FEATURE: Mercer helps Elon earn first-ever NCAA Tournament bid
By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on March 16, 2017 10:30 AM
ELON -- Lexi Mercer lived just every dream imaginable during her high school career.
One fantasy remained.
The Elon University freshman and her teammates -- for the first time in school history -- step onto the big stage Friday afternoon. The record-setting Phoenix face sixth-seeded West Virginia in opening-round play of the NCAA Division I women's basketball tournament at College Park, Md.
Tip-off is 2:30 p.m. on ESPN2.
"This is something we've all dreamed about since we were kids and to be able to finally make our dreams actually come true is an incredible feeling," Mercer said. "I think that this is an experience that all of us will remember for the rest of our lives.
"But we're not there to participate, we want to win. At the end of the day, we have a job to do. We're going to go compete and see where this journey takes over."
It's been an unforgettable and amazing flight for the Phoenix.
Led by three 1,000-point scorers in its starting lineup, Elon (27-6 overall) claimed the "double" -- the Colonial Athletic Association regular-season and tournament title for the first time in school history.
The Phoenix, seeded 11th in the Bridgeport Region, played a challenging non-conference schedule devised by head coach Charlotte Smith -- who hit the game-winning shot to give North Carolina the national title in 1994. Three of Elon's opponents qualified for the NCAA Tournament -- Duke, Green Bay (Horizon champ) and Bucknell (Patriot League champ).
Elon's worksheet ranked 21st in the RPI.
Mercer said the docket reflected Smith's tenacious personality and work ethic.
"Coach Smith is just relentless, an all-around competitor and pushes us to our highest potential every day at practice," she said. "There's never really room to not grow when you're around her whether it's either mentally or physically because she pushes you to be an all-around great player.
"We definitely get pushed every day practice."
The all-time leading scorer in Rosewood history, Mercer has appeared in 15 games this season. She averages 6.8 minutes and is shooting 30 percent from the floor.
Admittedly, it's a different role for the former three-time all-state prep athlete. Her goal during practice and games is to provide energy whether it's either on the bench, on the court or during practice.
"I try my hardest to push players to reach their highest potential," Mercer said.
Expect Big 12 champ West Virginia to provide a strong test.
The No. 22-ranked Mountaineers (23-10) are led by three double-digit scorers -- sophomore guard Tynice Martin (18.6 points), forward Teana Muldrow (14.7 points, 8.6 rebounds) and Lanay Montgomery (10.7 points).
Meanwhile, Elon ranks 15th nationally in field-goal percentage defense (35.3 percent), 26th in rebounds per game (42.06) and 25th in rebounding margin (6.8 per game).
The Phoenix held three-time CAA champ James Madison to 22.8 percent shooting from the field last weekend's championship game.
"We can't be complacent, we have to go in ready to compete," Mercer said. "There's no pressure on us because no one really expects us to win, but with us knowing that it's just going to motivate us to go in and play at a higher level.
"Coach Smith, she's had all the experiences that we've wanted to achieve. She knows what it takes to get where we want to get. She knows exactly what to do to push us to get there."
The stage doors are open.
Other Local Sports
- UMO -- Weekend digest
- SOFTBALL -- So. Wayne @ C.B. Aycock
- DIGEST -- Weekend
- BOX -- So. Wayne SB @ C.B. Aycock
- BOX -- So. Wayne @ C.B. Aycock
- BOX -- S. Creek @ Hobbton
- BOX -- New Bern @ E. Wayne
- BASEBALL -- So. Wayne @ C.B. Aycock
- BASEBALL -- NB @ E. Wayne
- BASEBALL: Gators heartily feast on Cougars' offerings