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The season is over for Mercer’s volleyball team after they lost in the second round of the SoCon tournament to no.1 seed East Tennessee State University.
In the first round, the Bears played no. 5 seed Wofford and swept them in three sets, hardly even a contest. Brittany Major and Roberta Todd shone during that matchup with 11 and 9 kills respectively. Maddie Nunley provided an impressive 32 assists.
However, the team would then have to play ETSU, who earlier in the season beat them 1-3 sets. It was not a pretty match for Mercer who was dominated early on in the match, getting only 14 points in the first set.
Even while the game improved, ETSU proved formidable as they kept Mercer from gaining a single set, allowing them to move forward to the championship round. The Buccaneers would then fall to Samford.
Despite the loss, there is a lot of positivity that can be taken away from this year’s season.
The Bears introduced a lot of new talent this year that contributed to the team finishing with a 16-13 overall record and a 8-8 conference record. Just last year, the team went 10-21 overall and 3-13 in conference.
The team now has a lot of young talent that can help provide a solid foundation to help the team grow even more in the near future.
This was not an easy season for Mercer’s 2018 football team, but despite the many setbacks they still managed to pull off a respectable conference record, finishing 4-4.
Their last game against Furman showcased how given better circumstances, they could have a much better season. Once again, Harrison Frost started as Mercer’s quarterback with Robert Riddle out due to a collarbone injury and Kaelan Riley not seeing the field until late in the third quarter.
Furman led Mercer almost the entire game, but the Bears kept the deficit close, at times looking like they could possibly pull ahead. They were finally able to do so in the fourth quarter.
With Tee Mitchell still injured, all of Mercer’s running plays had to be carried out by Tyray Devezin, who has shown out after Mitchell was taken out for the season. In the last game, Devezin made 185 rushing yards on 30 carries.
However, being over-reliant on Devezin made it easy for Furman’s defense to predict Mercer’s next play, and the Paladins reacted accordingly by locking down those routes.
When Riley finally returned to the field, it provided the team a drive that almost carried them to a victory. Riley passed to Marquise Irvin with 00:13 left on the clock for a touchdown, putting the game at 29-24 before the fourth quarter.
Later, Riley passed to Devezin to put Mercer ahead for the first time in the game, 30-29. However, Furman returned the favor five minutes later with the game winning touchdown.
"It was a tough locker room to leave tonight, especially when you have 17 seniors who gave so much to this program,” head coach Bobby Lamb said in a press release. “Whether you win or lose, all 17 of those seniors will graduate. As I told them, this journey is about the relationships they've built here. But it's still tough to see them go through pain in a game that we really played well in at times.”
That senior class includes key players like Marquise Irvin, Tee Mitchell, Stephen Houzah, Lemarkus Bailey, Isaiah Buehler and kicker Cole Fisher just to name a few.
There are many players returning next season who hopefully can help put some steam back into Mercer football’s engine.
Returning are all three of Mercer’s quarterbacks, Riddle, Riley and Frost, as well as running back Devezin and wide receiver David Durden.
Given all of the injuries this year, this season went better than expected and leaves the feeling that great things could have happened had these setbacks been avoided.
This 2018 team has had a remarkably improved season over last year’s team, finishing the regular season 15-12 overall and 8-8 in the conference.
So far this year three of the players have gotten over 200 kills, Brittany Major (254), Roberta Todd (277) and Paige Alsten leading with 330 kills.
Sophomore Madley Nunley has shown an incredible amount of viability on the court, with 892 assists, more than 700 more than the next closest player, Molly Hackett.
Defensively, Alsten has shown out with 92 blocks, making her the team leader in two different statistical categories.
Mercer showed out in their last stretch of games, three of which were at home and all ended in victories. Mercer’s very last game of the season against the top ranked team ETSU.
Going into the SoCon tournament beginning this Friday, Mercer currently ranks number four in the conference. They have a tied record with Furman who came out over the Bears 0-3 earlier in the season.
The team has a good shot of winning their first match against number 5 Wofford, having already beaten them earlier this season 3-1 sets.
The three teams that sit above Mercer have all handed the Bears losses this season, so they will have their work cut out for them for the rest of the tournament.
With only two games left in the season, Mercer football needed a win to keep them from further slipping down in the Southern Conference standings. Luckily, they were able to do just that against Chattanooga last Saturday in what was their first road victory against the Mocs since 1933.
With quarterback Kaelan Riley still injured, it was up to Harrison Frost to lead the team to a victory. Frost had managed to hold his own against conference leader ETSU in Mercer’s homecoming game, so there was a lot of hope he could help the team pull off a victory against the much lower ranked Chattanooga. Easier said than done.
The first half of the game was all defense for both teams. Neither the Mocs nor the Bears managed to put up any points on the scoreboard. The Bears were even able to force a fumble and kept the Mocs just far enough away to prevent a successful field goal attempt.
