GREENVILLE, N.C.--The ECU volleyball team is just 12 days away from the season opener against William & Mary, Saturday, Aug. 27 at 7 p.m. in Minges Coliseum. First-year head coach Chris Rushing leads a squad that returns 10 letterwinners from last year's team that finished 11-18 (5-8 C-USA). Coach Rushing took time to answer some questions about his team, the upcoming season, and his transition into the Pirate family.
What is your outlook on the 2005 season?
"We have a lot of talent on this team. We have good skills, size, speed and strength. If we put this together with great work ethic, desire, attitude and confidence, we can go far this season. This is a completely new season in a new conference. It is a fresh start for the coaches, players and the conference as a whole. With the eight teams that have left Conference USA replaced by six new teams, who knows which teams will land on top. Everybody will see a whole lot of new teams for the first time in school history.
"It is exciting actually. Everyone will want to show their stuff and take charge in this new conference alignment. During this past spring season, we all worked for six weeks together and all of us were rejuvenated and hungry to get better. We are all excited for the season to get underway."
What style of play will we see out of the '05 Pirates?
"We don't do a lot of fancy things offensively. We pick a few things and get really good at those few things. Our opponents will most likely know our offensive strategy but they still have to try to stop it. Defensively, we want to be tenacious. We want to be like a pit bull that won't give up his bone. We will fight to the finish, never stopping until the match is done."
How have off-season workouts gone for the team this year?
"We have many players on our team that stayed here over the summer and they are constantly lifting and constantly running. In our visits throughout the summer, I can tell how bad they want to improve and get strong and fit coming into the new season. I am very impressed with Danny Wheel and his staff with the strength, power and fitness levels of our volleyball team. It is probably the most impressive strength and conditioning coaching job that I have seen in all the years I have coached collegiate volleyball. I am very glad that Coach Wheel is in charge of the volleyball players at ECU. He is a vital force in helping us get better."
What do you expect to see in your first season in Conference USA?
"Conference USA is going to be a very good volleyball conference. I see no match that is going to be a cakewalk. I believe that we can win every game or we could lose every game on our conference schedule. We need to go out every single night with the strongest desire and aspire to play our hardest every single night we go out.
"Anything goes. We can look at the past performances of the teams but so many teams that were in different conferences you just don't know how everybody is going to match up head-to-head in this new conference. It is a good volleyball conference that will be able to send two, maybe three teams to the NCAA tournament. Although our goal is to win a conference championship, we also have a goal of making the NCAA tournament. I think there are a lot of teams in our conference that have that same opportunity."
How is everything going in your short time atop the Pirate volleyball program?
"I am very thankful to the administration for choosing me to lead this volleyball team. Being here a few months now, my family and myself have enjoyed it a great deal. We couldn't be happier with this decision we have made to bring our family to Greenville. It is a great opportunity for me to coach at a school that has such a high level of fan support and school spirit for athletics. It has been an unbelievably wonderful experience to meet the people I have here and I am looking forward to many years of working towards building a successful program at ECU."
About the setters
"Due to unfortunate circumstances, we only have one setter on our team this season, Heidi Krug. She is a darn fine setter and one who can lead our team to greatness. She is an upperclassman now and she possesses the leadership and skills to lead this team to where we need it to be headed."
About the middle blockers
"Jaime Bevan is a great slide hitter. She hit high percentages in our spring tournament and keeps getting better. She can be one of the top middles in the conference.
"We moved Mignon Dubenion to the middle this year because of her desire and love for blocking. If she works hard at this skill, she could end up leading the conference in blocks.
"We also moved Kim Jefferson to the middle. She is the most athletic player I have ever coached. She is a great jumper and is lightning fast. As her volleyball skills grow, she will be unstoppable.
"We have two freshman middles coming in, Rebecca Rotella and Katie Chesley. They are both quality players and time will tell how they pan out for us."
About the right side hitters
"This is probably going to the most exciting position battle to watch this season because we have two right side hitters that are neck and neck for playing time and a starting role. Kelley Wernert with her size, strength and power as well as her advantage of being a left-hander playing on the right side and Erica Wilson who was one of our go-to-girls last year with her finesse and her smarts. They both possess different positives and it is going to be interesting to see what lies ahead for a starting role in that position."
About the left side hitters
"Our left side has two upperclassmen, two seniors, who we are looking to be our go-to-girls for that spot, Katie Jannusch and Pam Ferris. Ferris is a left-handed, left side hitter, which is very rare. Not too many lefties can play that position but Pam does and she does it well. She is very powerful, very explosive and when she gets on a roll, she is going to be another player who is going to be very, very hard for our opponents to stop. Katie is more of an all-around ball-control, finesse shot-making outside hitter who had the highest hitting percentage of all of our players this past spring. She is somebody who is not going to power the ball through the opponents but is going to be smart with her decision-making and can get the job done, making very few errors in the process."
"Abigail Parker has a very strong work ethic and desire to get better and I see her get better every single day that we practice. She has good power and she gets more comfortable and confident at her outside hitter position, she will do a lot of real good things for this team."
"Alex Dawson will be another outside hitter who is coming in as a freshman this year. She really impressed us as we were recruiting her. I see her coming in and mixing things up for some playing time. With her attitude, her drive and her skills, she is one more player who is going to get better as time moves forward."
About the liberos
"Johanna Bertini is the frontrunner among this group of players. We have four defensive players this year and they are going to competing like mad every single day trying to get that starting role. All of them possess really good defensive skills, really good passing skills and very good attitudes and work ethic. This is going to be another position where I see there is going to be a lot of high intensity and a lot competition as we go on throughout the season. Joining Bertini will be Caitlin Daly, Trish Monroe and newcomer freshman Ashley Gwaltney."
About assistant coach Eve Rackham
"She was an extremely good player when she was playing for North Carolina. She will be running a lot of practices and running our second team in scrimmages this year being that we only have one setter. I believe with her running the second team, it will make them get better as well as our first team. Her consistency, strength and her knowledge of the game are so great, everybody will benefit from her leadership and coaching. She is a lot of fun for me to be around. We have really enjoyed each other's company in the office and out on the recruiting road. She has a real good eye for talent and she does a good job relating to recruits and their parents as well as current players. All of the girls on the team love her and all of our recruits have responded really well to her. She has been working diligently in the recruiting process and we are finding some great success with our recruits as a result of that. Eve expects and demands a lot out of the players in our practices and our games and I believe that our players will feed off of that. She will be able to help motivate them and energize them to play as hard as they can play every single time they get on the court. We are lucky to have her on our staff."