03/14/08 — Experienced MOC feels confident

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Experienced MOC feels confident

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on March 14, 2008 2:56 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Mount Olive is hardly satisfied with its Conference Carolinas regular-season and tournament championships.

Oh, don't think that sweeping the awards didn't suit the Trojans.

It just boosted their appetite -- especially for another NCAA Division II East Regional title and trip to the Elite Eight in Springfield, Mass.

"We feel confident and this is something we've been waiting for so long," said Mount Olive senior Montel Jones. "Our coaches have prepared us very well and our trainer (Mike Ingle) has us in top shape. We're ready for this."

Second-seeded Mount Olive (24-6 overall) opposes seventh-seeded Pitt-Johnstown when the regional tips off Saturday at California (Pa.) University. Game time is 2:30 p.m.

In other first-round games, top-seeded CalPa faces eighth-seeded Queens University; fourth-seeded Alderson-Broaddus meets fifth-seeded Cheyney; and third-seeded Edinboro has a date with sixth-seeded Millersville.

The No. 23-ranked Trojans are making their fifth consecutive regional appearance, while UPJ is making its first. The Mountain Cats (22-7 overall) won the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference regular-season championship.

Conference Carolinas teams have won five straight East Regional titles and six of the last seven overall. Mount Olive advanced to the Elite Eight in 2005 and is 4-3 all-time in four regional trips.

"From a psychological standpoint, we're not newlyweds (to the regional)," said MOC head coach Bill Clingan. "We've been there and done it before, so this is something we don't need to be timid about. We know what to expect and the competition we're up against.

"This gives us confidence to go in and play our game, and not let the hype bother us."

But Mount Olive's confidence was nearly shattered toward the end of regular-season play. A shocking home loss to Limestone (S.C.) and a season-ending defeat at archrival Barton, the 2007 national champion, could have put the team in downward spiral.

The Trojans shook off pesky Coker (S.C.) College in the conference tournament quarterfinals and followed that up with a pleasing victory over Barton. They collected the program's first-ever automatic bid by defeating Queens in the title contest.

Clingan and Jones, the lone holdover from the 2005 Elite Eight team, each say the team worked as a cohesive unit during their championship run.

"We just stayed together ... acted like a family," said Jones.

The biggest key, however, is the Trojans' depth. Clingan can substitute any player on the court and know that the team's intensity level will not decrease. He normally calls upon nine to 11 players, who have each accepted their role and understand their duties once they step onto the court.

"We're very fortunate that we've been able to gather an additional second team that has been able to come on and perform well," said Clingan. "It takes a while to fit people into certain areas during the course of a season. Our depth has blossomed as the season has progressed.

"That makes us a much-more powerful team."

Mount Olive ranks among the national leaders in team and individual statistical categories. Brandon Streeter and Kendrick Easley, a pair of all-East Region selections, are the top two scorers. The Trojans also get solid point production from Jones, Justin Melton, Josh Brown, Shaughnnon Washum and Aaron Dobson.

So, opposing teams just can't guard one player and expect to slow down the Trojans' high-energy offense.

"If you come up against us, you have to be in shape because we have a deep bench and we're a running team," said Jones. "We're an up-tempo offense with quality players inside and outside."

Players who aren't quite satisfied ... yet.