The Bears lucked out just before halftime after a pass by Frost was intercepted and ran into the endzone. It would have been the first touchdown for the Mocs if a pair of penalties hadn’t been called, unsportsmanlike conduct and sideline interference. The ball was taken back to the 32-yard line, but they later missed their second field goal attempt.
In the third quarter with 11:37 on the clock, the Mocs were able to make a successful 38 -yard field goal that finally broke the stalemate. Besides those three points, the two teams successfully managed to keep each other from crossing the endzone.
At the start of the fourth quarter, the Mocs were able to pull off another field goal to make the score 6-0.
Not too long later though, Stephen Houzah managed to make a 73-yard kick return that pushed the Bears deep enough into Mocs territory to finally make something happen. A 19-yard throw from Frost to Chris Ellington finally put the Bears on the scoreboard.
Chattanooga continued to play the short game, extending their lead once more by 3 points with another field goal. With only 2:29 left on the clock, the pressure was on for the Bears to make something happen.
Once again, it was Houzah who came through, this time with a 91-yard kickoff return that put the Bears deep enough into the redzone to gain enough yards where Tyray Devezin was finally able to break through the Mocs’ defensive line for a touchdown.
“It wasn’t looking good for a while; offensively, we were struggling, but our defense played outstanding and hung in there all game,” Head Coach Bobby Lamb said in a press release. “The two big returns by Stephen Houzah are probably the two biggest for our team since he’s been here.”
This win puts Mercer at fourth in the SoCon standings. Next Saturday, they play their last regular season match against Furman.
When Mercer took the field Saturday afternoon in their homecoming game against the no. 1 ranked ETSU, the odds were clearly against them. Not only were they going up against the best team in the Southern Conference, they also had to deal with a severely weakened offense.
Quarterback Kaelan Riley and running back Tee Mitchell were both on the bench due to injuries. When first string quarterback Robert Riddle was taken out for the season due to a collarbone injury, Mercer fans could at least rest assured knowing that someone with starting experience was taking the reins.
Riley’s ankle injury meant third string quarterback Harrison Frost had to step up and take over. Frost did not even have all the tools that Riley would have with Mitchell out of the game. Tyray Devezin filled in as the Bears’ leading rusher for the game.
Despite some key positions being filled by more inexperienced players, the Bears put up an admirable fight against the Buccaneers.
The Bears were actually the first ones to put points on the board. The team edged their way into the red zone until Tyray Devezin was able to break through ETSU’s defensive line to score a 1-yard touchdown.
However, things took a turn in the second quarter when ETSU scored two touchdowns. Mercer responded to the first touchdown with a 24-yard field goal by Cole Fisher. The Buccaneers second touchdown with 36 seconds left on the clock gave the Bears no opportunity to respond going into halftime.
The Bears put a lot of pressure on the Buccaneers in the second half with aggressive play. Mercer added two more points after Travonte Easley made a tackle in the ETSU end zone for a safety. Later, Cole Fisher made another field goal to put the Bears up 15-14.
Unfortunately, the touchdown that ETSU made with 2 minutes left on the clock would seal the deal.
Going into the last quarter, Mercer was down 21-15, and made solid attempts at a comeback but just fell short. Cole Fisher was able to make another field goal to add 3 points but the ETSU defense stopped Mercer from gaining any more points.
With this loss, Mercer sits 3-3 in the conference. The Bears will be on the road next Saturday to play against Chattanooga who sits one spot above Mercer.
Mercer’s baseball team has regularly been one of the most consistently productive teams on Mercer campus, a fact which has helped the program grow in recent years.
In the last eight seasons, last year’s was the only time they had a losing record in the conference even though their overall record was still positive, and they still managed to finish second in the SoCon tournament.
Fans of Mercer baseball, and even those who may not consider themselves such should pay attention this year due to a batch of freshmen that Collegiate Baseball listed as one of the top recruiting classes in the nation.
Most impressive may be the fact that all of these freshmen come out of the state of Georgia.
“I think first and foremost you have to recruit your home state,” Head Coach Craig Gibson said. “Something different we did a little different this year than we’ve ever done in years past is we were able to bring them all to summer school.”
The reason for this was to help the athletes acclimate to the campus and academic conditions at Mercer, although Gibson said all the athletes easily either met or exceeded the academic criteria for his program.
A good number of the freshman class is composed of pitchers, a necessary priority for the coaches as they were scouting due to the number they lost in last year’s senior class and some juniors who were taken in last year’s draft.
“Moving forward that may not be quite the emphasis for our 2019 class, but our 2018 class was highly represented by the pitching,” Gibson said.
Gibson hinted at a number of pitchers who have shown promise of entering the starting rotation including Peyton Berry, Jackson Kelley and Jeff Jenkins. The pitchers were not the only ones receiving praises, however.
“Positionally, it’s one of the most talented freshman groups we’ve had,” Gibson said. “We could have three or four freshmen starting positionally for us.”
The only other SoCon team to have made Collegiate Baseball’s report was ETSU, who Gibson had only good things to say about concerning their coach and their freshman class.
