2006 East Carolina Volleyball Review
Jan. 20, 2007
GREENVILLE, N.C. - In the athletic world, success often comes with developing a healthy self-concept. If individuals and the teams that they serve are not satisfied with their achievements, they must make a commitment to change, evaluate how they have developed to this point, set realistic goals and create a supportive environment for change. Prior to last season and the hiring of current head coach Chris Rushing, the East Carolina volleyball program did not seem to have this self-concept. It was not for lack of effort on anyone's part. However, things just did not seem to be clicking. Enter Chris Rushing and Eve Rackham.
Change is an inevitable phenomenon. It has proven beneficial to the program. Chris Rushing and Eve Rackham were hired as ECU's head and assistant volleyball coaches before the 2005 season when Colleen Munson and Ryan Manning left to assume positions at Western Michigan. At the same time, Conference USA also underwent a facelift. Gone were the likes of Louisville, Cincinnati, South Florida, Marquette, DePaul, Charlotte, St. Louis and TCU. Marshall, UCF, Tulsa, SMU, UTEP and Rice replaced this group of schools. This change would allow the Pirates to become more competitive in Conference USA, as the departing squads were among some of the nation's best teams. Rushing and Rackham brought a vision to help the program not only create an identity but also use that identity to gain success. The team responded.
The 2005 season saw ECU post a record of 20-11, the best mark for the Pirates since 1982. The squad also finished 2005 with a C-USA record of 9-6 that was good enough for fifth place, the squad's highest all time finish in the conference. The Pirates also picked up its first-ever C-USA Tournament win, a 3-0 victory over Southern Miss. Additionally, ECU began to earn at least a modicum of respect from the league's coaches as Pam Ferris (first team), Heidi Krug (third team) and Erica Wilson (third team) garnered all-conference honors, a first in program history.
Considering the accomplishments of 2005 and the strong desire for improvement by the coaching staff and players, one would assume that things would only improve for the Pirates in 2006. The season started out less than ideal. However, by October, ECU proved that they belonged in the upper echelon of Conference USA. The Pirates ended the season with a 19-11 record and a 10-6 mark in conference play. It marked not only the first consecutive winning seasons since 1977-1978 but also the most wins in Conference USA history for ECU, eclipsing the nine wins of the 2005 squad.
The season started out with the Pirates hosting the East Carolina Invitational. ECU, hoping to start the campaign with three straight wins, welcomed William and Mary, Furman and Virginia Tech to Greenville. The Pirates took the season and tournament opener over William and Mary 3-1 but fell to Furman and Virginia Tech 3-1 on the final day of tournament play.
The next weekend, the Pirates traveled to Charlottesville to participate in the UVA tournament. There, ECU took on Wright State, Georgetown and host Virginia. After a hard fought 3-2 victory over Wright State and a 3-1 triumph over Georgetown, the Pirates fell to Virginia 3-1 in a hotly contested championship match.
After a midweek 3-0 domination of UNC Wilmington in Greenville, ECU made the short trip to Charlotte and Halton Arena for the Charlotte Invitational. The Pirates struggled, dropping and 3-0 decision to North Florida and a 3-1 match to rival Charlotte in the first two contests. ECU did pick up a 3-0 win over Penn to close out its time in the Queen City.
A few days later, Campbell traveled to Greenville only to get swept by the Pirates. ECU hoped to build momentum going into an important weekend that saw the Pirates host the East Carolina Classic. This tournament not only served as a tune-up for the impending C-USA schedule, but also ECU's first conference match against Marshall. The Pirates fell to Marshall 3-1 in a thrilling match to begin tournament and conference play but bounced back to post consecutive sweeps over Wisconsin Green-Bay and Grambling State.
The following Tuesday, ECU hosted North Carolina A&T in its last non-conference match before starting the bulk of its C-USA schedule. The Pirates disposed of the Aggies 3-0 to bring their record to 9-6 overall and 0-1 in conference play.
ECU's conference record fell to 1-4 in its first five matches, suffering sweeps at the hands of Tulane, UTEP and Tulsa while earning a 3-1 victory over SMU in Dallas. At this stage of the season, the squad had two options. It could either give up on the season, blaming their failure on bad luck, or it could put the past behind it and move forward, knowing that there were 11 more conference games yet to play. Rushing and Rackham would not let the first option even be an option.
The Pirates blazed through the rest of October and did not suffer another conference loss until the beginning of November. During this time, ECU completed season sweeps of division rivals UCF and Southern Miss while also picking up its first ever win over Houston. When all was said and done, the Pirates had rattled off eight straight conference wins, a school record.
The regular season ended with ECU losing two out of three matches but the Pirates had high hopes for the Conference USA Tournament, earning the six seed as the sixth-place finisher in the conference standings. ECU met the 11th seed UTEP Miners in the first round, a team that had swept the Pirates earlier in the season in Greenville. With a win, ECU would move on to face the third seed Memphis, whom the Pirates had swept during the regular season. However, ECU would not get the chance to play the Tigers for a third time as it dropped a heart-breaking 3-2 match to the Miners, a match which the Pirates led two games to one.
Yes, the season came to an abrupt and unexpected halt for ECU. However, teams do not learn from success but from mistakes and failure. Some of the lessons learned from the past season will undoubtedly prove useful come this August, as the program looks to build on its new and successful tradition. East Carolina volleyball is only beginning to make its mark.