HARTSVILLE, S.C.- The men's volleyball team of Coker College, under the leadership of first year Head Coach Julia Rowland, begins their 2018 campaign on Friday, Jan. 12 at Emmanuel College.
A Quick Look Back
For the second straight season, the Cobras earned a program-high 14 victories; however, in 2017, the Navy and Gold hosted the inaugural IVA Championship Tournament, in which they earned a runner-up finish.
In the classroom, the Cobra men's volleyball team shined, earning a cumulative team GPA of 3.37. This feat garnered them the America Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Team Academic Award. The esteemed accolade is given to collegiate and high school volleyball teams that maintain at least a 3.30 cumulative team grade point average on a 4.0 scale or a 4.10 on a 5.0 scale. In the fall 2017 semester, the team upheld their academic prowess by earning a 3.494 GPA.
2018 Season Outlook
"Training has been going well, we've had a lot of great energy in the gym and the guys are working extremely hard," according to Rowland.
Returning seven players and adding one freshman, the team brings immense experience into the season. Most of the returners are Coker all-time record holders and will continue to increase their numbers in 2018.
Coach Rowland commented, "We have only added one newcomer, Parker Oldham, and he's meshing really well. This group is close and they have a strong team chemistry which will help us in tight match situations".
Joao Victor Santos was recently named to the 2018 Bryan Ivie Award watch list, as announced by Off the Block. The Brazil native is one of 15 men's volleyball opposite hitters named to the position-based list among both NCAA Divisions I and II. Last season, Santos landed in the nation's top 25 with 3.41 kills per set average with double-digit kills in 11 matches. He collected 201 kills, 80 digs, 36 blocks, and 17 service aces in 2017. Santos earned All-IVA Team honors in its inaugural season. In his career, Santos ranks fourth all-time in kills (473) and aces (48). He is ninth with 169 digs, and eighth in both solo blocks (19) and block assists (56).
Gary Baker led the Cobras in digs last season with 172 and recorded at least 10 digs in nine separate matches. He earned All-IVA Tournament team honors as a libero. Baker ranks seventh all-time in Coker history in digs with 207. He also set the season record in digs per set at 2.21 this past season.
Gabriel Castro collected 157 kills, 108 digs, and 18 blocks on the season. His kill total was second-highest on the team. In the Cobra record book, Castro ranks seventh in kills (176), tied eighth in service aces (31), and 10th in digs (128).
Stephen Porras finished the 2017 season with 300 assists, 70 digs, and 19 blocks. The 300 assists were second on the team and puts him at third all-time at Coker. These numbers earned Porras the honor of All-IVA Tournament team setter.
Aleksa Bijelic ended his 2017 campaign with 16 kills, a team-high 444 assists, and 52 digs. In four separate matches, he recorded more than 45 assists, with a match-high of 52. Bijelic tops the Coker assists record with 1,691. He also holds the sixth spot 209 digs and ninth with 43 block assists.
All were members of the 2017 team who set Cobra records in kills per set and solo blocks (2nd nationally).
The Coker Cobras men's volleyball team has a 25 game schedule for 2018. It begins with a 10 game roadtrip, broken up by their first home match on Jan. 23 against St. Andrews. The Navy and Gold then host nine of the next 10 matches. They travel to West Virginia for a two game swing before returning to Hartsville, finishing the regular season with two matches. The IVA Tournament will be hosted by Alderson-Broaddus April 13-14.
"I'm really looking forward to playing. I feel like we've been practicing so much that I'm just ready to get these guys on the court against outside competition. We've got a very competitive schedule and I think we've got some great opportunities every match," says Rowland.
Coker also faces two programs in their inaugural seasons, Queens (N.C.) and Brewton-Parker. The Lincoln Memorial Railsplitters will be entering their second season.
As mentioned, the Cobras' season begins Jan. 12 at Emmanuel (Ga.), with their home opener on Jan. 23 versus St. Andrews at 7:00 p.m.