Former Mercer running back Alex Lake had two records that were broken during the Bears’ game against Western Carolina. The first was Mercer’s all time rushing yards record which Tee Mitchell now holds.
The second one is the all-time scoring record, now held by kicker Cole Fisher. What makes this most impressive is that Fisher did not receive a lot of playing time until his sophomore year.
“It says a lot about our offense to be able to accomplish that in three years,” Fisher said about getting the record. “We’ve scored a lot of touchdowns. It hasn’t just been me.”
Fisher credited his teammates with putting him in the position to make those extra point kicks, which he has been able to consistently connect on these and field goal attempts.
In 2016, he connected on 16 of 23 field goal attempts and went a perfect 34-34 for extra point attempts. In 2017, he made 7 of 12 field goal attempts, putting him at 60% that season.
If you are a casual football fan, you may not pay much attention to the kickers and the large role they play in the game, but oftentimes the kickers have the highest scoring statistics on the team.
“We are under-recognized sometimes,” Fisher said. “We like going unrecognized because that means we do everything right. Appreciate us for what we do, and hold us accountable when we do miss.”
Now that Fisher has broken this record, he has several more games left in which he can cement it. The Bears have three more games this season, all three of which are against SoCon competitors.
Last Saturday, the team took a hit in the standings in a loss against Wofford, a team that is currently battling for the first place spot with ETSU.
Depending on how Mercer does in these last couple of games, they have the opportunity to move up in the SoCon standings. The team sits at a 3-2 conference record and is ranked no. 4.
“Of the four years I’ve been here we’re probably in the best position when it comes to this time of year than we have been,” Fisher said. “When it comes to me, my goal was to be 100% on everything.”
In the opening minutes of Mercer Football’s match against Western Carolina, the swiftness in which the Catamounts took their lead may have left Mercer fans with a feeling of dread about what was about to take place.
Western Carolina scored in the first two minutes off of a 23 yard pass, while Mercer struggled in the first quarter to gain any yards.
In the second quarter with 10:56 on the clock, Western Carolina made their second touchdown while the Bears were still unable to get on the board. However, Mercer fans who believed the Bears were down for the count would find themselves pleasantly surprised.
Two minutes of gameplay later, the Bears put up their first seven points. Running back Tyray Devezin made an 18 yard run into the end zone.
Mercer and Western Carolina traded blows back and forth with each other; however, as the Bears figured themselves out, they were able to close the gap with the Catamounts to bring the score to 21-21 with 2:55 left on the clock.
Kaelan Riley showed out during the game, passing for 294 yards and three touchdowns, utilizing the wide receivers to stretch the field and take advantages of weaknesses in the Catamounts defense.
The half ended with Mercer taking the lead, although it was incredibly close, 28-27 after Western Carolina landed 43 yard field goal.
Tee Mitchell helped lead off the second half for Mercer, breaking through the Catamounts defense at the two yard line. Later on in the quarter, Cole Fischer kicked a field goal to bring the Bears up 38-27. The quarter ended 45-33, the Bears having established control over the game.
By the halfway point of the fourth quarter, Mercer had put up 59 points, a deficit the Catamounts would attempt to overcome but would not succeed bring the final score to 59-46.
Mitchell and Fischer have the most to celebrate with this victory, both of them breaking previous Mercer records during this game.
Tee Mitchell broke Mercer’s all-time rushing yards record and earned his tenth career 100 yards rushing performance which ties him for third most in SoCon history.
"It's a good feeling…a lot of the credit goes to our offensive line and the coaching staff,” Mitchell said in a Mercer press release. “Coach [Joe] Pizzo has done a great job implementing a dynamic offense this year. I'm not trying to get too hung up on the record because we've got plenty of football left and a title to fight for.
Kicker Cole Fischer broke the previous 192 point scoring record held by Alex Lakes with an 11 point performance on Saturday.
This win brings Mercer 3-1 in the conference so far this season. They play an away game against Wofford this Saturday at 1:30 pm.
One of the most consistent players on Mercer’s football team, wide receiver Marquise Irvin, has remained a pillar in the team’s offense for the past four years and is now in his final season. As a freshman, he played in all 11 games and was named to the Southern Conference All-Freshman team.
“I played early but I really started to get into the offense my sophomore year,” Irvin said. “I took advantage of every opportunity I got.”
Marquise came to Mercer with the idea that he would be a part of a growing team with the potential to become a SoCon championship winning team, which unfortunately has not happened yet since the team joined SoCon in 2014.
Despite this, Irvin has continually improved during his tenure at Mercer. Just this year, Irvin was named to the 2018 Preseason All-SoCon First Team.
So far this year, Irvin has contributed 579 receiving yards with three touchdowns.
“Anytime you have a big time receiver on the weak side of the field, defenses have to make adjustments for that,” Head Coach Bobby Lamb said. “He makes big plays and big time catches.”
Irvin only has four games left in his collegiate career, notwithstanding a bid at the SoCon championship, and his departure will leave a hole in Mercer’s offense that will have to be filled with new talent.
