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With four starters returning and a few promising additions, Milligan College has the look of a contender in the Appalachian Athletic Conference basketball race.
The Buffs were picked second, behind defending champion Tennessee Wesleyan, in the coaches’ preseason poll released Wednesday. Coach Bill Robinson has mixed emotions about that.
“It’s probably a little high,” Robinson said Thursday. “At the same time, it shows some respect for where we are, mostly based on last year. We have so many returners, guys who are competitive and want to succeed.”
Tyler DeVault, who was an anchor in the post for four years, is the only starter who graduated from that 18-13 team. The Buffs are set at point guard, with junior Mickey Woods; at shooting guard, with sophomore Cartree Pettis; and at small forward, with senior Torian Sitton, their leading scorer a year ago.
Robinson said he has a “two-headed monster” in the post with juniors Morgan McLeod and Chris Ellis splitting time.
“They’re best friends and really work well together,” said Robinson. “They’re perfect fits for Milligan.”
Some newcomers will play right away, and a couple have local connections.
James Songster, a 6-3 guard, is a former Science Hill player who had been attending classes at East Tennessee State.
“He missed basketball,” said Robinson. “We talked to him this summer and he decided to come out.”
The other transfer is Mike Woods Jr., son of the former ETSU player from the golden age of the late 1980s and early ‘90s. He was an all-conference guard last season at Cedarville University in Ohio.
“He’s a combo guard, 6-3 and long and lanky like his father,” said Robinson. “He’s a perfect complementary piece, both he and Songster.”
The transfers are juniors academically but have three years of athletic eligibility.
The freshman of note is Tyler Rose, a 6-6 forward from Danbury, N.C.
“He was an all-state player in high school,” said Robinson. “He’ll play the 4 for us. He’s long and athletic and can step outside and shoot.”
The Buffs have already put in 32 practices this fall and are gearing up for their first exhibition, at ETSU next Tuesday night.
The teams have played during the regular season the last couple of years, but Robinson isn’t sure what to expect from the Bucs, who have six new players and a revamped coaching staff.
“It’ll be interesting to see how different they are with the new coaching staff,” said Robinson. “I’m curious to see how they change what they’ve been doing.”
The Buffs will also play an exhibition at UAB before tipping off the regular season at Warren Wilson on Nov. 6.
The cross country season is winding down, and Milligan’s teams have an important tuneup this weekend.
The men and women will run Saturday in the Sand Shark Invitational at the University of South Carolina-Beaufort. Some of the top NAIA teams in the Southeast are entered.
The Lady Buffs are ranked No. 20 nationally this week. They’ll be shooting for their 11th straight conference championship Nov. 9 in Dayton, which is their annual ticket to the national meet, and the South Carolina trip is their final outing before that.
“We’ve had our sights set on this weekend,” said coach Chris Layne, “so if we execute, I think we’ll see both teams take a big step toward the championship part of the season.”
The women are led by senior Lauren Grindstaff of Kingsport. Rounding out the top five are Mackenzie Patten, Meagan Wright, Natalia Rivas and Cassie St. John.
On the men’s side, freshman Taylor Tefelski has led the Buffs most of the season. He’ll be joined by Nathan Meeuwenberg, Christian Brewer, Ayden Farmer and Brandon Ellis this weekend.
It’s going to take a dramatic shift for the men’s soccer team to extend its season much longer.
The Buffs (3-12) have lost seven of their last eight matches and are facing a play-in game to make the conference quarterfinals. They’re currently seventh in the standings, at 3-6, heading into the regular-season finale at University of the Cumberlands. That is a non-conference game.
Play-in games for the AAC tournament are set for next Wednesday at the higher-seeded teams. No. 10 will play at 7, and 9 at 8.
“We could be anywhere from seventh to ninth,” said Milligan coach Adam Laney. “As tough as the season has been, our guys still believe we can make a run and win the whole thing. We’ve only had one game all year where I felt we were out of it mentally.”
That came last week in a 3-0 loss to top-seeded Bryan.
The Buffs haven’t gotten much done away from the friendly confines of Anglin Field. They’re 0-8 on the road.
The women’s soccer team has three matches left in the regular season, and it is still jockeying for position in conference.
The Lady Buffs currently stand sixth at 4-4-0; they’re 5-8-1 overall. They have conference matches sandwiched around a date at Mars Hill, beginning Sunday at unbeaten Reinhardt.
The regular season ends at home against Truett-McConnell on Nov. 2.