Tennessee Wesleyan again has the basketball teams to beat in the Appalachian Athletic Conference.
The Bulldogs were the overwhelming pick of league coaches in both the men’s and women’s preseason polls released Thursday. Milligan College was third in each.
The Tennessee Wesleyan men, under former Science Hill coach Mike Poe, ran through the regular season with a 14-2 record last year, and went on to the tournament title. The Bulldogs received eight of the nine first-place votes to repeat as champions.
“They lost two games last year and have everybody back,” said Milligan coach Bill Robinson. “They’ll be very hard for anybody in our league to beat. To be honest, if I was them, I’d be looking at national type stuff.”
Reinhardt, which has reached the AAC final the last two seasons, picked up the other first-place vote and was second in the poll. Rounding out the top five were Milligan, Virginia Intermont and Bryan.
Robinson isn’t sure preseason expectations for his team line up with personnel. The Buffs went 11-19 last season.
“I think third is a little bit high for us, considering we don’t have any all-conference performers returning,” he said.
On the women’s side, Wesleyan will be shooting for its third straight regular-season championship. The Lady Bulldogs lost just three games last season but were knocked off by Union on their home floor in the conference final.
They also picked up eight first-place votes in the preseason poll Thursday.
“It’s reasonable that they’re picked to win,” said Milligan coach Rich Aubrey, “but they’re not a shoo-in. One of the things we’ve talked about the last few years is how the quality of player and quality of team has increased significantly in our league. And it’s top to bottom.”
Union was picked second, followed by Milligan, Montreat and Virginia Intermont.
The Lady Buffs split their 18 league games last season and went 18-14 overall. Aubrey thinks better things are possible for this team, especially as a more attacking style of offense develops.
“I’m really excited about where we are, where we’re headed,” he said. “I think what we’re doing on the court really fits our personality.”
The men’s soccer team will position itself for a regular-season championship with a win Saturday at 15th-ranked Bryan.
The Buffs were the only team in the league without a loss or tie through five games, but they were swamped 4-1 at Tennessee Wesleyan on Oct. 6. Bryan (6-0-1) is now the only unbeaten.
“We’re looking at Saturday as kind of a surrogate conference championship match,” said Milligan coach Adam Laney. “We’d still have to get past Reinhardt, but we’d be in a strong position.”
Laney said the Buffs ran into Murphy’s Law against Tennessee Wesleyan, which has wrapped up its league schedule with a 6-1-1 record.
“It was one of those funny games where just about everything went wrong,” he said. “The first goal was an own goal, where our guy was trying to clear it and it went in.”
The Buffs (8-4 overall) followed with a 2-1 non-conference loss to Young Harris, a Georgia school, so Laney is left to hope they can reclaim momentum. They had won six in a row before the Wesleyan loss.
“We gotta find motivation, gotta find a way to play together,” he said. “That’s our struggle right now – how we get it done as a team.”
The women’s soccer team had its six-match win streak snapped Wednesday night with a 2-1 loss at Southern Virginia. However, the Lady Buffs (8-5-1, 4-1-1) remain tied with Montreat for the AAC lead heading into their match Saturday at Bryan.
Montreat handed them their only conference loss, 1-0, back on Sept. 11.
The Lady Buffs finish their regular-season schedule next Saturday at home against Reinhardt.
A decade after helping his father coach softball at Milligan, Wes Holly Jr. will be leading a Division I program.
Holly has been named as head coach in waiting at Kennesaw State. Scott Whitlock is moving to an administrative position after 27 years as the softball coach; next season will be his last.
Holly has served as Whitlock’s pitching coach for the last five years. He has already been named co-head coach in preparation for his new role next spring.
“The Kennesaw facilities are great, with a big enrollment and excellent recruiting area,” his father, Wes Holly Sr., said Thursday. “It’s really a great opportunity for him.”
Holly Jr., 44, comes from strong coaching stock. His father is preparing for his 25th season at Milligan, with a career record of 749-420. Championships and coaching honors have come regularly.
The younger Holly was a Milligan assistant for the 2003 and ‘04 seasons before moving to Tusculum as head coach. He then was pitching coach at Longwood University in Virginia for a year as it made the move to Division I.
Kennesaw also made the transition after years as a Division II power. Whitlock won two national championships and 13 regional crowns before the Owls moved up in 2006. He has been named Atlantic Sun Conference coach of the year three times since then.
Holly’s coaching roots should serve him well now as he follows something of a Georgia legend.
“We hope we’ve helped him over the years,” his father said. “He played men’s fast-pitch with us for probably 10 years. His strong points as a coach is that he’s played the game and knows all facets of the game. And he’s capable of getting the best out of players. He knows what he’s doing.”
The Milligan softball team finished up its limited fall schedule last weekend, and it did so without ace pitcher Chancli Connatser in uniform.
The junior from Maryville injured a knee in the Milligan Fall Classic at Winged Deer Park last month and hasn’t recovered as expected.
“She was covering home on a wild pitch and the girl slid into her leg,” said Holly. “I think it’s a slight meniscus tear. She had an MRI on Saturday and is supposed to go back Friday. She’ll probably end up having it scoped.”
Needless to say, Holly needs Connatser in good form come spring.
“I gotta have her in the spring,” he said. “She won 25 games for us last year.”