“There’s a lot of young guys we got,” Irvin said. “David Durden, Demond Ellison, those are two big physical guys that can run and fill my position when I leave.”
Lamb said that Irvin has gotten some attention from pro-NFL scouts and Irvin confirmed that the pro route is one he is seriously considering if it opens up for him.
“It’s every kid's dream to want to go pro,” Irvin said. “I’m trying my best to take advantage of that opportunity as well.”
Softball season hasn’t started yet, but that doesn’t mean the team hasn’t been hard at work preparing for the season. For senior Megan Lane, this preseason preparation gives her the opportunity to further adjust to her role as the team’s starting catcher, a role she only took up last season.
“My sophomore year I played half outfield, half catcher,” Lane said. “I hadn’t caught since high school really, but then my junior year I felt a lot more comfortable behind the plate.”
Lane said she saw her opportunity to take the catching position after the previous catcher graduated, and she dedicated her efforts to making it a reality.
“I worked hard at it the summer before and made sure I deserved to play that position,” she said.
Lane has proven herself capable at the plate as well. In the 2017 season, she averaged .272 with an on-base-percentage of .367 with 25 runs. The previous season, she made both the All-Southern Conference First Team and the Academic All-Southern Conference Team.
With Mercer, Lane said her teammates have helped her grow as a player and built a network of friends outside of the sport as well.
Last year, the team had its first winning season in several years, but wasn’t able to pull off a victory in the SoCon tournament.
“I’ve never won a ring in high school or college so that’s the goal this year,” Lane said. “We’re a young team, we’ve got a lot of young talent.”
The Catamounts came to Hawkins Arena Friday night deciding they were determined to give the Bears a run for their money.
The first set went to the Catamounts, 21 - 25. The two teams traded the lead until the last couple of points where Western Carolina ran off to finish the set. Even with impressive efforts from Paige Alsten, who had 5 kills, and Megan Smith who kept the team in action with 6 digs, the Bears lost a hold of their ability to hang on with the Catamounts.
At the beginning of the second set, Western Carolina continued their momentum from the first, running up a 1 - 5 score before Mercer head coach Derek Schroeder called a timeout. Alsten was able to end the Catamounts’ five point run with a kill, which helped set the Bears up to pull off an impressive second set comeback.
Slowly but surely, the Bears were able to close the gap with their opponents. A block from Alste tied the set up at 13 - 13. Mercer took their first lead of the set after Brittany Major made the second consecutive block for the Bears.
Major may have been the most impressive player on the court in the second set, adding 8 kills to Mercer’s score and bringing her total up to 9 before halftime. Alsten managed to double her number of kills to 10.
After a back and forth showdown with both teams showing their maximum effort, the Bears finally took the second set 28 - 26.
The story didn’t change much in the third set. Western Carolina came out strong, at one point leading the Bears by three points, 4 - 7. This lead did not last for very long. An unrelenting effort by both teams' players once again put the two opponents in a crunch as neither seemed capable of taking a comfortable lead.
However, in the end, Bears took their second consecutive set 25 - 23.
In the fourth set, the Bears came in fired up and did not waste time tying things up with the Catamounts. The Bears took an early secure lead and did not relinquish it for the rest of the remaining match. Although the Catamounts attempted to stage a comeback in their final few serves, it was not enough to bridge the gap and the set ended at 25 - 20, giving Mercer the 3 - 1 win.
“It’s always a close one with Western Carolina,” Head Coach Derek Schroeder said after the match. “They play such good defense and they’re such a scrappy team they manage to keep everything close.”
Schroeder said due to this his team had to show resilience and finish to pull off the win, which he said he was satisfied with.
Paige Alsten and Brittany Major shined during the match, racking up 18 and 15 kills respectively.
“They’re weapons you know what I mean,” Schroeder said. “Brittany is a major weapon for us (pun intended).”
Saturday Mercer went up against another conference rival, UNCG, in a game that the Bears lost in five sets. As opposed to their match against Western Carolina which gave Mercer their first SoCon win, this match would be Mercer’s first loss in the conference.
In the first set, the Bears took an early lead, 11 - 4, which came into play as the Spartans performed a five point streak that would have been dangerous Mercer in any other situation. Eventually, UNCG caught up and held the Bears at a tie at several moments during the match.
The Bears eventually responded with an 8 - 1 run lead by Roberta Todd and would finish the set at 25 - 22.
However, the Spartans responded in kind by winning the next set 20 - 25. After taking an early lead, the Bears found themselves within one point on two occasions, but UNCG eventually settled the set without much protest from Mercer.
In almost pattern like fashion, the two teams traded wins on the next two sets to put the match into a fifth, which saw some of the most ferocity out of the entire competition.
At one point in the match the Bears pulled off a 5 - 1 run after being down for most of the set to tie things up at 12. But UNCG was able to pull off the final three points from a 14 - 13 deficit to wrap up the game.
