Volleyball Takes 5-0 Record Into GNAC Opener

CHESTNUT HILL, MA -- Just two seasons ago, the Pine Manor College volleyball team was stuck in the midst of a 1-22 campaign. Two years later, senior Jennifer Gross (Coral Springs, FL) and junior Alie Johnston (Winnipeg, MB, Canada), both team captains, are the only remaining members of the 2009 Gators and the frustrations of that season are now firmly in the past.

As a freshmen, Gross was part of a team that won seven games, going 3-9 in conference play. And, following her sophomore year, Johnston’s first with team, the team’s lone senior had won only 8 games in two years.

Last season, the first under current head coach Mike Murphy, the Gators won their season opener in a dramatic five set match over local rival Newbury College, equaling the previous season win total in just one match, thanks in large part to the efforts of Gross and Johnston. Pine Manor ultimately finished 2010 on a four-match win streak, including a sweep of its final Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) tri-match of the season, and a respectable 10-15 record.

Last season’s turn-around was also aided in large part by the addition of Megan Patch, a setter from Bethpage, Tennessee. Patch started 2010 with a 35 set performance in the win over Newbury, eventually finishing the season with over 500 assists while also establishing herself as one of the GNAC’s most dangerous servers.

With Gross, Johnston, Patch and sophomore Ashley Carusone (Nashua,NH) all returning as starters, the core of last year’s team is determined to lead Pine Manor to continued success in 2011.

Now, five games in to the 2011 season, the Gators are 5-0 and on a nine-match win streak dating back to 2010.
“This is the best start to a season I have ever had playing volleyball here,” said Gross following the Gators dramatic 3-2 victory over Wentworth last Saturday. “It really makes me proud to know that I helped build this program from when I came in as a freshman to what it is today.”

However, as success continues to grow so do expectations. No one is more aware than Pine Manor’s four upperclassmen that the season’s first test is just around the corner. Last season, Pine Manor opened conference play with a 3-2 victory over Saint Joseph’s College of Maine and this season they will be looking to open with another victory, this time over Saint Joseph College of Connecticut, before turning their attention to local rival Mount Ida during a GNAC tri-match on Saturday, September 24, beginning at 10:00 a.m. in West Hartford, CT.

Joining Pine Manor this season are five new players, including three more from the southern United States, joining Gross and Patch on a roster that has formed a uniquely southern identity for a school located just outside of Boston, MA.

Freshmen Kayla Ulery (Goose Creek, SC), Amy Keokanlaya (Walls, MS) and Destiny Mann (Orlando, FL), have all played a significant part in the Gators fast start this season. The addition of Mann also gives the Gators as many players from Florida: two (Mann and Gross), as it has from Massachusetts. Freshmen Phalonge Pierre and Samira Lopes are both from the Boston area.

With the addition of an impressive recruiting class, Pine Manor head coach Mike Murphy has no interested in letting-up when the Gators open conference action this weekend. Murphy, who is developing a reputation in the New England area for building programs, knows that the next step for the Gators is success in conference play.

From 2004-2007, Murphy built a winner at the high school level, leading his high school alma mater, Waltham High School, from a 7-13 mark in 2004 to a 17-3 season and an undefeated conference record of 14-0 and a Greater Boston League Championship in 2007. Prior to that, as the inaugural head coach at Mass Bay Community College in 2001, he led both the men’s and the women’s programs to playoff appearances in each of their first seasons. Now, the second-year head coach is firmly focused on guiding Pine Manor back to the GNAC postseason tournament for the first time since 2006.

“We want to keep this momentum going as we head into conference play,” said Murphy following a Tuesday night win at Becker College. “We are happy with our record but right now our conference record is 0-0, in a way, the season starts Saturday.”

The Gators will face their first six GNAC-opponents away from home, a daunting task for a young team that opened with four of its first five games on its home floor. Yet, the make-up of the Pine Manor roster suggests that the Gators will be more than comfortable on the road.

“I know exactly what they are going through,” said Murphy of his team. “I went traveled across the country to attend the University of Southern California. It’s definitely scary but it was a great opportunity and I think the group we have here has an opportunity to do great things as well.”

Pine Manor will travel to West Hartford, CT this Saturday to take on host Saint Joseph College at 10:00 a.m. before taking part in a match with Mount Ida at 12:00 p.m. The Gators will then return home to host Elms College at 7 p.m. Monday night at Pine Manor Gymnasium.

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