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Sitting Down With Volleyball's Seniors

November 5, 2007
|  Lynchburg, Va.
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Mary Alice Pike (L) and Lara Bartolomeo have provided senior leadership for the 22-7 Lady Flames this season, both on and off the volleyball court.

Mary Alice Pike (L) and Lara Bartolomeo have provided senior leadership for the 22-7 Lady Flames this season, both on and off the volleyball court.

The Liberty volleyball team is enjoying its best season since 2003, as the Lady Flames have won 12 matches in a row and are tied for first in the Big South Conference. Two seniors, Lara Bartolomeo and Mary Alice Pike, have provided leadership for a young Lady Flame squad this season. The duo recently sat down with LibertyFlames.com to reflect upon their four years at Liberty.

(MAP=Mary Alice Pike, LB=Lara Bartolomeo)

Why did you first decide to attend Liberty?
MAP: I always wanted to play Division I volleyball at a Christian university, and Liberty met both criteria.
LB: I didn't like Liberty when I first started looking at colleges, but the team atmosphere when I visited was better than any other team I've ever seen. The team brings you in and becomes like family away from family.

What has been the best part about attending Liberty?
MAP: Getting to know all of the girls and their families has been really cool. We have a really neat support system.
LB: The team. They have been like a family for me. When you think you have no one to turn to, you have a whole team looking out for you. I was able to come to campus before the rest of the students for preseason volleyball practice my freshman year, and I immediately gained friends in my teammates, before school started. Coming from the West Coast, it was very nice to have that.

How has Liberty changed since you've been here?
LB: The whole atmosphere of campus has changed. They keep building new things. Also, the athletic programs have been getting stronger, aided by some of the coaching staffs which have been brought in. Liberty is still a Christian university, but it's becoming more of an athletic school too.
MAP: A real effort has been made to try to make Liberty look more like a university. As a result, the school is becoming more respected and well-known.
LB: Some people think of academics being a piece of cake at Christian schools. That's not the case here. With programs like the School of Government, employers want students who graduate from here. We're starting to make a name for ourselves.

How has the volleyball program changed since you've been here?
MAP: The level of commitment by the players has increased. More and more players are staying in Lynchburg over the summer to work out and take classes. Also, our level of intensity at practices has increased, with our team bringing energy instead of the coach having to provide it.
LB: I've seen a change in the type of players Coach Pinder has recruited. He's bringing in girls who want to play Division I volleyball and win at this level. Additionally, our practices are harder than most of our matches. Every day is a challenge.

How much more special is this year's success for the two of you, since you've been through some losing seasons earlier in your career?
MAP: Coach Pinder has always talked about doing the ordinary things and the little things right. He tried to instill that in us as freshmen, and we have seen those concepts develop over time.
LB: It's amazing to have this kind of team for our senior year. We aren't succeeding because of just one individual, but it's been a true team effort. I think it starts from the top and how Coach Pinder approaches different situations. It was not fun going through the hard times, but those times have helped make the program what it is today.

What do you see as your role on the team, both on and off the court?
LB: We focused on not making anyone feel left out, from day one this season. We wanted to really get to know the girls and make them a part of the team as quickly as possible. I know I had always looked up to the seniors, like Becky Rudnick, when I was a freshman. So, I believe it is partially my role to make the freshmen feel comfortable during their first year at Liberty. I also try to be a calming factor on the court.
MAP: I try to always keep a positive attitude. We've gone through so much during our time here and have gained experience in many different situations. So, we can say, "It's going to be all right," when something arises, because we know what it takes to get over obstacles which come our way.

What was it like to beat Winthrop in front of such a large home crowd?
MAP: It didn't seem like it was actually happening. It was kind of surreal. We had been waiting for it to happen for so long, and I was almost too excited to be excited, if that makes any sense.
LB: I really felt like we were going to win before the match even started. I was just thinking to myself, "Now's the time to get it done. This is the night." I didn't hear the crowd during the match, but it was really cool after the match to look up and see so many fans cheering us on. That's something we'd been wanting since day one, to get more fans at our matches.

The Winthrop match was part of Parents' Weekend for the volleyball team. Can you say something about the support you've received from the parents?
MAP: They are so caring. They care about you off the court and not just as a volleyball player. They will talk with you and pray with you. They are not just coming to our matches to see their own daughters play.
LB: Before the Winthrop match, a group of dads went up to the concourse at the Vines Center and prayed for the night. That's the basis of our team. That's the kind of thing that has been passed down to us, as most of us have been blessed with parents who are Christians. Also, every one of the moms is like our own mom, packing us goody bags and little things like that.

What do you like to do in your free time, away from volleyball?
MAP: I like to go mountain biking.
LB: I like to sleep all the time and also hang out with friends. I hang out with some friends who aren't volleyball players, but we still like to spend time together even on our days off. We'll often go to other Liberty games to support the other teams on campus.
MAP: I also like to cook.
LB: And I like to eat, so that works out well!

What has been your favorite class at Liberty?
LB: Criminal investigations and criminal law. I love trying to solve things. They put up mock crime scenes, and you get to do fingerprinting and examine the blood spatters, which is really neat. Also, the professors really work with me and will send an email to congratulate me after a win. They care about their students a lot.
MAP: My practicum. We get to do hands-on work in the kinesiology labs and learn how to use all different kinds of equipment.

What's next for you, after you leave Liberty?
MAP: I'm heading back home and will maybe start grad school.
LB: I'll start grad school next semester, working on my MBA. After the spring semester is done, I'll go back home and finish my degree through DLP. I'd like to end up working in L.A. somewhere, either with juvenile delinquents or abused women and children.

What advice will you leave for your teammates?
LB: No matter what the seasons bring, know you're here for a purpose. Enjoy the time with your teammates, because they turn into your sisters. It stinks when you all go your separate ways.
MAP: Time goes by quickly. Enjoy every moment you have.

What does the team need to do to win the Big South title?
MAP: We need to keep working hard at practice and not let up at all.
LB: Every day, we need to have a purpose in our minds to be great. We need to take each match one at a time and not look ahead at all.