The Bears will travel this weekend to face their next SoCon match against Furman in Greensville, SC.
Samantha Eustace took charge of a recently created Mercer Women’s Lacrosse program three years ago, and in those three years managed to build a team that would become the 2018 Southern Conference champions.
Eustace has coached lacrosse for over a decade now, but coming to Mercer was the first time she held the position of head coach of a D1 college program. Before coming to Macon, she spent three years as an assistant coach at James Madison University, a school more than twice the size of Mercer located in Harrisonburg, Va.
The University of Massachusetts alum said her time spent under the tutelage of the head coach at James Madison and other programs largely influenced the way she coaches and what she looks for in student athletes when she is recruiting.
“I think as a coach you take a little bit from everywhere,” Eustace said citing her list of coaching credentials. “Every place that you’ve been you take a little bit of what you learned there. Coaches that are successful are constantly learning.”
According to the Mercer Athletics bio page, “Eustace has previously coached with several of the nation’s top club teams, including Capital Blue and Mass Elite. She also has been involved with the U.S. Lacrosse Women’s Division National Tournament as both a head coach and selector.”
Eustace said she always is looking for new opportunities to learn from other coaches, despite what the sport may be.
“I like to try and go watch other practices and see what other coaches do, not just the sport of lacrosse,” she said. “Coaching is coaching whether you’re coaching basketball, soccer or lacrosse.”
Eustace was not Women’s Lacrosse’s first head coach. The program was previously run by Eve Levinson for its first full season.
During Eustace’s first year with the team they posted a 7-11 overall record and a 4-4 conference record, an improvement from their 2-5 conference record the season before.
The following year in 2017, the team had its best year as a program so far, going 13-6 overall and 7-3 in conference, but was unable to win the Atlantic SUN conference championship, which was the division the Bears played in before a SoCon division was established for Women’s Lacrosse in 2018.
It would only take one more year however before the Bears would win their first conference championship in the Southern Conference, making history as the first team to win a SoCon Women’s Lacrosse championship.
“I think it was a surprise for a lot of people,” Eustace said.
Going into the SoCon tournament, Mercer did not look like the likely winner. They were the no. 4 seed having to go against no. 1 seed Detroit Mercy in the first round. The Bears were able to edge out a 18-17 win at Five Star Stadium to move on to face Furman.
Mercer had the honor of hosting the first ever SoCon Women’s Lacrosse championship; however, she did admit that there was a possible drawback.
“The flip side to that is you may host the first one but you may not win the first one,” she said, but believed playing at home would help give her team an edge over the competition.
In the end, this concern was hardly a problem as the Bears pulled off an 18-8 blowout of Furman to take home the title and move on the NCAA tournament.
The Bears lost in the first round of the tournament but managed to further a goal they had set out on since their first year of being a program.
“I think the first year was about getting respect,” Eustace said. “I think after talking to the team my first year here; they wanted other teams to respect them.”
The Bears dominated the Jacksonville Dolphins in their first home game of the season, 45-3 against the Pioneer Football League team.
Mercer moved around some of their positions, working to find a formula that works for them for the rest of the season. This was the perfect matchup for them to try out new things as they prepare to face their first Southern Conference opponent next week at Samford.
Kaelan Riley and Robert Riddle continued to trade off quarterback duties. Riddle, the redshirt freshman, got his first start last week when he made two touchdown passes against Memphis last Saturday.
Both players made eight complete passes. Riley got two touchdowns during the game with a run and a pass while Riddle scored off of a 3 yard run in the first quarter.
Running backs Tee Mitchell and Tyray Devezin showed out this game, with Mitchell racking up 118 yards on 12 runs and a touchdown, while Devezin gained a net 99 yards with two touchdowns.
This victory for Mercer marks the 33rd win Bobby Lamb has had with the program and his 100th win as a college coach.
The team gave him a superbowl style celebration, anointing him with a Gatorade dunk after the final seconds ticked off the clock.
"[To win] 100 career games feels great, but when you win 100, you're probably getting old. I'm proud of that accomplishment,” Lamb said in a Mercer press release. “Looking back at my career, those 100 wins have come from all the players and coaches that have been with me over these past 14 seasons [and two games].”
Mercer will have to take the momentum from this victory into their game with Samford, who currently ties them with a 1-1 record after their loss against Florida State last night.
Tuesday night, the Mercer volleyball team hosted Florida A&M for their first home game of the season after traveling on the road for two invitationals.
Though the Bears seemed to make quick work of the Rattlers, beating them in under an hour and thirty minutes, Florida A&M’s team should not be discredited for their effort. They made the Bears fight hard to come out with the first two sets before halftime.
In the third set, Mercer ran off on several streaks, giving the Rattlers no opportunity of making a comeback.
At the end of the match, the final score was Mercer 3-0 (25-22, 25-23, 25-11).
“We really wanted to get a win tonight just to get things established,” said Head Coach Derek Schroeder. “We’re very much a style team, so playing at home is when you’re supposed to put your style on the floor most effectively.”
