08/31/09 — Early opponents will test Trojans

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Early opponents will test Trojans

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on August 31, 2009 1:46 PM

Cole Tallman is convinced Mount Olive College will succeed on the women's college volleyball scene this season.

To survive, they must navigate a brutal and challenging non-conference schedule. The Trojans are off to a rough start after logging an 0-4 record in the Tusculum (Tenn.) College Classic, including a three-set loss to No. 28-ranked Northern Kentucky.

Mount Olive dropped to 4-3 in season-opening matches since 2003.

The Trojans competed with a depleted lineup due to illness and NCAA clearinghouse issues. Even Tallman missed the weekend trip due to sickness.

"We had players having to play out of their natural position," said Whitney Quinn, a junior defensive specialist. "We'll try to take as much from the weekend as possible, then forget about it as quickly as possible."

Three starters return -- middle blocker Racey Bartley, setter Joanie Werling and hitter Alicia Mote. Each player earned all-Southeast Region honors in 2008 and helped lead the Trojans to a runner-up finish in the Conference Carolinas tournament.

Tallman signed three freshmen from Wayne County -- Spring Creek grad Kristin Smith, and Wayne Country Day duo Bridgette Briggs and Brooke Norris -- in the offseason. Christiane Maul, a middle blocker from Germany, and Alexandra Simon, a defensive specialist from Winthrop (S.C.) University, also transferred into the program.

The incoming freshmen, who have shown potential in the preseason, are expected to make significant contributions this fall. Briggs will spend time at the opposite position behind Preece. Norris is battling for court time at setter and libero.

Also back are outside hitter Caitlin Skislak, middle blocker Kailey Preece, Destiny Ma'ave-Kuewa and Tiffany Hight.

"I like the combination we've got ... returning players have come back focused and worked hard in the preseason," said Tallman. "They've shown great leadership, and then we have a bunch of young people who are new to the team and they've been successful themselves (in high school).

"They've all worked hard and done a lot of preparation (for the season). It's been a joy and pleasure to come to practice every day."

Mount Olive continues its season-opening, eight-game road swing Tuesday at in-state rival Elizabeth City State University. The Trojans are 7-1 against Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association teams since 2003.

The Trojans visit Lees-McRae for a two-day tournament over Labor Day weekend, and open their home season Sept. 8 against Conference Carolinas rival Coker (S.C.) College.

"We face some tough teams right off the bat, and that's how you find out what you're good at doing and where you need to improve this early in the season," said Tallman.

Mount Olive has won 17 or more games in seven of the last eight seasons, including 19 a year ago. The Trojans won the regular-season conference championship in 2005, which was their last appearance in the NCAA Division II tournament.

Tallman wants to reach that pinnacle again.

"Our goal is to pursue some of that greatness that they've had here before," said Tallman. "We want to make the current players understand where we want to be each season. (If) they're more than willing to work hard to obtain success, it's not a question if it's going to happen.

"We have to believe it's just a matter of when it's going to happen."

Editor's note: MOC sports information director David Shulimson contributed to this story.