02/10/05 — MOC men's volleyball ready for first-ever season

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MOC men's volleyball ready for first-ever season

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on February 10, 2005 1:55 PM

MOUNT OLIVE - A healthy dose of patience, a strong heart and leadership from a roster full of freshmen and sophomores.

All those intangibles are needed -- in abundance -- as the Mount Olive College men's volleyball team begins its first year of varsity competition. The Trojans spent last season playing the club circuit and capped that campaign with a 6-0 record at the Duke University Tournament.

The real test starts now.

Mount Olive opened its season last weekend with a 3-0 loss at St. Francis (Pa.) University. The Trojans continue play Friday against national powerhouse Penn State, an annual fixture in the NCAA Men's Volleyball Championships; and Saturday against Rutgers University.

"It was a fit when we originally discussed it. We had some personnel changes, but our commitment remained to working toward establishing men's volleyball," said Mount Olive athletics director Dr. Mac Cassell. "We started up knowing it was going to be a club sport and there would be some growing pains. It's not a sport that's very popular in North Carolina in terms of numbers, but it's growing.

"We felt nationally there was a pool of untapped talent and volleyball in the U.S. is growing."

Mount Olive and Lees-McRae are the two North Carolina schools fielding teams in the Division II ranks. With little participation in the southeast, the men's collegiate programs are primarily in the northeast, midwest and west.

There are just 80 men's programs combined nationwide on the Division I, II and III levels. It's quite a contrast since there are nearly 300 women's programs among the same three divisions.

Trojans playing where?

One challenge has been finding a league to join.

Cassell met with Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (EIVA) officials last May. Several of the schools, said Cassell, were "very receptive" to the Trojans participating in their three-division conference.

However, the EIVA didn't commit to Mount Olive.

"They want to see how we do and we're supposed to meet with them again this May to discuss how things went this year," Cassell said. "But, they are impressed with what we're trying to do with our men's program."

The Trojans' schedule includes nearly half of the EIVA with home dates against George Mason (Va.) University and New Haven (Conn.) University. Mount Olive will play Lees-McRae three times.

Meet the players

Mount Olive's roster definitely has a south Florida flavor.

Five of the nine players hail from the Sunshine State and two -- Steve Perez and Julio Arnaiz -- played for the Trojans last season. The duo combined for 17 kills and nine blocks against St. Francis.

Joining their fellow Floridians are freshmen Kris Suarez and Jason Fernandez, and sophomore Alberto Napoles Jr. All five players starred at Southwest High in Miami.

Sophomores Michael Kren and Zach Wilson also return. Kren is a middle hitter from Wisconsin, while Wilson is a setter from Ohio. Rounding out the roster are Michael Tomlin, a libero from Virginia Beach, and 6-foot-4 middle hitter Nick Bartley from Jacksonville.

Bartley's brother, Chris, plays on the men's basketball team.

"It's been a learning experience with our boys, especially, because they've never been coached the way they're being coached now,"Cassell said. "It's a different approach than what most American coaches have had in terms of playing and coaching experience.

"All of them are very excited about where they're going. All of their jumps, approaches and techniques are 100 percent better than when they came here."

NCAA qualifying teams

Champions from the EIVA, Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) and Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA) receive automatic bids to the national semifinals. The fourth spot is filled by an at-large team.

Penn State has won 16 EIVA titles and has appeared in 19 final fours since the NCAA began sponsoring the sport in 1970. The Nittany Lions emerged the national champs in 1994 and finished runners-up to UCLA in 1995.

Long Beach State eliminated PSU in last year's national semifinals.