04/03/05 — Elite Eight loss leaves MOC hungry

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Elite Eight loss leaves MOC hungry

By Neil Fuller
Published in Sports on April 3, 2005 10:01 AM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Under pressure.

The Mount Olive College basketball team, fresh off its first-ever trip to the NCAA Division II Elite Eight, wouldn't have it any other way.

If only the Trojans could find the time to relax and enjoy their success. Not a chance of that happening, however.

This team has unfinished business to attend to come next season.

"By the time the plane landed in Raleigh (from Grand Forks, N.D., home of the 2005 Elite Eight), I was already preparing for next season," Mount Olive coach Bill Clingan said. "I had written several notes on scheduling plane flights for recruiting visits, home visits with local players and my thoughts on next year's schedule. Then, there are all the calls and e-mails to return.

"My mind has been in a blur."

Posting the best record (29-5) in program history, claiming a share of the Carolinas-Virginia Athletics Conference regular-season title and advancing into the Division II regionals for a second straight season -- and eventually, the aforementioned Elite Eight, where the Trojans fell 84-69 to Bryant University in the bracket's first contest -- just wasn't enough.

Indeed, the bar has been set high for future Mount Olive teams.

"The bar has most definitely been raised," Clingan said. "But our players must realize -- from an individual and team standpoint -- that we cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we were."

The early disappointment in North Dakota has left the Trojans hungry.

Hungry yet confident.

"The team and the coaching staff are very confident in returning to the Elite Eight," sophomore guard Elton Coffield said. "We have the core of our team coming back. As far as the future, (the Elite Eight berth) should make it easier to attract recruits."

Coffield, who averaged a team-high 17.6 points per game and shot 51.6 percent from the floor in earning All-Region honors as Mount Olive's sixth man, will be at the heart of next season's great expectations.

In fact, the Trojans suffer the loss of only one starter, although it is literally a big loss -- 6-foot-8, 205-pound center Sharome Holloway.

Coffield, also the East Regional MVP, will return alongside fellow sharpshooters Melvin Creddle, Maurice Horton, Elijah Rouse and Victor Young. Even 6-foot-5, 225-pound forward Chris Bartley shot 46.5 percent from 3-point range.

The amount of returning firepower serves as a frightening prospect for opposing CVAC teams. Mount Olive shot 49.8 percent from the floor as a team and averaged 85.4 points per game in 2004-05.

"When I first signed with Mount Olive, I was more worried about where I would fit in with the program," said Coffield, a former Williamston High School standout. "But this was a dream season. A dream come true."

Clingan sees Coffield playing an expanded role next season.

"Elton works extremely hard to improve his game in practice and on his own time," Clingan said. "He is a team player and recognizes his success is an overall team effort. We have very high expectations for Elton and are looking forward to another pivotal year from him."

Mount Olive fans can expect to see Coffield start more than a mere two games next season. But even if his role should dictate coming off the bench once again, it's unlikely to create any fuss along the College Hall sidelines.

The Trojans' team-first attitude may supply Clingan with more optimism for next season than any other factor.

"Hopefully, the fit will be even better next year," he said. "The team totally understood the variables that came into play for an outstanding year such as chemistry, discipline, dedication, positive thinking and fate.

"I had a great group of young men this past year, and that is how I truly define success."

And what a success the season was.

Notes: Mount Olive loses seniors Mark Bitzenhofer and Plinio Broering in addition to Holloway. ... Three of Mount Olive's five loses were to CVAC rival Pfeiffer University. ... Mount Olive lost Horton, its starting point guard, to injury for a four-game stretch late in the season. Coffield credited the injury with bringing the team closer together. "I think that was the turning point in our season," Coffield said. "It brought the team closer together, because everybody had to step their game up and trust each other even more." ... Bryant lost to Virginia Union 63-58 in the Elite Eight championship game.