Two players managed to stand out the most during the match, senior Paige Alsten and sophomore Roberta Todd who each managed to record 17 kills.
Another thing of note is that the Bears recorded five service aces during the match, making it the fourth time they’ve accomplished this during the season.
Schroeder also highlighted Amber Gibson who he said added a lot to the team’s energy during the second set with her communacative style of play.
The Bears sit 4-4 in the season with no games played yet in the conference. The Bears host their first tournament at home this weekend beginning Sep. 7.
Fans of college basketball know the heartbreak of watching young talent come through, join their favorite team and then depart after four years. However, there is a noticeable pattern of Mercer alumni coming back to fill coaching positions for their former teams.
For former Mercer Women’s Basketball point guard Sydni Means, this did not seem like it would be the case. The now assistant coach for the Bears originally planned on playing overseas and that’s what she had told her coach as well.
“We didn’t talk about this at all prior,” Means said about taking a coaching position.
The idea of offering Means the job came to head coach Susie Gardner while the graduating point guard was giving her speech at the Toby’s, Mercer’s annual sports awards ceremony.
“I didn’t even think she wanted to coach,” Gardner said.
However, that didn’t stop Gardner from offering the position, saying that Means could provide a valuable role to the team mostly in part due to her very recent status as a player.
“Sydni has the intangibles that other coaches on my staff don’t,” Gardner said. “For example, I wanted us to have better alumni relations with former women’s basketball players. Well, who better to handle alumni relations than an alum?”
To Gardner’s surprise, Means accepted the role, despite all the previous talk they had of Means traveling overseas to continue her career as a professional player. As it turns out, she had always planned on becoming a coach sometime in her life.
“This is a long-term dream job for me, and it just came sooner than I expected,” Means said.
Even though she is only on her second month of coaching, Means said she plans on sticking with it for the long haul.
What made Means a perfect fit as an assistant coach in Gardner’s words is that she is someone who can market the games to the fans. Gardner hopes Means’ popularity on campus will help bring in more students as well.
“There’s a lot of stuff that goes on behind the scenes,” Means said. “There’s a lot of stuff on the court and a lot of stuff off the court.”
Even with a brand new load of responsibilities in her role as an assistant coach, Gardner testified for Means that she has stepped up to the role with little problem.
“She’s hit the ground running,” Gardner said. “It’s been a very easy transition.”
With several stars having graduated from Mercer, Means will have to tutor the next generation of Lady Bears, including two freshman point guards who will be filling Means’ former role.
“We lost key pieces last year but we also still have the core of what we had last year,” Means said, citing four starting players who will be returning next season.
Means said she was originally nervous because she didn’t know how some of her former teammates would take being coached by her, but as she’s worked with them those worries disappeared after the team had their first couple weeks of practice and has given her respect in her new position.
Means was always a leader for her team, so becoming a coach was a lot more natural than she had expected.
“Being a point guard you kind of have to be a coach on the court,” Means said. “When Coach Gardner hired me that’s kind of what she was saying, ‘I want you to be able to lead our point guards now’.”
Gardner and Means said they didn’t want to make any early predictions about how the season will play, but both of them said they understand that a lot of attention will be put on the team due to how well they performed, making it all the way to the NCAA tournament. Means said she believes these new players can take up the mantle.
“I’m super excited for these freshmen because they are super talented,” she said. “I have nothing but good things to say about it all.”
When the new season starts, these new players will have support from an assistant coach who not too long ago was in their very same shoes.
“I hung up the shoes, but I get to put on the whistle now,” Means said.
Over the weekend, Bears softball split their double header against UNCG, a team that is sure to cause problems for the Bears in the Southern Conference tournament.
The Bears currently hold a 26-12 overall record for the season, while the Spartans are 30-8 overall. The two teams are currently tied 7-1 in conference play, making them the top two teams in the conference.
The first game saw the Bears fall to UNCG 0-7. The game was tied 0-0 for the first 4 innings until the bottom of the fifth when UNCG went on a 4 run rally on two hits and one error.
Things did not fare any better for the Bears in the sixth where the Spartans added three more runs off of two more hits and another Mercer error.
The standout performer of the first game was UNCG’s Jasmine Palmer, who managed to get two hits and three RBIs out of her four at bats. On the other side, Mercer struggled to put up numbers as they only managed to get three hits overall during the first game.
Head Coach Stephanie Defeo must have given the team a much needed pep talk after the first game because they came back much stronger in game two.
The Bears took an early lead in the top of the first. Catcher Megan Lane hit a two-run homer, the only home run of the day, to bring in Lauren Sanchez. This hit effectively sealed the deal for Mercer’s victory, though it couldn’t have been possible without shutout pitching from Stella Preston.
Preston kept the Spartans from getting on base with only three walks and three hits against her.
To add to that, Preston racked up seven strikeouts during the course of the game. For Preston, this is her eighth win of the season and also brought her ERA down to 1.99.
Later in the top of the seventh, Sanchez hit an RBI single bringing in Megan Rud, bringing the game to its final 3-0 score.
