The Mercer Bears’ 15th Division I sport, sand volleyball, began play on March 21 with a home match against the University of Alabama-Birmingham. Albeit losing, the Bears played a heated contest before a few road matches in Charleston, S.C. on March 23-25.
The Bears have opened their inaugural season with a record of 0-5, but the team has shown significant progress in the five matches. Damian Elder, in his first season as a volleyball head coach following the recent resignation of Noelle Rooke, has had the Bears fighting for every point and giving their three opponents all that they could handle. They are one of just a handful of programs that have begun playing sand volleyball as a Division I sport.
UAB 3, Mercer 2
Mercer gave the UAB Blazers all they could handle, but the Bears were unable to get that first historic win for the program. Cassie Roy and Jamie Duffy picked up the first point in Mercer history with back-to-back 21-14 wins in the two sets. Jennifer Katona and Monica Sanchez were able to get another point for the Bears, winning at No. 2 2-1. Lizzie Knapper and Charlayna Braxton were unable to finish their point up after winning the first set in their point, but it was hotly contested. Both pairings of Emily Rochefort and Caroline Carlton and then Zoe Becton and Madison Petsos were unable to pick up a point, and the Bears dropped their first match overall.
Mercer 0, C. Charleston 5
Duffy and Roy came close in both sets, but like the rest of the team they were unable to pick up any sets as the Bears were swept unceremoniously against College of Charleston. Both picked up 10 kills in the loss. Sanchez and Katona were unable to generate much offense in the No. 2 spot, being outscored by a total of 42-16 in the two sets. Rochefort and Carlton played well in the tough No. 3 spot, but they were unable to turn 18 kills into a point. Becton and Petsos experienced the same misfortune. However, Braxton and Knapper played brilliantly, losing the first set in tiebreakers and dropping the second set at the limit as well (21-23, 19-21).
Mercer 0, North Florida 5
Atlantic Sun foe North Florida brutalized the Mercer Bears, sweeping them in much the same fashion that College of Charleston did. In the No. 3 spot, the Bears’ closest chance for a point came in Rochefort and Carlton’s stunning 21-11 opening set victory. Unfortunately, the Ospreys of North Florida turned on the style and won the other two sets convincingly to take the point. The Ospreys won all of the other matches at 2-0.
Mercer 0, Pepperdine 5
The Bears played their toughest opponent of the season so far in Pepperdine on Sunday. One of the favorites to win the national championship at the end of April, Pepperdine proved to be too much for the Bears, sweeping the fledging program. Summer Ross is one of the current stars of sand volleyball in its first season, and she led the Waves to a resounding victory. This high level of opposition will serve the Bears well as the time comes for the Atlantic Sun tournament.
Mercer 1, UAB 4
The Bears picked up their first point in a match since their inaugural game, but the Blazers and Bears’ budding rivalry ended in a decision yet again for UAB. Roy and Duffy continued to haunt the No. 1 spot for UAB, winning again, giving them a career record of 2-0 against them. The rest of the team was unable to snatch points away, but Mercer will have gained valuable experience in this closing match of the College of Charleston series. Coach Elder called it an “unfortunate” loss, implying he wanted to see growth in this second match of the season against UAB.
The Bears are next in action at home against Tulane on April 7, which will be the last home match of the year. They will travel to Alabama-Birmingham on April 15 for a return match and a chance to stun the Blazers and pay them back on their home court. The following weekend of April 20-22 will be the Atlantic Sun tournament.