After a disappointing start to last season, the Mercer Bears volleyball team performed well, making it to the Atlantic Sun Tournament as the fifth seed. They look to maintain improvement, even as they are picked to finish seventh in the preseason conference poll. Led by the outstanding Charlotte Harris, the Bears look to Coach Noelle Rooke, now in her eighth season as the head coach of the Bears. She looks to this squad to add to her 215 wins. The former Conference Coach of the Year sat down with The Cluster to preview the upcoming season.
The Cluster (TC): How will the hiring of Dan Follett and Greg Walker impact the program?
Coach Noelle Rooke (NR): Greg Walker has already worked at a few high-level programs on the women’s and men’s side and is very knowledgeable in Data Volley, a program that breaks down practice and game film, so that we can better prepare our team on a daily basis. Dan has played at a high level and brings another level of intensity to practice that we need. Both Greg and Dan are young, eager, and highly motivated to get their feet wet and help take Mercer Volleyball to the next level.
TC: What conditioning and programs have you instituted to mandate a better finish for the Mercer Bears this year?
NR: My staff, along with [Mercer’s] strength and conditioning department and athletic training department, implements the proper nutrition, lifting, conditioning, and training programs to help my players compete at the highest level of a Division I student-athlete. It is all about sport-specific training and preparation.
TC: What are you expecting from All-Atlantic Sun Charlotte Harris this year?
NR: To be honest, I think Charlotte puts more pressure on herself than I could ever ask or demand of her. Charlotte and I have high expectations for her and our team this season. Charlotte not only wants to leave her mark in the Mercer Volleyball record books, but in the Atlantic Sun’s as well.
TC: How will the addition of sand volleyball impact the indoor game at Mercer?
NR: I expect that we will bring in more dynamic student-athletes that will make an impact indoors as well as on the sand. Indoor and sand volleyball are two completely different games in almost every aspect, so we will need athletes who can play both.
TC: Do you think the preseason poll of finishing seventh was fair to the team, especially based on last year’s fifth place and the return of 2010’s Outstanding Player Charlotte Harris?
NR: It’s not how you start; it’s all about how you finish. As a coach, it is always difficult to predict who will have an immediate impact on the floor, us or our opponents. However, I do get “ambitious” in the hopes it will better prepare us for our conference slate. You have to compete against the best to become the best!
TC: How will the six new recruits impact the team?
NR: My hope is that our transfers will be hungry to compete, since they only have two years of eligibility left, and that my lone freshmen will gain valuable experience right out of the gate!
Obviously, there are some high hopes for this year’s team. They start the season off with the Winthrop Class, but the trial by fire really heats up with the Bear Brawl and Georgia Tech Regency Suites Invitational. From there, Mercer will begin to prepare and focus even more on what will be a daunting season in the Atlantic Sun.
Libero Charlotte Harris looks to expand upon her league-leading 638 digs last season, giving her 887 overall. That puts her well within striking distance of the top ten in digs, where 10th place is currently 1204, set by Mercer’s own Jackie Viren from 2002-2005. If she averages 5.45 digs per set again, then it is a definite possibility.
Coach Rooke praised Dan Follett and Greg Walker, but their records at Juniata College showed success. Greg Walker also had much success at Penn State. These records of success and postseason knowledge are sure to be called upon to help Mercer Volleyball advance past the first round of the Atlantic Sun playoffs for the first time in the program’s history.
Lipscomb was picked to three-peat as the Lady Bisons are looking to be the first team to do so since UCF (Central Florida) did it from 2001-2003.
Mercer opens Atlantic Sun play with the defending champions on Sept. 23 at 7:00 pm.