The Bears will rest this week until Saturday when the Bears are traveling to Athens to face off against the Bulldogs in a three game series.
UGA is currently 35-5 overall this season and should provide a good opportunity for the Bears to gauge how they need to adjust for the rest of the season leading up to the SoCon tournament.
Last year when the two teams met up, the Bulldogs left the Bears 3-12 at the end of the game.
Georgia Tech came to Macon looking for revenge for their loss when the two teams met up earlier this season in Atlanta.
The Bears took the win 6-2 against the Yellow Jackets, an upset to be sure. It was the first time Mercer had come out on top against Georgia Tech since 2014.
This time however, Tech threw everything they could at the Bears, giving Mercer their first loss against a Georgia team this year.
Mercer Head Coach Craig Gibson said he believes defensive errors played a large part in giving Georgia Tech the upper hand during the game.
“It’s tough to make mistakes against good offensive pieces,” Gibson said. “They made us pay for it tonight, they were just the better club.”
Here's the Game Breakdown:
First, Ammons brought in two runs with an RBI double to left field. Immediately after, Alex Hanson brought in the remaining two runners on base with an RBI single to left field.Things first started heating for Mercer up in the bottom of the second inning when the Bears managed to score four runs against a struggling Georgia Tech pitcher, Brant Hurter.
The Yellow Jackets managed to get runners on base in the following two innings, but were unable to make any magic happen as Mercer pitcher Zach Graveno and the seven gloves behind him got themselves out of each jam.
The game took a turn however when Georgia Tech’s Kyle McCann rocked a grand slam over the right field wall to tie the game in the top of the fifth inning.
Relief pitcher, Nick Spear, was able to get Mercer out of the inning before any more damage could be done, but the Jackets’ bats were just heating up.
In the bottom of the same inning, Mercer looked like they were going to gain some momentum but were stopped short after only scoring one run. Le Bassett hit a single that brought in RJ Yeager from third to bring the score to 5-4.
The yellow jackets responded in the top of the sixth with a couple runs of their own. With runners on first and third, Georgia Tech managed to bring in a runner after a bad fielding throw to first from second baseman Kyle Dockus.
It didn’t end there. Relief pitcher Robert Broom walked a batter to load the bases, then the next batter was hit by a pitch to bring in the go-ahead run.
The Bears were finally able to get out of the inning but not without taking some damage, ending the inning at 5-6.
Mercer wasn’t able to catch a break as Georgia Tech continued their assault in the top of the seventh, scoring four more runs to bring the score to 5-10.
It started with a fielding error that brought in a run and allowed Georgia Tech’s Austin Wilhite to get to advance to third. Next up, Tech’s catcher, Joey Bart hit a two run homer to clear the bases. Kyle McCann then slammed a single homer over the 400 yard mark in center field, his second home run of the night.
After limping through the previous four innings, Mercer came into the bottom of the seventh looking ready to fight back. With bases loaded Brandon Michie hit a two run RBI single.
However, the yellow jackets put a halt to that momentum soon thereafter and came back in the top of the eighth with a single homer over the left field wall from A. Wilhite.
With two outs in the top of the eighth, Bart came up to the plate and hit another home run for the team. Bart ended the night 3-for-3 with 4 runs and 2 homeruns.
The Bears managed to score one run in the bottom of the eighth, an RBI double by Trey Truitt to bring the score to 8-12.
Any legitimate shot of a comeback by Mercer was dashed in the top of the ninth inning. Mercer handed more runs to the yellow jackets as four Tech players crossed home plate off of only one hit and two errors.
Tech retired Mercer’s batters without much fanfare in the bottom of the ninth and that was the game.
After last night’s game, Mercer currently holds a season record of 26-9, and 6-3 in conference play. Their next series begins this Friday against Samford in Birmingham, Alabama.
It is not uncommon for student athletes to transfer schools after one or two years, especially when that time is spent at a junior college where you graduate after two years anyway. What makes Lauren O’Dell’s case interesting is that she decided to transfer schools in the middle of her sophomore year at Shelton State Community College.
“When Mercer became an option, that was the only option for me,” O’Dell said about her decision.
O’Dell said she dealt with a lot of stress when having to make her move to Mercer, dealing with getting her transcripts in and getting all of her affairs in order.
“At a certain point in the school year for about a week I was really pulling my hair out,” she said.
The stress didn’t demotivate her from transferring to the school she said had been in her sights ever since she was pitching in high school for the Alexandria Valley Cubs.
O’Dell came at the right time to help out a Mercer softball team that was suffering setbacks in its pitching rotation due to injuries and the void left by last year’s graduated senior class, so they needed someone who could come in and without hesitation fill that void.
“She has an unbelievable competitiveness, work ethic and her ball moves really well,” Head Coach Stephanie Defeo said about O’Dell.
