NEWS, NOTES & COMMENTARY
The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, August 28, 2012
By Bethany Bradsher
Deep staff shaping
(Photos: ECU Media Relations)
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Anyone who took in a few
Olympic volleyball matches understands that it is a sport with a significant
international presence. And few collegiate programs have a staff with
broader contacts and experience in other nations than the one sharing an
office at East Carolina University.
The combined resumes of head
coach Pati Rolf and her assistants Jeri Estes and Jackie Simpson feature
stints playing, coaching or officiating in Russia, Guatemala, Brazil,
Switzerland, Germany and Cyprus.
Rolf was a line judge in the
gold medal match at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. Estes spent four
years as an assistant with the Russian National Team, helping lead the squad
win a silver medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Simpson played in both
Germany and Cyprus and coached in the youth developmental league in Cyprus,
even though her limited Greek made communication with her players
interesting. “It was a lot of hand signals,” she said.
Together the trio hopes to
take their rich history with the sport of volleyball and apply it to a
Pirates program that has only won four matches in the last two seasons
Rolf, who is starting her
fourth season at the helm of the program, knows that she has assembled the
kind of staff that can produce a system geared toward victory.
“It’s important that we
incorporate the knowledge of all three of us,” Rolf said. “I think the three
of us are so uniquely different, that whatever the 14 women need, they will
find it from one of us.”
The squad tested the waters of
the new season with the East Carolina Classic, a home tournament last
weekend that produced a win over Bethune-Cookman and losses to Campbell and
UNC-Charlotte. The schedule includes three more tournaments — including
another home event Sept. 13-15 — before Conference USA play commences on
Estes, who has been friends
with Rolf for more than a decade and spent six weeks working with the
Pirates last season, might be the only person who has ever located to
Eastern North Carolina because it provides good proximity to both Russia and
Hawaii. His wife is a world-class volleyball player in Russia, so he travels
there often to be with his family, and his mother is ill in Hawaii.
When Rolf asked Estes to sign
on as a full-time assistant, he saw it as a prime opportunity in a strategic
“I see commitment from the
staff here to get better, and this university is committed to taking female
athletics and sports in a positive direction,” said Estes, who has coached
at the collegiate or club level not only in Russia and Switzerland but also
in St. Louis and Southern California."
Simpson, a former All-American
setter at the University of Wisconsin, has had success at every level in the
sport and spent two years playing professionally overseas. She is in her
second year with ECU and relishes the chance to learn from Rolf and Estes
and to grow as a coach. Simpson has aspired to be a volleyball coach since
she was in seventh grade, she said, and ECU is providing the perfect
Of course, Rolf knows that
creating a team of three strong leaders with rich experience is only part of
a winning formula. Just as important is recruiting talented, driven players
and convincing them to buy into their coaches’ system. And with a roster
that includes five freshman and two transfers playing key roles, that
learning curve is in full swing now.
Even though the Pirates return
five juniors and one senior, only three of those returnees are starters, and
the team is relying on newcomers like Nicole Willis, a junior transfer from
LSU, to spark the offense. Willis, a right-side hitter from Raleigh, posted
two consecutive double-doubles in the East Carolina Classic, scoring 30
kills and 15 digs against Campbell and 10 kills and 10 digs in the win over
Anchoring the defense is
junior libero Shelby Beasley, who totaled 49 digs over the weekend and was
named to the All-Tournament Team. And newcomers like Torre Blake, the
daughter of former star Pirate quarterback Jeff Blake, are also showing
promise for the Pirates.
The tournament showed Rolf
flashes of her team’s strengths, she said, but they have plenty of hard work
ahead to contend for a winning C-USA record.
“We had some really good
things, but also some inconsistencies, but that’s why I love the preseason,”
she said. “Our biggest issue is just getting the game organized properly for
our team. The main element is going to be controlling the ball, keeping the
ball in play when we’re off system, and our setter getting the ball to the
hitters so they can score.”
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