11/16/05 — Mount Olive spikers looking for first-ever NCAA win

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Mount Olive spikers looking for first-ever NCAA win

Published in Sports on November 16, 2005 1:57 PM

Last year, the Mount Olive volleyball team lost in the first round of the Atlantic Regional in its first-ever NCAA II tournament appearance. Another Trojan team that lost in the first round of its initial NCAA tournament appearance was the men's basketball team, which reached the Elite Eight the following year.

The Trojan volleyball squad hopes history can repeat for them.

No. 6 seed Mount Olive takes on No. 3 Edinboro (Pa.) Thursday in the first round of the Atlantic Regional in the 2005 NCAA Division II Women's Volleyball Championship at Lock Haven, Pa. Match time is noon. Lock Haven University is the host school for the regional.

Mount Olive (28-7) won the Carolinas-Virginia Athletics Conference regular season championship and reached the final of the CVAC Tournament, falling Sunday to eight-time champion Lees-McRae. The loss snapped a 13-match winning streak.

The Trojans are led by two-time All-American and four-time All-CVAC First Team selection Heidi Busch, who enters the regional ranked fifth on the NCAA II all-time career kills list with 2,442 kills. The 5-11 senior outside hitter needs 24 kills to move into fourth place.

Senior Sara Christie is also making her assault on the NCAA records book. The 5-7 setter ranks 14th in NCAA II with 5,956 assists. Christie is 44 assists away from becoming only the 13th player in NCAA II history to reach the career 6,000-assist mark.

Middle blocker Colby Mangum is on pace for her third consecutive top 10 statistical national ranking. Mangum, a 6-0 senior, ranked in the top 10 in blocks per game in each of the previous two seasons and enters the Atlantic Regional ranked No. 8 in the nation with a .412 hitting percentage.

Right side hitter Anna Luft earned All-CVAC First Team honors for the second consecutive year. Luft, a 5-10 junior, ranks among the conference leaders in hitting percentage. Luft was named to the All-Tournament Team at the CVAC Tournament.

Sam Mitchell, a 5-8 sophomore outside hitter, was also an All-CVAC First Team selection, giving the Trojans three hitters on the first team. Mitchell, who recorded a match-high 20 kills in the Trojans' CVAC Tournament win over Converse, joined Luft on the All-Tournament Team.

Libero Nikki Murphy has a 34-dig and 28-dig performance this season. A 5-5 junior, Murphy has averaged four digs per game over the last 14 matches.

Freshmen Kari Ham and Mallory Peavler have split time in the lineup during the season. Ham, a 5-8 outside hitter, has played the front row rotations, while Peavler, a 5-4 defensive specialist, has played the back row rotations. Peavler is fourth on the team in aces. Freshman outside hitter Tracey Smith has also seen playing time.

This week's regional marks two return trips in one for Mount Olive. Along with visiting Lock Haven last year for the 2004 Atlantic Regional, the Trojans competed in the Lock Haven University Classic in October.

Mount Olive posted a 2-2 record at the LHU Classic, winning its final two matches to begin its 13-match winning streak. The Trojans opened the tournament with a four-game loss to Edinboro 33-31, 28-30, 30-16, 30-27, playing most of game three without Christie, who re-aggravated her knee during the game.

Second-year head coach Sasha Gutor says the outcome could have been different if Christie didn't have to sit out part of the match.

"We played a close match with Edinboro during the regular season and it could have been a different story if we had Sara for the entire match," said Gutor. "I feel we can compete. We just need to be able to respond to adversity."

Edinboro (25-15) is led by outside hitters Alicia Knouff and Jenna Newman, who are both averaging more than 3.20 kills per game and a .320 hitting percentage. The Fighting Scots have won 18 of their last 21 matches.

Mount Olive's match is the first of four first-round matches Thursday. Other match-ups feature top-seeded Lock Haven vs. No. 8 seed North Carolina Central, No. 2 California (Pa.) vs. No. 7 Lees-McRae and No. 4 Slippery Rock vs. No. 5 Indiana (Pa.). California defeated Lock Haven in the championship match of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Tournament.

The semifinals are scheduled for Friday with the championship slated for Saturday.

In addition to Edinboro, Mount Olive has faced Lock Haven and California this season, and played Indiana in the first round of last year's regional.

Murphy says that having last year's post-season appearance under their belt, as well as playing in Lock Haven's tournament this season, should help the Trojans feel more comfortable going into this year's regional.

"Last year's experience helps," said Murphy, one of six Trojans who competed in last year's regional. "We know what to expect this time around. It takes all the jitters out because we've been there before."

Murphy says another key for the team is to simply forget they're competing in an NCAA Tournament.

"We just need to play together and play as a team," said Murphy. "We need to treat this as any other match."