Pitching Coach Mollie Hanson was the one who scouted O’Dell. Defeo said Hanson did a lot of research on junior colleges which is where one would try to find a new player halfway through the year. Hanson is a former student from Shelton State, so it was one of the first places they looked for new talent.
Defeo said she has no doubt that O’Dell has been able to properly adapt from playing at a community college to playing at a D1 level school.
“It’s all about mentality,” Defeo said. “You definitely have to have the talent, but you also have to have the mentality to want to compete.”
O’Dell herself said she recognizes that the talent she faces at the D1 level is more than what she has previously experienced, but that it doesn’t phase her.
“It’s a little more faster paced than a junior college,” O’Dell said. “But I’ve found that the transition has been easier than I thought it would have been.”
O’Dell finished her 2017 season at Shelton with a 1.90 ERA and finished with 17 wins and 3 losses out of 26 mound appearances.
The team is still in the early part of their season, but if their first couple games are an accurate metric then they should look forward to a good showing this spring. As of Mar. 11, the team is 16-8.
O’Dell has pitched in five games so far this season, winning her starting pitching debut against Michigan State and two others against Florida A&M and Eastern Kentucky.
It has been a long time since Mercer baseball has bested Georgia Southern, three years to be in fact. However, after an up and down bout that had the Bears playing to the best of their abilities, they finished the game 11-8.
Early on, the game didn’t look too promising for the Bears, but they were able to pull themselves together each time they fell into a deficit.
“I always tell our guys you’re not a really good team till you come from behind,” Head Coach Craig Gibson said after the game. “We didn’t want to get behind but we were able to get us going in the fourth inning.”
When the two teams met up last year Mercer lost in back to back games at home and away.
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The game started evenly paced. The score was tied 1-1 by the top of the third and neither team seemed to show an advantage
By the bottom of the third inning, things looked like they were turning for the worst for the Bears. Georgia Southern second baseman Steven Curry hit a three run homer that put the Eagles over the Bears, 1-4.
Mercer was not out of the game yet. Going in 5-1 at the top of the fifth, Mercer kicked things into gear. Left fielder David Posas hit an RBI double out to bring the score to 5-2. JT Thomas got on base after being walked.
With two runners on base, right fielder Trey Truitt took full advantage of his opportunity at the plate, hitting a three run homer to tie up the game.
This inning kept Mercer in the game; however, Georgia Southern had far from conceded. The Eagles scored two more runs in the sixth inning while Mercer scored one to bring the score to 6-7.
In the top of the eighth inning, Georgia Southern scored another run when third baseman Jeddediah Fagg hit an RBI single to left field. Going into the bottom of the eighth, Georgia Southern only had a two run buffer to work with that Mercer evaporated.
Through a combination of struggling pitching from the Eagles and smart base running by Mercer, the Bears were able to score five runs in the bottom of the eighth to secure a three run lead going into the ninth.
One notable part of the game was the large number of relief pitchers Georgia Southern brought in throughout the game, five after starting pitcher Cole Whitney came out the game.
“At the end I think the difference was our pitching was a little bit better than theirs,” Gibson said. “They have conference this weekend so they were trying to keep everybody sharp. Those same guys were good against us last year, it was just our night on our field.”
Truitt stood out this game, producing two runs, two hits and three RBIs out of his five at bats.
“Usually I lead off so it was different having people on for me tonight,” Truitt said about finding himself in a position to score runners.
Truitt said despite the change he focused on staying within himself and keeping the approach he always has.
Due to complications stemming from a concussion he suffered toward the end of his sophomore season, Truitt struggled last year to keep his stats up, but has already shown a great improvement this year, keeping a .381 batting average so far this season with 24 hits and 10 RBIs.
The Mercer Club Tennis team will travel to Auburn this weekend to play in the Southern Championship against teams from schools from all over the region, including schools from the state of Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, South Carolina and Florida.
The tournament includes two draws, one for SEC and ACC schools called the alley draw and another for non-SEC and ACC schools called the rally draw, which would include Mercer. The top five in the alley draw receive a bid to attend the national championship in Orlando, Florida, while only the top school from the rally draw will receive a bid.
Josh Allison, the club president, said they will be competing against 47 other teams in their draw to try to get that bid. Allison said he has gone to the tournament every year he has been on the team and is excited for his last visit as a senior.
“Last year we finished with an overall record of 4-2,” Allison said. “So we’re looking forward to carrying that success into this year and hopefully excelling.”
In preparation for the tournament the team has been sticking to their usual practice schedule of three times a week on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
“In the couple weeks leading up to the tournament, we try to do a lot more match play,” player Julia Stephen said. “So, we’ll play matches in the style that we play them in the tournament just to prepare more for the point styles.”
Stephen said she believed last year was the team’s most successful year, going 4-2 and also winning their bracket.
“We know we may not win it, but we just try to have a winning record, and we did that last year,” Stephen said.
Even though it is his final year, Allison said he just wants to see more people who play tennis come out and play for the club and enjoy themselves. He said they don’t have to compete and travel with the team, but he wants to see more people come out and enjoy themselves at practices.