MACON, Ga. (School Release) - Mercer head sand volleyball coach Damian Elder announced the signing of his first four student-athletes to compete solely to for the sand volleyball team in the spring of 2014, adding Emma Peel (Portland, OR), Danielle Dodge (Palm City, FL), Demi-Shay Watchorn (Bradenton, FL), and Hannah Sorensen (Holly Ridge, NC). Tuesday's announcement also welcomed three additions to the indoor volleyball program for fall of 2013, with commitments from Gretja Otten (Suwanee, GA), and Kaitlyn Rice (Savannah, GA), as well as the transfer of Cara Tripp (Flemington, NJ).
"This group of student-athletes will be the first to commit to Mercer solely to play sand volleyball," Elder said. "As a staff we were looking for women, and families, who understood the importance of being the 'first' at something, and I believe we found the right match in each one of these exceptional athletes. They will join several other student-athletes in the program and train year round for this new discipline. I believe these young ladies are special, and evidence of that will be seen in the classroom, the community, and on the court. Most importantly, I trust all of our returners, our support staff, and our fans will welcome them with open arms."
"I am also very excited about rounding out our indoor roster for the fall of 2013," Elder continued. "The program has become stronger with every commitment and these three student-athletes are exactly the type of players and personalities we need in the classroom and on the court. I feel privileged to be involved with all of the student-athletes and their families who will be part of the Mercer volleyball family come August."
Emma Peel - St. Mary's Academy - Portland, OR
Peel comes to Mercer as the true definition of a student-athlete, entering Mercer on the Josiah Penfield Scholarship, awarded to high school students of exceptional academic distinction. A scholar-athlete for every semester of her high school career, Peel's athletic accomplishments are just as remarkable; Two time First Team All-Conference, Two time Most Valuable Player for her indoor high school team as well as recording the seventh fastest time in Oregon high school history in the 4x400 meter relay. Her sand volleyball trophies include a third place finish at the USAV Sand Volleyball National Championships and a first place in the 16 under division at the Seaside Beach Volleyball Tournament. She credits her sister, and sand partner, Sophie, as being the biggest influence in her volleyball career
"Emma was our first sand commitment, and I think our most important because we tried to base the rest of our recruiting off her personality and ability," Elder stated. "Her willingness to be a leader in a fledgling program, combined with our push for positive success, makes Emma a perfect match for the future of this team and this sport. I imagine Emma being a strong voice for the benefits of sand volleyball long after her time here, and, hopefully, for her experience at Mercer."
Danielle Dodge - Martin County High School - Palm City, Florida
In terms of experience in a relatively brand new sport, it's hard to find a more seasoned player than Dodge. While playing indoor volleyball for both a high school and club team, Dodge has excelled on the beach since 2009 She's consistently finished in the top three of the Dig the Beach Volleyball series in Florida, as well as posting a first place finish at the USAV Junior Beach National Championships. Her indoor career included a State Championship, a State Runner-up, All-Area accolades in her junior and senior seasons, and Team Captain and Most Valuable Player honors in 2012.
"Danielle comes highly recommended from a number of people in the sand volleyball community of Florida - most importantly - from our incoming student-athlete Tori Penrod. She will be a physical presence on the court and has the ability to attack and block with authority. It won't be very challenging to find the right partner for Danielle, as she will a wealth of talent to the fold immediately."
Demi-Shay Watchorn - Braden River High School - Bradenton, FL
Watchorn, a 5-foot-6 setter, has played varsity indoor volleyball for four years, as well as competed in the girl's weightlifting program for two years at Braden River. Over that time she has earned many volleyball honors, including being named All-Area, Most Valuable Player, Coach's Award winner, and Class Honor Roll. Watchorn spends time volunteering with her church and in the local animal shelter and mentoring and coaching young children. She also enjoys dual citizenship as a native of the United Kingdom.
"Demi-Shay has made it clear to me she is ready to come to Mercer and put as much responsibility on her back as she can to make this program great," Elder said. "She is going to fit in nicely with the rest of our inaugural sand team as a solid defender and a tireless worker. Her desire to be great is going to be as important as all of the necessary physical tools she possesses. I'm excited to have her energy around the team."
Hannah Sorensen - Dixon High School - Holly Ridge, NC
An all-around student-athlete in high school, Sorenson has lettered in basketball, softball, and volleyball. She is a member of the National Honors Society, has been her class representative, and a four-year member of the Principal's List. As a member of the three-time conference champion Dixon Bulldogs, she was named the team's Most Valuable Player, as well All-County Honorable mention.
"Hannah impressed me from the moment I met her on her visit to Mercer, and I think Mercer did the same for her," Elder asserted. "She has a perfect personality for operating on a team full of student-athletes who are committed to an ideal experience on the court and in the classroom. She is a long attacker who is going to take big steps in unlocking her sand volleyball potential once she begins her college training."
Gretja Otten - North Gwinnett - Suwanee, GA
Another three-sport athlete in high school, Otten competed for North Gwinnett High school in volleyball, soccer, and basketball, earning an All-Area team selection while being voted Team Captain. A member of the National Honors Society, Gretja is also an accomplished student maintaining a 3.9 grade point average, and securing a Cum Laude award on the National Latin Exam.
"Gretja came to my attention a little later in the recruiting process through some welcome persistence on her part and a 'thumbs up' from Mercer Assistant Coach Scott Schweihofer," Elder said. "I got the chance to see her play and interact with her teammates and I knew she was a great match - as Scott had said - for our indoor and our sand team. Gretja is going to make a lasting positive impact on this program and Mercer University during her time here."
Kaitlyn Rice - Calvary Day School - Savannah, GA
An accomplished volleyball player, Rice has garnered a slew of impressive awards during her high school career. Rice was named to the First Team All-Greater Savannah in 2012, the Savannah Morning News Best of Preps All-Star team and was selected as the Defensive Player of the Year while ranking seventh in the state of Georgia for total digs. Also a standout tennis player at Calvary Day, Rice was named to the first team for All-Greater Savannah Tennis, as well as named to the Savannah Morning News Best of Preps All-Star Tennis Team.
"I expect Kaitlyn to come into the gym this fall and make it clear she is going to do everything she can to help the team in any way she can," Elder claimed. "She is a solid all around volleyball player and combined with her personality and willingness to sacrifice for her team, she will help take Mercer volleyball towards the success it will deserve."
Cara Tripp - University of Texas San Antonio/ Hunterdon Central High - Flemington, New Jersey
Tripp comes to Macon after sitting out a year at the University of Texas San Antonio. During her time at UTSA, she played in 38 matches before redshirting in 2012. As a high schooler, Tripp starred for the NJ Group IV State Champion Red Devils, garnering numerous honors including the 2008 Courier News Player of the Year and Runner Up for 2008 Gatorade Player of the Year. She will have two years of eligibility remaining when she arrives at Mercer.
"During my tenure at another university I was fortunate enough to spend time recruiting Cara, and although she attended another school I was extremely impressed with her personality and her athleticism," Elder remarked. "Mercer is fortunate to be getting a quality person, student, and volleyball player. We think Cara can contribute immediately on the court and the classroom."