11/16/04 — Trojans' freshmen step up

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Trojans' freshmen step up

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on November 16, 2004 1:56 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- One statistic not included in boxscore tells you everything you need to know about freshmen Candice Collins and Ashley Napoles. That statistic is versatility, a sometimes little noticed characteristic that can change a team's chemistry on the court.

Maybe it's not so significant that Collins' and Napoles' hustle, desire and determination doesn't appear in a boxscore after a Mount Olive College volleyball match. But those traits certainly factor into a match's outcome, especially when duo steps into a large role left by injured teammates.

In the regular-season finale against Barton, Collins stepped in and played middle blocker for Colby Mangum. Collins recorded five blocks, five kills and three service aces in a four-set win. When Heidi Busch sustained a severe ankle sprain in practice last week, Napoles took over the outside hitting duties and responded with a career-best 13 kills against Barton in the conference tournament.

The Trojans lost in four games, but Napoles proved she can handle adversity.

"Ashley is one of those players who never gets the recognition she deserves, but she does all the little things," Mangum said. "She picks up the tips, she gets the kill when you need it, the service ace when you need it. She doesn't put up big stats, but she does all the things that are so important to the team.

"Candice has been put into several roles this year where we've asked her to step up and she's always answered. She's never backed down to any of the challenges."

A challenge awaits Collins, Napoles and fellow freshman Sam Mitchell on Thursday. If Busch is unable to start, they'll need to bring their "A" game to the court against third-seeded Indiana (Pa.) University in the 2004 NCAA Division II Atlantic Regional. Busch's status remains day-to-day, according to Trojans athletics trainer Crystal Langston. The junior outside hitter is wearing a boot to help reduce the swelling of a high left-ankle sprain.

The Trojans (24-12) have just three practices to prepare for Busch's possible absence.

Mitchell has the second-highest kill total (406) behind Busch's team-best 685 and leads the Trojan defense with 400 digs. Napoles is third on the team in digs (314) and fifth overall in kills with 101. Collins is fifth on the team in blocks (31) to go along with 39 kills and 32 digs. She's only played in 54 games -- an equivalent of 18 matches.

"They don't have attitudes like freshmen," Colby said of the trio.

And opponents can't overlook Anna Luft. The sophomore middle hitter, who is a strong complement to Busch, has collected 388 kills, 113 blocks and 70 service aces in 34 outings.

When Mount Olive's passing game clicks, it's been hard to stop. Junior setter Sara Christie runs the offense well and averages 11.08 assists per game. The Illinois native has 1,341 assists for the season in addition to 77 kills, 40 aces, 257 digs and 26 blocks.

"We have a really strong core of players and some of us have been together for three years," Mangum said. "You can tell when we play together that we know each other's moves. We've got good leadership on our team. We're sound mechanically and technically. When we get on roll, we've got four outstanding hitters.

"When that happens, there are not a lot of teams who can deal with us."

Mount Olive has recorded 60 or more kills -- as a team -- in 14 matches this season. The Trojans have fashioned a 10-4 record in those matches and will need that kind of production to advance in the regional. They have beaten three regional-qualifying teams and played relatively close matches against California, Clarion and Indiana.

However, defense is crucial for the Trojans.

Sophomore libero Nikki Murphy has replaced senior Chasity Oxendine, who sustained a season-ending stress fracture in early October. Oxendine's injury affected the team chemistry, but once Murphy gained confidence at middle back, she became a strong element in the team's success.

Murphy has 239 digs and is one of seven Trojans averaging two or more digs per game.

"Nikki is playing Division I defense. When we practice, you can't get a ball by her," Mangum said. "She will at least get a touch on it. During the games, she sits down next to Chasity and asks questions. Chasity has accepted the coaching role. Losing Chasity left a hole in our defense, but between Nikki, Aileen (Torres) and Ashley, they've filled it incredibly."

Mount Olive supporters really didn't see the team play its best at home, except a 3-0 sweep against conference rival Lees-McRae. In most of the matches, the Trojans slacked off in either the second or third set.

Mangum says that kind of play will be inexcusable this weekend. The Trojans need to play relentless -- show a killer instinct and not let the other team develop any kind of rhythm.

Indiana defeated the Trojans 3-0 on Sept. 11 at the Capital City Classic in West Virginia. Mangum and her teammates know they'll see a good team, one with considerable playoff experience and solid players.

"When we played them, we competed with them, but we didn't play our best game," Mangum said. "If we play our best game we're getting out of the first round, and we'll see who we see in the second round.

"I feel really confident about our first round. That's definitely a win we can get. We might as well go up there and give it everything we've got."