Mercer’s volleyball team started the season with the UAB/Samford Invitational on Aug. 30-31 and the Active Ankle Challenge at Auburn on Sept. 5-6.
Under Head Coach Damian Elder for the second year, the team consists of three starters and seven newcomers. After being picked seventh in the annual Atlantic Sun Preseason Coaches’ Poll one year after finishing sixth with an 11- 18 record, Elder says his biggest concentration is “to change the way our players interact with each other and the staff” on the team.
Senior libero, Emily Rochefort, regrets the number of early injuries the team has already experienced, but she believes the team is strong in many areas. “One of our strengths as a team is that we are extremely athletic. We make a lot of plays that other teams don’t expect from us,” Rochefort said.
“While we are athletic, we are also very young, and our freshmen are extremely involved both on and off the court. We are trying to build confidence as individuals on the court and as a team, as well. Although they are only freshmen, they are a talented group of girls that bring a great deal to the team.”
The Mercer volleyball team split two matches at the beginning of the UAB/Samford Invitational, with a loss to Alabama-Birmingham 3-0 (25-20, 25-16, 25-18) and a comeback to defeat Jacksonville State 3-1 (25-17, 25-23, 18-25, 28-26).
Mercer got off to a solid start, converting on 16 of 34 attacks (.414 hitting percentage) and never trailing in the first set. From that point forward, the match was a back-and-forth battle, drawing 37 tie scores and 14 lead changes.
Mercer trailed 24-21 in the fourth set before rallying to get three-straight points to pull even. Eventually, freshman Avery Hoven made a kill that pulled the Bears away from a 26-26 tie, followed by a match-winning block-assist by junior Caroline Carlton and Hoven.
Junior setter Carly Iannarino racked up 47 assists for Mercer in the second match of the day, helping with an offensive attack in which four players reached double figure kill totals. Four Bears also registered 10 or more digs in the win against Jacksonville State.
Sophomore left side hitter Molly Locke marked her 15th career double-double performance, achieving 16 kills and 19 digs against the Gamecocks. Iannarino (47 assists, 15 digs) and freshman Ellie James (11 kills, 13 digs) had double-double achievements to help the Bears tie up the day.
The next day of the Invitational, the Mercer volleyball team concluded its opening weekend with two losses to Samford and Georgia State. Mercer failed to Samford with a score of 3-0 (25- 15, 25-18, 25-23) before finishing the event with a 3-1 (25-23, 19- 25, 25-18) loss to Georgia State.
The Bears offense was led by Carlton, who piled up 19 kills with only six errors in the two matches. Iannarino tallied 52 assists, while Rochefort collected 41 digs to accompany her five assists.
Mercer made a valiant effort at the opening game of the Active Ankle Challenge at Auburn University, as Iannarino gave 55 assists and Carlton piled up 20 kills. However, their efforts were unable to stop Troy from claiming a 3-2 (18- 25, 25-18, 25-17, 22-25, 15-8) win over the Mercer volleyball team.
The loss dropped Mercer’s team to 1-4.
Iannarino and Carlton’s respective 55 assists and 20 kills were career-high efforts that came as both players barely missed double-double performances. In addition, Iannarino completed seven digs and two kills, while Carlton finished with nine digs, two total blocks and a service ace.
James and Locke each completed double-doubles. James matched 12 kills with 14 digs and Locke paired 14 kills with 24 digs. Rochefort also achieved 24 digs while adding a pair of assists.
In the opening set, the Bears scored five unanswered points to break from a 10-10 tie before winning the set 25-18. After Troy responded with wins in the second and third sets, Mercer registered 19 kills with only four errors in the fourth set, making the fifth set crucial for a victory.
The Trojans bounded to a 4-1 lead and continued to a 15-8 victory in the final set.
On the second day of the Challenge, Locke knocked down 20 kills, but the Bears dropped 3-0 decisions to Auburn and Wisconsin Green Bay to finish the event.
Mercer lost to Auburn 3-0 (25-16, 25-10, 25-14) in the opening match of the day and was later defeated 3-0 (25- 22, 25-16, 25-17 to Green Bay.
Locke collected 10 of her kills against Auburn while making six digs. Iannarino registered a match-high 25 assists during the match, while Rochefort led the team with seven digs.
Locke added another 10 kills while registering five digs in the second match of the day. Iannarino notched 23 assists and Rochefort was credited with 19 digs.
So far, the Bears’ volleyball season has a 1-6 record, but members are not discouraged.
“Although we didn’t come out victorious in the Active Ankle Challenge, we played well as a team,” said Rochefort. “With so many freshmen on the court, we are still trying to build confidence as a team. We played three good teams that will make us better in the end.”
Rochefort has high hopes for the rest of the season, saying “From practice and our play in the preseason, I think that we will succeed in our conference games. We have one of the hardest preseason schedules in our conference, and I definitely think that will show when we start our conference schedule. “
Mercer returns to play in the UNC Wilmington Courtyard Classic on Sept. 13 in Wilmington, NC.