Volleyball Approaches Turning Point In 2009
Aug. 26, 2009
GREENVILLE, N.C. - Pati Rolf, who accepted the head coaching position for the East Carolina Volleyball program on April 9, 2009, has done and seen it all in the volleyball realm, from playing to coaching to officiating. She even boasts Olympic experience, serving as a line judge at the 1996 Games in Atlanta, Ga. However, above all, Rolf views herself as a teacher and possesses the desire to enhance awareness of the game.
By the time her playing career had concluded as a four-year letterwinner at North Dakota State, Rolf set the NCAA career record for matches played, as she was and is still known as the "ironwoman of volleyball." She did not sit out a single set during those four seasons.
Her commitment to understanding all facets of the game enabled Rolf to receive her Federation Internationale de Volleyball (FIVB) International Officiating Certificate in 2003, making her just one of 15 female international officials in the world. The Professional Association of Volleyball Officials (PAVO) Hall of Fame member has been a registered national volleyball official since 1990.
In the summer of 2004, Rolf officiated matches in St. Petersburg, Russia and at the World Military Games. In the summer of 2005, she served as an official at the 2006 World Championships Qualifying Tournament in Guatemala. The summer of 2007 saw her officiate at the Pan American Games in Brazil before Rolf gained even more experience by working a FIVB World League matchup between China and the United States in 2009.
The ECU volleyball program will certainly benefit from her expertise, as the squad looks to build on a 13-19 season in 2008 that left it at the bottom of Conference USA. That result is a bit deceiving, however, as the Pirates lost six matches that extended to five sets and held 2-0 or 2-1 leads in three of them.
After losing just one senior, the Pirates enter 2009 with their entire offense intact. Buoyed with experience and energized by new ideas and tactics from an entirely different coaching staff, which includes former collegiate standouts Katie Virtue (Ohio State, '03) and Kelley Wernert (East Carolina, '08), the squad will attempt to spring from the league basement and into the postseason mix.
Virtue brings impressive credentials to ECU. As a setter and captain for the Buckeyes, she quickly made her mark on the program, earning Big Ten Freshman-of-the-Year, league All-Freshman Team and Asics/Volleyball Magazine Freshman All-America accolades in 1999. Virtue also garnered designation as a Big Ten All-Conference selection from 2000-02 as well as Asics Volleyball All-America status (2001), National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) All-America honors (2002) and a Big Ten Sportsmanship Award nod (2002).
"I feel privileged to be joining the tremendous staff at East Carolina University," Virtue explained. "I would like to thank Pati Rolf, Terry Holland and the ECU Athletic Department for extending me the opportunity to be a part of the rich tradition of Pirate Athletics. Coach Rolf is very well-respected in the volleyball community and I look forward to coaching with her and working with a great group of athletes. I am excited for the future of ECU Volleyball."
Wernert, a 2008 graduate of East Carolina, enters the coaching profession with the Pirates after turning in one of the best careers in program history. She is the all-time leader in kills with 1,620, sits 16th on the Conference USA career kill ledger and owns the school's top single-season kill mark, putting down 627 as a senior (2007). That final season, Wernert broke the Pirate single-match kill total with 31 at UNC Wilmington, earning her CVU.com National Player-of-the-Week honors. She also led ECU in kills, kills per game, attempts, service aces, solo blocks, total blocks and points per game and was second in blocks per set. Additionally, Wernert turned in a Pirate career-best 27 double-doubles and notched double-digit kills in 28-consecutive matches and 60 of her last 64.
"It is such a pleasure to begin coaching at the school that I know and love," Wernert stated. "I am ready for this new challenge in my life and am thrilled to have been accepted to work and study at East Carolina again. Coach Rolf is already starting to do great things for the Pirate volleyball program and I am so excited to be a part of it. I know I will learn a lot from her and the rest of the staff at ECU."
In volleyball, the setter position is similar to that of a point guard in basketball and quarterback in football. Senior Hannah Fenker and junior Katie Koop provide ECU with two capable candidates as each have enjoyed significant playing time with the Pirates.
Fenker's ability to defend, as well as set up the offense, makes her a key component on both sides of the ball. Not only did she lead the team in assists last season (798), the New Castle, Ind., native was third on the squad in digs with 210. While she is not the loudest player on the court, Fenker's decision-making both in and out of system saves many points for her team.
As a freshman, Koop was charged with the task of succeeding career program assists leader Heidi Krug. She earned the starting role after Krug's departure and blossomed, putting up 1,312 helpers which rank as the third-most in a single season on the Pirate career ledger. Koop's scrappy yet deceptive nature on the court lets the squad know that it is rarely, if ever, out of a play.
