10/29/09 — MOC winter sports preview

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MOC winter sports preview

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on October 29, 2009 1:47 PM

Banners recognizing conference championships in numerous Mount Olive College sports hang throughout Kornegay Arena.

Something is missing, however.

And Carmilo Guerci hopes to change it.

The Trojan men's volleyball team finally gets to play for a conference title this season. MOC and Lees-McRae have established programs, and will be joined by Pfeiffer, Erskine and affiliate King (Tenn.) College.

"The idea of having a conference championship is nice because we are the only team at school that didn't have that extra postseason tournament," said Guerci, a senior from Miami. "We kind of just played to get our name out there and for pride. It's nice to have that championship at the end of the season and we're looking forward to it."

Ten players, including six seniors, return off last year's team which finished 11-10 with first-year head coach Cole Tallman. Guerci and his teammates will play more home matches inside Kornegay Arena this season, and will also travel to 2009 Final Four participant Ohio State.

Guerci's optimism filtered over to head coaches Chip Spiron (golf), Wendy Lee (women's basketball) and Joey Higginbotham (men's basketball). The three veteran coaches gushed as they offered sneak previews of their respective teams Wednesday afternoon during the school's annual winter sports luncheon.

Spiron's program received a boost less than two months ago when former PGA Tour pro Clarence Rose joined the staff. His knowledge and enthusiasm awakened both the men's and women's players, and all benefited during the fall.

The Trojan men are ranked No. 11 in the Division II Southeast Region poll after a sixth-place showing in the Southeast Region preview just one week ago. Spiron described the men's team as "old" as far as experience and said the women's team was "young," but has matured with each round of golf played.

Picked No. 2 in the preseason Conference Carolinas poll, the Trojan women's basketball team enters the year on the heels of back-to-back 20-win campaigns and appearances in the conference tournament championship game.

"I have a very optimistic outlook for this year's team," said Lee. "And at the same time with being excited, I'm a little bit anxious because we have a couple of question marks ... especially with two experienced players graduating.

"We've been perplexed ... concentrating on answering personnel questions."

Tomeka Prichard, the program's all-time leading scorer, and Brittney Robich graduated. Back is all-conference selection Jasmine Whitby, and underclassmen Shequanta McGee and Brittany Miller.

Physical forward Helen Moore, who missed half of last season with a knee injury, also returns.

Mount Olive plays its annual Green-White game today and opens its season at home Nov. 15 against Elizabeth City State.

Higginbotham welcomed two new assistant coaches in the offseason -- former Queens University standout Akeem Miskdeen and Eric Gabriel. Each coach has been embraced by a team eager to return to the NCAA tournament after having its string of five consecutive appearances snapped a year ago.

The Trojans emerged the Conference Carolinas regular-season co-champions, but endured an opening-round upset loss against Erskine (S.C.) in the conference tournament. The defeat dropped them to 10th in the final Division II regional poll and out of postseason contention.

"Unacceptable," said Trojan senior Kendrick Easley.

Easley has received preseason All-America recognition by two publications after earning the Conference Carolinas player-of-the-year award last season. The Norfolk, Va., native averaged 21-plus points a game and ranked nationally in several statistical categories.

Returning with Easley are all-conference picks Mike Holloman and Craig Hayes. Sophomore point guard Derek Staton is also back after helping the Trojans post 18 victories last winter.

"This preseason was one our best preseasons since I've been here as an assistant or as a head coach," said Higginbotham, an MOC alum. "Every kid in our program got stronger. Every kid got quicker."

Mount Olive opens the season Nov. 16 at Lenoir-Rhyne and returns home Nov. 20-21 for the 44th annual Pickle Classic. The four-team field includes former national champions Barton (2007) and Virginia Union (x), and in-state region foe Mars Hill.