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Thursday, November 12, 2009In her five years with the Lady Bisons volleyball program senior opposite Erin Pierce has become the epitome of the type of player coach Brandon Rosenthal wants to produce.
She isn’t going to dazzle anyone with her statistics. But Pierce, who has overcome an injury and a roster setback to become one of the three captains for the Lady Bisons, is a player that truly believes in the team concept.
“Erin is one of those players who is very resilient,” said Rosenthal. “She might not blow you away with her statistics, but I’m ecstatic that we have her on our side.”
This weekend the Lady Bisons close out the regular season with visits from two Atlantic Sun foes. Campbell, 17-12, 10-8, will be in Allen Arena Friday night at 5. ETSU, 11-16, 9-9, will play the Lady Bisons Saturday at 2.
The Lady Bisons, 24-3, 18-0, are out to finish the conference with a perfect 20-0 record. They have won 21 straight matches and are 10-0 at Allen Arena.
Saturday’s match will be the last one on the Allen Arena court for Pierce, opposite Kaley Mohr and middle hitter Amy Tyrkowski. All three will be honored as part of “Senior Day”.
The season does not end for the Lady Bisons this weekend. They are the Atlantic Sun regular season champion and will be the top seed in the conference tournament which begins Nov. 19 at Florida Gulf Coast in Fort Myers, Fla. The winner of the tournament earns the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
“It is not going to hit me until after the season is over,” said Pierce. “We have a lot more to look forward to this season. “You always dream of your team playing so well. It is definitely an accomplishment for us this season.”
Pierce will be a key to the success of the Lady Bisons in postseason. Rosenthal admits that much of what Pierce does on the court is difficult for the average fan to comprehend.
“With Erin you have to have a pretty trained eye to understand what she is doing,” said Rosenthal. “Don’t get me wrong. She can put up some big numbers. But consistently she makes sacrifices that you expect from a senior leader. Those are things that are never going to show up on a stat sheet.
“She is a solid passer. She is a solid defender. She is a solid attacker. No matter where you look, except maybe on the stat sheets, she is in the mix.”
Rosenthal refers to Pierce as the “X-factor”, a reference she does not dwell on when she is on the court.
“I know what he is talking about, but I don’t think of myself in that way,” said Pierce. “I know that I have to be on and be ready for my team. It is important for me to have my head in the game.
“I like to think I am part of every play. But stats don’t mean the world to me as long as I am playing well. “
Rosenthal really doesn’t want Pierce to think too much about what she does on the court. She has an uncanny knack for always being around the ball.
“Erin goes out and does what she needs to do,” said Rosenthal. “Sometimes if you think about it then it takes away from it.
“Erin is very instinctive. She is very hard on herself. Sometimes we have to jump in there and say let it go, let it go.”
Lipscomb was one of the first programs to recruit Pierce out of Butler Traditional High School in Louisville, Ky. She was immediately hooked on the program when she visited.
“Lipscomb was my first official visit,” said Pierce. “I liked that it was a small school. Everyone on the team was together and I liked that close atmosphere.”
She also likes the way that Rosenthal runs his program. He demands a great deal from his players, but they would not have it any other way.
“He expects us to be responsible and to hold ourselves to a certain standard,” said Pierce. “We rise to that challenge. We want that.
“He doesn’t have a ton of rules. We know what is right and what is wrong. We know if we don’t work hard in practices that we aren’t going to work hard in games. He pushes us, but we push ourselves too.”
It has not been a completely smooth five years. Pierce sat out her sophomore year with an injury and made her comeback in 2007, the year the Lady Bisons won the A-Sun Tournament and made their first trip to the NCAA Tournament.
“She came back and lost her starting position to Katie Bradley about halfway through the year,” said Rosenthal. “She didn’t play a whole lot in the second half. She had worked hard and come back from an injury. She had a starting position and she lost it.
“Erin never once said anything about it. It has always been about the team with her. That’s a tribute to her upbringing.”
Pierce credits her teammates for keeping her going through her many career challenges.
“As a freshman I was a little fish in a big pond,” said Pierce. “I worked really hard over the summer and pushed myself so much for my sophomore year. It was kind of unexpected that I would tear my ACL.
“The next year there were some changes and I had to roll with the punches. It is all about the team and how well we have been doing.”
Last season Pierce was back in the starting line-up as the Lady Bisons lost in the championship game to Belmont. This is her last chance at another tournament championship and she and the rest of her teammates are ready for the challenge.
“There is always the drive to play hard,” said Pierce. “We have been so competitive this year in practice whether it is scrimmages or small games. I think that is why we are as good as we are. We really push each other.”
Pierce is a prime example of hard work paying off. When Rosenthal signed her he knew she was a gifted athlete, but he had to find a spot where she could play and thrive. He calls this a “breakout” season for Pierce, much in the same way that Lindsey Rutherford ended her career playing the same position.
“It has taken her a couple of years to be able to play in the system,” said Rosenthal. “Lindsey Rutherford and Katie Bradley were the same. You could always count on them to consistently do the things you expect out of that position.
“She fell into a role she was comfortable with. She has done a nice job in the last 1 ½ years of taking it to the next level. For a coach it is like having that setter that can run the floor. We have an extra defender out there who is always doing the right things.”