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The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, December 1, 2010

By Bethany Bradsher

Military Bowl a convenient hop for fans

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

It’s official, and it’s the quickest trip to a bowl game the Pirate Nation has ever enjoyed.

East Carolina accepted an invitation on Tuesday to play in the Military Bowl at RFK Stadium in Washington, DC,  on Wed., Dec. 29. The Pirates will play against a yet-to-be-named opponent from the Atlantic Coast Conference, but speculation late Tuesday centered on Clemson, Boston College and Georgia Tech.

RFK Stadium is about a five-hour drive from Greenville. East Carolina's closest previous bowl destination since the school joined the Division I-A ranks in the 1970s was the 1992 Peach Bowl in Atlanta, an eight-hour drive.

It is certainly a privilege and honor to have the opportunity to represent East Carolina in our nation's capital by playing in the Military Bowl," head coach Ruffin McNeill said when the bid was announced. “I'm happy our seniors, a group that has provided this program with loyal leadership and stability during their careers and a time of transition, will have the chance to compete for a bowl championship and reach one of our goals this season.”

The public bid presentation will take place at halftime of the Pirates’ basketball game against UNC-Charlotte tonight at Minges Coliseum.

Previously named the EagleBank Bowl, the bowl announced in October a new sponsor in defense contractor Northrop Grumman. The game's new title is the Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman.

Northrop Grumman noted in a press release that its sponsorship of the Military Bowl would enable the company to expand its relationship with the USO (United Service Organizations), which will be the recipient of the game's net proceeds.

The USO is a private, non-profit organization that provides morale support and recreational services to members of the U.S. military. Founded in 1941, the USO offers programs in 140 centers worldwide, including North Carolina locations Charlotte Douglas Airport, Fort Bragg, Jacksonville and RDU Airport.

Volleyball Pirates persevere through adversity

Conventional wisdom might suggest that a new coach’s hardest season would be the first one after being hired, and the transition will get progressively easier after that. But that pattern has not held true for Pati Rolf and the East Carolina volleyball team.

Ruffin McNeill, consider yourself warned: The second season for a new coach can sometimes prove the most treacherous. As she has contended with considerable fall-out from the change in leadership, Rolf found herself with a young, inexperienced team this fall and a final record of 2-30.

In their first season under Coach Rolf, the Lady Pirates finished 9-19, a disappointing year because the team was led by five strong seniors.  But if that campaign was an expected bump in the brand-new East Carolina road, Rolf was a bit blindsided by the damage that was done to her roster in the off season.

The five seniors graduated, as expected, but then the team’s top three juniors left the team because of chronic injuries or trouble adjusting to the ramped-up expectations Rolf brought to the program. That left no senior class, and when Rolf arrived in 2009 she didn’t have a recruiting class, or the group that would now be sophomores.

Pati Rolf

(ECU SID image)

Lt. Col. Eric Buller

( image)

The rash of departures, along with a preseason injury to starting middle hitter Briana Fleener, left Rolf with one returning starter, defensive specialist Amanda Lutzow, and two other players, Kelly Derby and Britney Roper, who had come in off of the bench last season. Her entire returning group consisted of two defenders and a hitter, and only one had ever started a college match.

“People would kind of give them a hard time and I would say, ‘You back off,’ Rolf said. “You have no idea what this group has been through. And the people that should be here leading these young ones have walked off. People don’t realize that because of that coaching change, we’re picking up a team that’s been decimated.”

It stings this team to see that record, or to hear someone speak it, but behind the numbers is the story of a group that has improved substantially since August, a group that has showed up for every practice armed with spirit and perseverance. Rolf can remember only two days when the losses seemed to be wearing the players down, when their effort flagged. She talked to them about it, they apologized, and it never happened again.

“This is kind of where we’re at right now: We’re learning our pluses and minuses, and we’re in an algebra exam,” Rolf said. “Because our conference is tough. If we were playing weaker teams, we’d be OK.”

Their season is over, but the volleyball team is still training, taking advantage of every day the NCAA allows them to build something that will withstand those tough opponents next season. And they are also spending an hour a week in an exercise that Rolf believes could be nearly as important as physical workouts. Lt. Col. Eric Buller, an assistant professor of military science in ECU’s Army ROTC program, has been meeting with the team to discuss the principles of leadership and how those ideals can play out on the volleyball court.

Rolf’s team has identified four areas where they want to make a difference: Family, academics, athletics and service. The sessions with the seasoned combat officer have helped give the ladies specific objectives and tools to fulfill their mission within those four values, Buller said.

“To be honest, it’s one of the highlights of my week,” he said. “There’s so much more going on than what you see in their win-loss record. They understand that their individual and collective development is so important.”

E-mail Bethany Bradsher

Bethany Bradsher Archives

12/01/2010 05:16 AM

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