Junior middle hitter Alex Kelly and junior setter Stefine “Jake” Pease were playing together on club teams long before they ever wore the purple and gold of the Lipscomb Lady Bisons. Kelly is the 2009 and 2008 Atlantic Sun Player of the Year. Pease was the Atlantic Sun Freshman of the Year in 2007 and was also the Atlantic Sun Tournament Most Valuable Player that same year.
This year both Kelly and Pease are also members of the Atlantic Sun All-Conference First Team. And while the Lady Bisons have earned the No. 1 seed in the Atlantic Sun Tournament with a 20-0 record as a team, 26-3 overall, the dual engines that drive the success are Kelly and Pease.
The Lady Bisons, who have won their last 23 matches in a row, will face Belmont in the semifinals of the tournament Friday at 4 p.m. Belmont, the No. 4 seed, beat Kennesaw State 3-0 (25-17, 25-15, 25-17), in the opening round here Thursday at the Alico Arena on the campus of tournament host Florida Gulf Coast.
Belmont is 18-14 overall.
“Belmont's experience in the tournament was probably a little too much for Kennesaw State in this match,” said Lady Bisons coach Brandon Rosenthal. “Kennesaw had a great season.
“It is kind of scary how Belmont is playing. I equate it to a couple of years ago when we were the No. 4 seed and won in 2007. They are playing very good volleyball right now.”
The Lady Bisons beat Belmont 3-0 Sept. 8 to open the A-Sun portion of the season and then followed up with a 3-1 win Oct. 13. Belmont is one of three conference teams to win a set against the Lady Bisons this season. ETSU won three and Campbell won one.
The Lady Bisons are 1-2 overall in tournament play against Belmont. The Lady Bisons won the title in 2007.
“It is a little strange to come all this way to play Belmont,” said Rosenthal. “At some point we expected to play them.
“There is nothing to do about the conference and where everybody finishes. Our girls know their players very well. It is going to come down to a match between two good teams. The winner will be the one that executes better.”
The Lady Bisons fell to Belmont in 2008 in the tournament championship game in Macon, Ga. Rosenthal will be counting on Kelly and Pease, who captain the team along with senior opposite Erin Pierce to lead the Lady Bisons to even higher heights.
Their leadership approaches are extensions of their personalities.
“They are very different in terms of personalities,” said Rosenthal. “A common misconception is that because they have known each other for so long that they are the same. They're not.
“The best thing about the two of them is the way they deal with each other. They each allow the other to be herself. Jake understands Alex and allows her to be Alex. Alex understands Jake and allows her to be Jake.”
The ease in which Kelly and Pease take on their leadership roles without stepping on each other's toes is an exception.
“I don't know how they did it, but both of them figured out that they need each other and don't need to fight this,” said Rosenthal. “I don't think one way or the the other is right. I think is a good combination with the girls hearing things from different perspectives.
“On the court Alex is going to let her emotions show a lot more. I think that is what makes her successful. Jake takes a `let's go about our business' approach. It is kind of fun to see the both of them push each other and push the team.”
As individuals each one possesses almost unlimited talent. On the court they choose to combine those talents rather than compete against each other.
“I think they understand the power that they have together,” said Rosenthal. “They are a great combination.”
This is the fifth appearance for the Lady Bisons in the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament. They have a 6-3 record overall.
Mark McGee, Senior Publisher/Media Relations Director