04/24/08 — NCAA On Campus at Mount Olive

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NCAA On Campus at Mount Olive

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on April 24, 2008 3:42 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- A sleepy little town which houses an 82-year-old pickle factory might not be a "best-kept secret" any longer.

Especially its baseball team.

Currently ranked No. 1 in all three NCAA Division II polls, Mount Olive College is generating excitement on and off its 700-student campus. Not a day goes by when players aren't stopped by fellow students or teachers to discuss a game or an upcoming opponent.

"Being No. 1, the attention is good for us and Mount Olive," said senior first baseman Erik Lovett.

The nation will know about the Trojans soon.

A two-person crew from "NCAA On Campus" spent Wednesday interviewing the baseball team and other Mount Olive student-athletes for the monthly show which appears on ESPN. Producer Lee Nassau hatched the idea while browsing the team's individual statistics on the CoSIDA website, and noticed every player in the starting lineup was ranked in one or more categories.

Of course, the poll attention piqued Nassau's interest, too.

Mount Olive (46-5 overall) has been ranked No. 1 in eight of nine regular-season polls. The Trojans recently claimed their third consecutive Conference Carolinas tournament championship and eighth overall in the program's Division II era.

NCAA On Campus co-host Melissa Knowles said the perennial Division II powerhouse is worthy of recognition.

"These D-II and D-III schools don't get the same big-time recognition like big schools," said Knowles. "You don't get to hear about these smaller schools and there are great things happening at these schools. There are great student-athletes, terrific coaches and people should know about them.

"NCAA On Campus provides the perfect avenue for them to showcase their talents."

The show airs once a month on ESPN Classic and is rebroadcast on ESPNU at different times. Nassau produces the magazine-type show, while Knowles handles the introduction aspect and explains to the viewing audience where they are and why they're there.

Nassau and Knowles might visit more than one campus during a month since they have to coordinate their taping around athletes' schedules. Knowles said it's a great opportunity for her to relive her college days, even if it lasts just 24 hours.

"I go to these different campuses all across the country and it's just fun," said Knowles, a graduate of Southern Methodist. "I can't believe this is work for me. Every single person (we've interviewed) has been a genuine individual who enjoys something about the university or something about the people there, and they want to share it.

"I love hearing their stories."

The players certainly enjoyed talking about their season on camera. Each easily handled the interviews as if they were fielding routine ground balls or shagging flies in the outfield.

"To have something like this happen makes us feel important in a way ... recognized at least," said senior shortstop David Cooper. "To have everyone statistically ranked in some category is a big reason for us winning. We always have a (game) situation where someone has a job they have to do, and this year everyone has been doing their job for the team."

Both Cooper and Lovett agree that teamwork has been critical this season.

Unlike a year ago, the Trojans don't live and die by the home-run ball. With more speed in this year's lineup, they've pressured opposing defenses with the age-old game of "small ball."

Mount Olive has manufactured numerous runs with either sacrifice bunts or sacrifice flies.

"When you play small ball, you tend to be a little more efficient than waiting on somebody to hit the long ball," said Lovett, the school's career leader in home runs. "With small ball, the coaches get to coach a little bit more. We've got run scorers and run producers. As long as everyone knows their role and sticks to it ... don't try to do different things, we'll be all right."

Knowles watched from behind the camera as Nassau continued his interviews. She couldn't get over the camaraderie between the students, athletes and faculty members.

"You don't expect to find this kind of excitement in such a small town," said Knowles. "The students are nice and everyone seems approachable, always greeting you with a smile. It's a quaint town ... a 'best-kept secret.'"

Nassau remained on campus to get footage of the Trojans' non-conference doubleheader against in-state rival Chowan University. Mount Olive swept the twinbill 5-0 and 7-0.

The episode will air May 21 at 12:30 p.m. on ESPN Classic and will be rebroadcast on ESPNU. The air times have not been determined.