One positive for the Pirates in 2009 is that all of the outside hitters return to break down opponent defenders. For the past two seasons, senior Stephanie Turner has solidified that role on the right antenna. Last season, she led all ECU players in kills with 241 and produced a squad-high 2.13 kills per set. Turner also displayed her ability to transition from offense to defense, as she turned in a team second-best 218 digs.
The senior duo of Katie Prast and Melissa Zentner give the Pirates placement and power, respectively. While not the hardest hitter on the team, Prast attacks wisely and often finds holes in the defense that others cannot. She performed well in the 2008 season-opening East Carolina Classic, earning tournament MVP honors after recording 27 kills, 18 digs and six blocks to lead ECU to the title. Zentner packs a large swing, powering her way to a squad third-best 226 kills last season. She also set a school record for hitting percentage against North Carolina Central, putting down 10 kills on 13 attempts with no errors for a .769 mark.
Sophomore Amanda Lutzow provided a solid rookie campaign, recording 185 kills and 190 digs while proving to be one of the Pirates' best back row passers. Redshirt sophomore Britney Roper will also add depth to the East Carolina attack, as she completes her recovery from a torn ACL that erased her true freshman campaign in 2007.
Recently, the middle hitter position for the Pirates has been plagued by inconsistent play due to a plethora of injuries. However, it has the potential to be one of ECU's strongest assets in 2009. Redshirt junior Erica Banning and true junior Lizzy Bruin allow the Pirates two viable options as starters. Banning returns after putting up a triple digit blocks number (103) in her first fully healthy season of competition. She also led the Pirates in hitting percentage, making just 65 errors in 509 attempts and firing at a .255 clip. Bruin fell close behind Banning with 91 total blocks and notched the second-most kills on the squad with 235. She also turned in a respectable hitting percentage, owning a .215 mark over 113 sets played.
Senior Bobbie Jo Stall could enter the mix in her final season with the team as she looks to take on a more visible role in 2009. Playing brilliantly at times last season, including a 10-block performance in the C-USA Tournament first round contest against Tulsa, Stall looks to make her way into the starting lineup and share time with Banning and Bruin. Additionally, redshirt freshmen Briana Fleener and Kelly Derby will most likely experience their first collegiate rallies after suffering ACL tears in high school and last year's preseason, respectively.
After losing one of the best defensive players the school has ever known in Trish Monroe, it would be easy to believe that the East Carolina back row will suffer this season. However, junior Kylie Gilmore and redshirt sophomore Nicole Jones are more than ready to step in.
Gilmore proved to be one of the most solid passers on the squad, committing just three receive errors in 71 sets played while Jones, a former soccer player, is able to make many dynamic plays and saves. Playing the last five matches of the season, Jones notched 32 digs and three aces.
The 2009 slate features three regular season tournaments, eight home matches and the first televised home contest in program history against Memphis on Nov. 6. While the Pirates will play all of their non-conference contests close by in Virginia or here in North Carolina, the squad still desires to improve its road performance from a year ago. In 2008, ECU won just one of nine road matches but looks to draw on its experience to eliminate any road woes this campaign.
The Pirates kick off the season Aug. 28-29 in Richmond, Va. as participants in the Third Degree Sportswear VCU Invitational. East Carolina matches up against Wright State in its first contest before closing the event opposite St. John's and the host Rams.
The team makes a quick return to the Commonwealth State the next weekend, taking on Virginia Tech, Arkansas and Norfolk State in the Hawthorne Suites Hokie Invitational before heading back to the Old North State Sept. 11-12 for the Winston-Salem State Lady Rams Invite and three games against WSSU, UNC Asheville and Wofford.
After a trip to Campbell on Sept. 22, the Pirates open the home portion of the schedule Sept. 29 against UNC Wilmington. The match against the Seahawks also serves as the campaign's only midweek tilt inside Minges Coliseum.
The quest for the program's first-ever Conference USA championship begins in Huntington, W.Va. on Sept. 19 when the Pirates face Marshall. East Carolina also travels to UCF, Southern Miss, SMU, Tulsa, Memphis, UAB, Rice and Houston while hosting the Knights, Golden Eagles, Thundering Herd, Tigers, Blazers, UTEP and Tulane during conference play.
The 2009 C-USA Tournament is scheduled for Nov. 19-21 at Tudor Fieldhouse on the campus of Rice University. The champion of the event earns the league's automatic berth to the 2009 NCAA Championship. Rolf believes that the Pirates will be in the mix when the postseason approaches, even as the field has been pared down to the top eight finishers in the league standings.