Kirkland said. "I was thinking, 'I'm in.' I was so excited."

Monday afternoon, Kirkland made her collegiate intentions official. The Charles B. Aycock senior signed a national letter-of-intent to play for the Trojans next fall.

The Barton visit didn't sit well with Kirkland, the 2003 News-Argus volleyball player of the year. Nearly 40 players attended a tryout and head coach Wendee Saintsing had very little one-on-one involvement with the players.

Eager to play on a collegiate team, Kirkland kept open her options. When a tryout opportunity arose at Mount Olive, she took the short trip down and immediately knew she was in the right place.

"I really like the way the new coach did things," Kirkland said. "He only had two girls there, at that time, and he got a chance to watch both of us. We worked out with part of the team and they were really nice.

"I think I did better and I wasn't as nervous like I was at Barton. The girls helped you out and told you what to do."

Gutor conducted numerous drills to check the two players' skill level. He liked the fact that Kirkland can hit with either her left or right hand. He also told her that he'd like to see a little more power and extension on her approach to the net for a kill attempt.

Kirkland worked out at outside hitter and did some blocking. She admitted her serving needs a little work, as well as her backline play.

"It was really intense for me compared to high school," Kirkland said. "I've got a lot of work ahead of me."

Kirkland played three seasons at C.B. Aycock, but spent most her sophomore year learning from Paige Howell and Stefanie Warner. Kirkland stepped into a starting role her junior year and began to show some leadership qualities.

Her confidence level grew last fall as Kirkland guided the Golden Falcons to a perfect finish in Class 3-A Eastern Carolina Conference play. They claimed their second ECC championship in the last three years and reached the second round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs.

Kirkland turned in a career-best 31-kill effort against Clayton in the opening round, but lost in the quarterfinals against Harnett Central. She ended her career with 836 kills and 228 blocks. Aycock was 55-21 overall during that stretch.

Golden Falcons coach Davis Harris regarded Kirkland as "untapped potential," and knows she'll succeed on the next level.

Mount Olive has stepped to the forefront on the regional scene the past two seasons, and narrowly missed earning a trip to the NCAA Division II tournament in 2002. The Trojans have won 57 matches and finished second twice in Carolinas-Virginia Athletic Conference regular-season play.

"I just really like Mount Olive," said Kirkland, who plans to major in biology. "I didn't want to be at a big college. I wanted to be able to find my way around."

She certainly won't forget the path from Aycock to Mount Olive, nor the route from her dorm room to work out at College Hall.