11/16/04 — MOC volleyball beats the odds

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MOC volleyball beats the odds

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on November 16, 2004 1:57 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- All signs pointed to a disaster for the Mount Olive College volleyball team.

Junior outside hitter Heidi Busch sustained a severe ankle injury early in the week.

Doubt filled the players' heads as they realized their top offensive performer just might not participate in the season-ending conference tournament. Busch attempted to play the opening set, but frustratingly returned to the bench in disgust and pain. She came back to play defense on the back row in the final set.

However, Busch's front-line hitting and blocking was sorely missed. The second-seeded Trojans were dealt a shocking quarterfinal-round loss against a lower-seeded team which just happened to be its archrival, Barton College.

A sure NCAA Division II tournament bid hung in the balance. The seventh-seeded Bulldogs nearly ran the table, but come up short in the Carolinas-Virginia Athletics Conference championship against Lees-McRae.

Two major questions lingered: How would the Atlantic Regional selection committee view a tournament in which a lower-seeded team pulled off two upsets to reach the finals? What fate awaited Mount Olive?

"It was one of those things that surrealistic," Trojans middle hitter Colby Mangum said. "Our goal all year has been (winning) the conference tournament championship. We said so many times that we are not going down in the second round again. It's not going to happen.

"We did it in the first (round). It didn't seem real; like it could happen to us after all the hard work we've put in this year. We just knew that performance in the conference tournament had done us in. We were positive we had no shot."

Did they have a chance?

The team split up Sunday afternoon, with some players staying on campus. Mangum, Busch and an injured Chasity Oxendine headed to her parents' house in Wilmington. Later that evening, while watching a Division I match between Texas and Texas A&M, Mangum got the call. Finally, two of years disappointment ended when she heard the committee awarded the team an at-large bid to the 64-team field.

Mount Olive seized the No. 6 seed for next weekend's eight-team Atlantic Regional at Lock Haven (Pa.) University. The Trojans oppose third-seeded Indiana (Pa.) University in an opening-round match Thursday. It is the rematch of a contest won 3-0 by Indiana on Sept. 11 in the Capital City Classic.

Mangum busily dialed her teammates on her cell phone.

"It was pretty exciting, and we celebrated with some ice cream," Mangum said.

Lock Haven, the defending regional champion, drew the No. 1 seed and faces eighth-seeded North Carolina Central. Second-seeded California (Pa.) University battles seventh-seeded St. Andrews. Fourth-seeded Clarion (Pa.) University meets fifth-seeded Lees-McRae, the seven-time CVAC champion.

Second-round play continues Saturday with the title match scheduled for Sunday. The champion advances to the Elite Eight and plays the South Regional champion in the quarterfinals.

Snubbed two years ago after a 30-win campaign and haunted by a second-round CVAC tournament loss last season, the Trojans felt vindicated once the selections had been announced. The Trojans (24-12) have beaten three teams in the regional and played relatively close matches against California and Clarion.

"It took us three years to prove ourselves," Mangum said. "It was nice to finally have that recognized (by the committee)."

The Trojan volleyball team is the fifth sport in Mount Olive's athletics history to participate in the NCAA tournament. The baseball program became the first to advance to the postseason with its last trip occurring in 2001. Women's tennis participated in 2000, followed by men's cross country (2002) and men's basketball (2004).

The CVAC qualified a league-best three teams for the playoffs this season. Mount Olive, along with N.C. Central, are the third and fourth teams from the Tar Heel State to compete in regional play. Until this year, Lees-McRae and St. Augustine's shared that distinction.

Twenty-three conferences received automatic bids. Once those champions had been determined, eight selection committees across the country began breaking down recommendations to fill the remaining 41 at-large spots in their respective regions. They based their decisions on the strength-of-schedule components and won-lost component -- overall and in region play. If ties existed, the committee used six different criteria to determine the regional participants.

Anderson (S.C.) College coach Jennifer Bell and St. Andrews coach Bill Rude represented the CVAC on the six-member Atlantic Region committee. Queen Frazier of Virginia Union and Tonia Walker of Winston-Salem State spoke for the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association. Kutztown (Pa.) University's John Gump served as liaison for the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference.