NEWS, NOTES &
The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, August 31,
By Bethany Bradsher
Early gauntlet offers stiff
test for volleyball
(ECU SID images)
All rights reserved.
To be sure,
the East Carolina volleyball team has more uphill road to travel than any
other Pirate squad this year.
But the Lady
Pirates are off to a strong start — a victory over Gardner-Webb in their
season opener on Friday. And they will take that boost of confidence to a
daunting test this weekend — a Saturday match against California, the No. 1
team in the nation.
team, shored up with strengthened leadership and a more intense conditioning
program, brings plenty of optimism as it prepare an antidote to last
season’s 2-30 record.
Pati Rolf is sure this group is tough and talented enough to raise
is, I think embracing the concept that it’s really a team sport, and they’re
really doing a great job at working together,” said Rolf, who is starting
her third season leading the Lady Pirates. “I think the players are very
mature. They’ve grown up a lot.”
the Gardner-Webb victory, which featured 13 kills each from seniors Jackie
Varnum and Britney Roper, was a bright start, the Pirates were hoping for
three wins at this point. Hurricane Irene trimmed the planned East Carolina
Classic from a four-team round robin format to a single game, because the
teams from Presbyterian College and Florida Atlantic decided it would be
unwise to make the trip.
week, as classes resume today and the players focus primarily on their
Friday match with tournament host Virginia, they feel like their mettle is
still waiting to be tested. The testing ground will include the 2-1
Cavaliers, Long Island and California, which has long been a strong program
but made a nationwide splash this week when it was voted as the top team in
the nation for the first time ever.
“It’s a good
opportunity for us to elevate our game and our knowledge,” Rolf said. “You
can’t be hurt by Cal — they’re only going to help your RPI.”
is not significantly changed from last season, but this squad features four
seniors and one junior who are healthy, strong and poised to lead. The
attitude of the upperclassmen is so good that the sophomores and lone
freshman have the freedom to learn at their pace and find their strengths at
this intense Division I level.
major change facing the Lady Pirates this season is the staff, on which only
Rolf remains the same from last season. Jackie Simpson, who helped with team
operations as a volunteer last year, was promoted to assistant coach in
July, and in August Jeri Estes was announced as a temporary assistant,
originally tapped to fill in for Katie Baggett while she was on maternity
in Eastern North Carolina will last only six weeks, even if the position he
is filling was vacated permanently recently when Baggett announced that she
was moving out of town. But even though Rolf can’t keep him permanently, she
feels like Estes’ role in shaping the program will pay dividends for years
Rolf have known each other for years through national and international
volleyball circles, and when he offered to help she knew he was the right
“This is a
team that really needed to feel secure,” she said. “I needed to bring in
somebody who had great confidence, great control, great ability to lead, and
I was not finding the person I wanted.”
Estes has a
resume in the sport that ranges from club to professional and top-level
international competition. He has been on the staff for teams that have won
three national titles in three countries — the United States (Long Beach
State in 1998), Russia and Switzerland. He was even an assistant coach for
the U.S. National Team in 1999 and 2000.
has traveled extensively as an international referee, has watched him coach
for years and has always learned from him, she said.
colleagues became friends, and when Estes heard that she needed an
experienced hand to help jump start her season he took a leave from his
contract with the Russian professional team he still coaches for.
“When I saw
the opportunity to help such a good friend of mine, I wanted to give the
time that I could,” Estes said. “Without a doubt, they are headed in the
right direction. They chose a great leader who can take them in the right
in the short time I have, it seems like the athletic department itself, as
well as the university, has ever y intention of giving the sport support
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08/31/2011 04:45 AM