Volleyball, Men’s and Women’s Soccer Start New Year for Athletics

The return of students to campus for fall means a return to competition for Mercer’s 200-plus student-athletes. Three of Mercer’s 15 teams will commence their seasons within the next few days.

Men’s Soccer

The men’s soccer team begins with high expectations in 2010 as the Bears celebrate the 50th anniversary of the men’s soccer program at Mercer. After a magical postseason surge that ended in a runner-up finish in the 2009 Atlantic Sun Championship, head coach Brad Ruzzo enters his third year looking for even bigger things in 2010.

With 15 letter winners returning from last year’s 7-11-2 squad, coupled with the addition of 11 talented newcomers, Ruzzo has a talented team at his disposal that is poised to make another run at the Atlantic Sun Championship.

Senior Ian Cameron and juniors Phil Thoren, Ryan Young and Zachary Rall are the only four returning upperclassmen on the roster and will be charged with molding the 2010 edition of the Bears into a cohesive unit to build upon last year’s success.

All the pieces seem to be in place for Mercer to bring home its first Atlantic Sun Men’s Soccer Championship since 2001. Four of the top six scorers from last year’s squad are back in mix this season, including Cameron, Young, sophomore striker Richie Edmondson and sophomore midfielder Will Betts. The defensive side of the ball is in great shape looking forward to 2010 as well, welcoming back starting goalkeeper Brett Petricek and three-fourths of a back line that allowed only 29 goals in 2009.

The 2010 schedule once again figures to be one of the toughest in the region. Mercer will play three teams that participated in the 2009 NCAA Tournament and four teams in the RPI top 100 in 2009. The Bears’ 2010 schedule is also road-heavy, with their first four contests on the road and 10 of 16 matches overall.

Mercer kicks of its 2010 regular season on the road against former A-Sun member Gardner-Webb on Sept. 3. Mercer will return to Bear Field for its regular season home opener against Colonial Athletic Association member and in-state rival Georgia State on Sept. 19 at 4 p.m.

Women’s Soccer

For the 2010 women’s soccer team, the mission is simple: win and you’re in. With the ultimate goal of making the 2010 NCAA Soccer Championship, head coach Grant Serafy’s philosophy is clear and simple – play hard, win the Atlantic Sun Championship and punch a ticket to the big dance.

Serafy is in his seventh season and admits, as close as the Bears have come in recent seasons, there is still room to improve as he looks to establish the Bears’ program as one of the nation’s elite.

“I think we felt a little disappointment last season,” Serafy said. “We outshot a lot of teams, but just couldn’t get the ball into the back of the net and came up just short in the A-Sun Tournament.”

After winning the Atlantic Sun regular season title in 2008, Mercer struggled at times last season, yet finished on a high note by losing only one game in its final seven matches. The Bears finished the year 8-6-4 and qualified for their fourth consecutive A-Sun Conference Tournament – their longest stretch in team history.
 
The Bears return 17 letter winners from last year’s team, including 10 with significant starting experience.  Highlighting the returners are All-Atlantic Sun performers junior Olivia Tucker, senior Kacie Hudson and All-Freshman P.A. Upson.

Another strategy that Serafy has implemented at Mercer has been to retool the types of talent and competition he schedules from year-to-year. To achieve that national exposure, the Bears have squared off in recent seasons against some of the top programs in the nation, including teams from conferences like the SEC and ACC. That has not changed this season, as the Bears will face some terrific teams, including Florida State and Georgia.

Mercer will host the preseason No. 6-ranked Seminoles and Georgia on Labor Day Weekend at Bear Field. Among the Bears’ other non-conference foes are Colonial Conference member Georgia State on Sept. 3, Xavier of the Atlantic-10 Conference, and Mountain West Conference member Air Force.

Volleyball

The 2010 volleyball campaign marks the conclusion of a four-year odyssey for three seniors: Libby Hansch, Krista Hurley and Erica Vrvilo.  Mercer’s senior trio has collected 37 wins, but this season the group aims to accomplish a goal that has proved elusive — the Atlantic Sun Championship.

After a landmark 18-win season in 2008, last year’s Mercer team suffered a drop-off as a result of a young, inexperienced roster.  After winning just six of its first 23 matches last season, the team began to reach its potential late in the year, finishing 5-1 in its last six contests.

Head coach Noelle Rooke expects the 2010 Bears to pick up where they left off last season and has high hopes for the team. One reason Rooke is confident is because she finds it easy to draw parallels between the 2008 squad and this year’s team. 

“From day one, I’ve noticed a strong resemblance to our 2008 team,” said Rooke. “Like in 2008, we have strong leadership from the top down and our seniors’ attitudes mirror the class of 2008.”

Overall, Mercer returns nine key players from a season ago and welcomes the arrival of six newcomers.

A trip west for the University of Washington Invitational and the seventh annual Bear Brawl highlight the volleyball team’s tough schedule.  Aside from four demanding non-conference tournaments, the 2010 Atlantic Sun schedule is a single-round of contests, a departure from the recent home-away format.

On Sept. 3-4, Mercer hosts its annual Bear Brawl tournament.  This year’s field includes Presbyterian, University of Tennesse-Martin and The Citadel.  All told, Mercer is prepared to face nine opponents who finished 2009 ranked among the nation’s top 125 teams based on RPI.

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