BANNER ELK, N.C. -- Head coach Jamie Petrik and assistant coach Megan Wargo enter their fourth year at the helm of the Lees-McRae College men's volleyball program with six new editions, seven sophomores, two juniors and a lone senior on the 2009 edition of the Bobcat team.
The 2009 team is excited to turn around the season from a year
ago that was devastated by injuries and a bit of youth, which
resulted in a 6-15 record.
"Last season we started strong. In the second match last year, we had Loyola Chicago on the ropes, calling timeouts when we are up late in sets one and two. I was surprised of how well we were jelling. But having two ACL tears a week later and a few other injuries caused us to be a different team," Petrik said. "I was proud that our young team worked hard, but we return a bulk of that starting team and this year's expectations are much higher."
The lone senior, a starter at middle blocker last season, is Ryan Black (Escondido, Calif.). The 6'7" player, who transferred from Palomar Community College, led the team in blocks,.85 per game, and was second in kills and hitting percentage.
Black will be joined by junior 6'5" Grant Cassell (Mt. Vernon, Ohio). Cassell was the only Bobcat returning starter from the 2007 squad and in the fourth match of the 2008 campaign, he had a season-ending ACL tear.
"Grant has a calm presence about him that we missed last year," said Petrik. "He has done everything in his power to get back on the court. He should be ready to go by our first match."
Returning starters from the Bobcat team also include Colin Kelly, Robert Ritchie, Juan Ramirez, Chad Mercado, and Kyle Gauger.
Ramirez, who set much of last season, is battling it out for the setter and defensive specialist position. The 5'10" native of Miami, Fla. brings intelligent court play and a solid serve to the Bobcat team.
Kelly, standing at 6'2", (Orlando, Fla.) will return as the starting outside hitter for the Bobcats. Kelly finished fourth in the nation in kills per game, fourth in points per game and 13th in service aces. A huge leaper and smart hitter, his decision making on outside attacks will assist the Bobcats in siding out and scoring points.
6'0" Ritchie (Hollywood, Fla.) led the team in digs per game and second in hitting percentage. Ritchie has the ability to step onto the court at any time and bring a solid spike or a great defensive dig.
Petrik also may have to call upon 6'0" sophomore outside hitter Jeremy Evans (Raleigh, N.C.) to step in and play a role for the Bobcats this season.
6'5" Mercado (Orlando, Fla) will return as the opposite hitter. During the offseason Mercado shed 35 pounds to increase his vertical and hitting strength.
Junior Justy Tevid (Barrigada, Guam) will also look to get some playing time at opposite hitter as well. Tevid's improved passing and defense, along with his quick arm swing and deceptive vertical, will add to the Bobcats' depth.
For the libero position, returners Ramirez, Kyle Gauger (Penfield, N.Y.) and Ian Bryner (Miramar, Fla.) will battle for playing time. Gauger has fearless determination and excellent leadership skills which will make it difficult to keep him off the court. However, the 6'2" Bryner, who was recruited as a middle blocker/opposite player, has displayed a consistent ability to pass the volleyball and will challenge Gauger and Ramirez for this starting position.
The Bobcats have six newcomers to the 2009 edition of the team. Leading the way is transfer Jeff Black and freshman Raphael Vieira from Brazil.
Black (Escondido, Calif.), a 6'4" sophomore transfer from California Baptist, will fill some holes for the Bobcats at the middle blocker and outside hitter this season. The 6'1" Vieira, who comes to Banner Elk via Porto Alegre, Brazil, will make an immediate impact for the team as a starting outside hitter.
Outside hitter Charles Macias (Barrigada, Guam), setter Sean Woodward (Garden Grove, Calif.), setter Steven Buning (Cary, N.C.) and outside hitter Robbie Rowe (Longwood, Fla.) round out the incoming freshmen for the Bobcats.
"The great thing about this year's preseason is the amount of experience we have. Last year I spent much time teaching new drills, and it took time for them to understand the system. With ten returners, we are working on new things to get to another level on the court," Petrik said. "I like what I see, and I love our depth at every position."
While still young, this Bobcat team is looking forward to the challenges of this year and is hopeful that this season's experiences will be a foundation of a solid men's volleyball program at Lees-McRae for the coming years.
"George Allen said it best when he said, 'Always remember, anything is yours if you are willing to pay the price,'" Petrik said. "Let's hope these guys pay the price this year; the dividends will be immense."