01/30/11 — Mount Olive College spring teams ready for season openers

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Mount Olive College spring teams ready for season openers

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on January 30, 2011 1:51 AM

Past success and two preseason All-American selections has put early pressure on the Mount Olive College baseball team.

The Trojans, who reached the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional last season, are picked to defend their regular-season Conference Carolinas title.

No. 1?


Just four every-day starters return for Mount Olive, which logged a 41-11 worksheet last season after a remarkable 25-0 start. And two returners -- Carter Capps and Mike Knox -- are expected to keep the perennial powerhouse among the nation's elite this spring.

Capps is the preseason Division II Pitcher of the Year by Baseball America, while Knox was named preseason first-team All-American. Capps finished 10-0 and compiled a 3.06 ERA, but earned some extra attention in the wooden-bat Coastal Plain League.

The right-hander threw a 96-mph fastball in the All-Star Game.

"That has changed his entire life as well as the Mount Olive College program," said MOC head coach Carl Lancaster, who has 800 career wins.

Knox clubbed a single-season, school-record 24 home runs last year and drove in a program-best 94 runs.

"These boys have got an extreme amount of pressure on them in terms of being able to meet their expectations," said Lancaster. "If they do, we're going to be pretty good."

MOC is ranked No. 4 by Baseball America and No. 7 by Collegiate Baseball in the preseason. The Trojans open the season with a seven-game road swing that starts Feb. 5 at Lenoir-Rhyne. They'll play former Division II national champions Tampa (2007) and Lynn University (2009) during a two-day tournament in Lander, S.C.

Their home opener is Sept. 16 against Shaw.

The running joke around the Higginbotham household these days is how many players can either Joey lose in men's basketball or Jaime lose in softball to injuries?

So far, it's probably a tie.

Despite losing three players, including two to career-ending injuries, the Mount Olive College softball team is picked fourth in the preseason Conference Carolinas' coaches poll. The Trojans finished fifth last season and lost just one true starter, infielder Allison Czerski, to graduation.

Queens University-Charlotte is projected to claim its third consecutive conference championship, while Limestone (S.C.) was selected second. The teams combined for nine of 10 first-place votes, while Erskine received one first-place nod.

Picked behind the Trojans were Coker, Pfeiffer, Belmont Abbey, Lees-McRae, Barton and St. Andrews.

"We're looking really strong so far, having some quality practices, minus the weather and what we can do with it," said Higginbotham during the annual spring sports luncheon. "I think (fourth in the poll) is very respectable."

Higginbotham expects the junior-laden team to continue with the leadership its shown during fall and spring practices. However, the eighth-year head coach is most proud of her team's academic success since 15 players earned a spot on the Conference Carolinas Presidential Honor Roll.

MOC alum Kevin Coghill took over the men's and women's tennis programs from Dr. Burt Lewis, who resigned last spring. Coghill played for Lewis and hopes to take two experienced programs to new heights in conference play.

The Trojan women have five returners, including Brazil native Camila Kurebayashi. The Trojan men have seven returners, including Thiago Dualiby, a junior who also hails from Brazil.

"I'm looking for them to just give their all (each point and match)," said Coghill. "The guys finished third last year and we'd like to improve that. The girls finished sixth and we're looking to definitely improve on that."

Track and field head coach Matt van Lierop brought 34 new faces into the program during the offseason. The additional numbers should improve the Trojans' depth and lead to more points during meets this season.

Returnees David Wilson and Denise Harrison hope to lead their respective teams to success this season. Harrison was a three-time Conference Carolinas player-of-the-week last year as a freshman.