Erskine isn’t just satisfied with reaching the NCAA Tournament.
Coach Derek Schmitt said in an interview with Off the Block following his team winning the Conference Carolinas championship last week that despite Erskine being significant underdogs he feels the Fleet will be competitive in their upcoming NCAA Tournament match.
Check out the complete interview below as Schmitt discusses what winning the Conference Carolinas title means for his second-year program, the NCAA Tournament and how a mid-season mission trip contributed to Erskine’s success this season.
Off the Block: Coach, you guys were able to sweep Mount Olive to win the Conference Carolinas championship. What was the feeling like the next morning when you woke up as conference champs?
Derek Schmitt: It was a great feeling. It took a while to kind of sink in, and I don’t know if it’s still completely sunk in what the guys accomplished in just two years. That was the best offensive match of the season we played [in the championship]. It was pretty error free against a Mount Olive team that we knew was going to be great competition. We just battled and came up with the points when we needed to. It’s just an amazing feeling to realize that we are the first team to represent this conference [in the NCAA Tournament]. To win the regular season title and then the conference championship title, it’s just an amazing feeling.
OTB: The second half of your season your team only lost one match. What was the turning point of the season for your team?
,b>DS: When it started to happen for me was playing Pfeiffer on a Monday [in early March]. We won and then went up to California and had a couple five-set wins against Hope International and Cal Baptist. We did our mission trip there and we spent five days where we didn’t play any volleyball. We lost to Pfeiffer [late in the regular season], but we got it going again.
OTB: Talking about the beginning of your season, you probably played one of the toughest non-conference schedules of any team in the nation with road matches against Loyola, Lewis and Penn State. How much do you feel going on the road and playing in those types of matches helped you for this late season push?
DS: That was a huge advantage for us, and the fact that we competed really well in those matches that gave us a lot of confidence. We found out we can play at that level with those teams even when they are not at full strength. We just gained a ton of confidence that we could play really well with our normal [conference] schedule. I think playing at those high levels just really made our guys comfortable with our conference situation.
OTB: In terms of the big picture, what does winning this conference championship mean for you and your program as you continue to develop it from the ground up?
DS: One of the big things is it just ties into the schedule we did. What we just tried to do is put out the best program that we can for a small college out of Due West, S.C., that has a couple hundred kids, and give our players the chance to have a big-time college experience. We are doing that by going and playing these non-conference matches, and in one season going to play in Chicago, going to California and now that we’ve won the conference championship getting to go back to Chicago. Especially when it comes to recruiting, players are going to be drawn to Erskine. What we’ve done in just two years is mind blowing, and I give all the credit to my players.
OTB: Looking at the NCAA Tournament, you have some time off before you play in most likely the play-in match. Does the amount of time off change your preparation?
DS: Our Easter break started after class on Wednesday so I’m giving [our players] some time off and we’ll get back into the gym early next week. We’ve had a long layoff before when we did our mission trip. We lost the first match back and then won out. We had the bye in our conference tournament so we had a week off before the semifinals. So I’m not concerned. We’ve done it a couples times before when we’ve had a lot of down time.
OTB: Are you and your players walking into the NCAA Tournament believing that you are going to surprise some people?
DS: I think that we can compete. We’ve already competed against that level of play before. We know that it is going to be some tough competition whoever we get. … We know that we are the underdog. We are going to be a big underdog. We are just going to go on out and play the best we can. We are not going to try to change anything. We’re not going to grow four, five or six inches by next week. We are going to do what we do and just try to do the best we can.