Men’s, Women’s Soccer and Volleyball Highlight Athletic Action for Fall
With the beginning of a new academic year also comes the return of Mercer student-athletes to the courts and fields in their respective venues. First to get under way for 2008-09 was competition involving men’s and women’s soccer and volleyball.
The men’s soccer team welcomed a new head coach during the off-season, Brad Ruzzo, who came to Mercer from Bradley University. He replaced Tom Melville, who was head coach of the Bears for 13 years. “I am really excited to get the season going in my first year,” Ruzzo said. “There has been much anticipation, and I’m glad it’s finally here.”
“The players and I have had a chance to meet and get to know each other over the last few days,” Ruzzo said. “They are extremely passionate about the season, as am I.”
The Bears started the season with a 27-man roster, including 14 returning players and 13 newcomers. Among the returners are sophomore Ian Cameron, an Atlantic Sun All-Freshman selection in 2007, and goalkeeper David Bird, who had the fifth-best goals against average in the conference, 1.38, a year ago.
The Bears look to get back on the winning track after suffering back-to-back losing seasons in 2006 and 2007. Despite their difficulties in 2007, the Bears closed out the A-Sun regular season slate in a double-overtime battle with preseason favorite Campbell, shutting out the Camels in a 0-0 tie.
After opening the regular season on Aug. 30 at North Carolina State, the Bears will continue a three-match road trip at Alabama A&M on Sept. 5 and at the University of Alabama-Birmingham on Sept. 7. Sept. 13 marks the regular season home opener, a 7 p.m. start against Howard in the Wingate by Wyndham Classic.
The women’s soccer team under head coach Grant Serafy goes into the new campaign with high hopes and expectations, after enjoying a landmark season in 2007. Last year, the team soared into the championship game of the Atlantic Sun tournament, setting school records for overall wins with 11, while posting its best-ever conference record, 9-2-0. Mercer rattled off a streak of nine consecutive wins at one stretch of the season and edged Belmont in a dramatic penalty kick shootout in the Atlantic Sun semi-final game.
With a solid core of returning players, which include All-Conference honorees Kacie Hudson and Meghan Castaldo, as well as the league’s top recruiting class, the Bears will look to progress even further in 2008.
The Bears opened the regular season with a 2-0 loss against nationally-ranked Georgia on Aug. 22 and were scheduled to host Davidson and Jackson State in the LQ Cup this past weekend.
After winning nine conference games last season, the team is no longer an underdog. The Bears were picked second in the 2008 Atlantic Sun Pre-season Poll.
In addition, senior midfielder Castaldo and sophomore defender Hudson were named to the Atlantic Sun Pre-Season All-Conference Team. The honor marks the second consecutive season that Castaldo has made the pre-season list, while Hudson was one of just four unanimous selections.
The annual Bear Brawl, non-conference contests at Georgia and Georgia State, a trip to Auburn’s tournament and playing host to the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament for the second consecutive year highlight the 2008 volleyball schedule.
“The last two seasons I believe we played arguably the toughest non-conference schedules in school history,” said head coach Noelle Rooke (during the off-season, the head coach married former Mercer soccer great Max Rooke). “As a team, we are getting back to the basics and need to give our young, but talented, squad time to develop chemistry and confidence. We are playing some very strong competition, and this is a very challenging schedule.”
The volleyball team opened play this past weekend at Auburn’s War Eagle Invitational. The Bears travel to Athens today (Sept. 2) to take on Georgia, their second Southeastern Conference opponent.
The Bears open their home slate with the fourth annual Bear Brawl on Sept. 5-6, which brings Auburn, Bethune-Cookman, Georgia Southern and Presbyterian to the University Center. Mercer squares off against first-time opponent Presbyterian and in-state rival Georgia Southern in opening-day action and faces Bethune-Cookman on Saturday.
With the A-Sun Conference returning to a double round-robin slate in 2008, the Bears jump quickly into league action - nearly two weeks earlier than last season -- as Kennesaw State invades the University Center on Sept. 9.
“Our players want to prove themselves as contenders for the conference title,” said Rooke. “By returning to the old league format, we don’t have as many first-time opponents, but I’m anticipating a lot of heated battles with 20 conference matches. As a team, we will have a lot to prove and more chances to perform. And it’s exciting for our fans that we continue the traditional in-state rivalries.”