Coach Rich Aubrey had to replace four starters, but that hasn’t tamped down expectations for the Milligan College women’s basketball team.
The Lady Buffs were the co-favorites, along with Tennessee Wesleyan, in the Appalachian Athletic Conference coaches’ poll. Aubrey admits it’s a different type of challenge as he enters his 21st season at Milligan.
“Last year we had so many upperclassmen in the lineup, it was more a matter of tweaking and adjusting,” he said Thursday. “This year we have seven new players and are having to teach the system. I do feel like our new recruits tend to fill the gaps where we had needs.”
The lone returning starter is a good one. Senior guard Kayla Kelly of Chattanooga led the Lady Buffs in scoring a year ago, with a 14.5 average, and also grabbed 6.3 rebounds a game.
Kelly broke the thumb on her shooting hand late in the season and wasn’t able to help the top-seeded Lady Buffs in the AAC tournament. They were knocked out by Reinhardt in the semifinals, then lost in the first round of the NAIA Division II national tournament to finish 23-10.
“Just the fact that Kayla is back and healthy makes all the difference,” said Aubrey. “She’s so explosive offensively and can go around people or over people. Defensively, she makes a lot of good things happen with her quick hands and quick feet. Our players look to her for leadership.”
The rest of the starting lineup will likely include junior Robyn Anthony at point guard, junior Chelsea Weddle and sophomore Allison Jones at forwards, and freshman Hayley Wyrick at wing. Weddle, the former Hampton star, is nursing a shoulder injury but isn’t expected to miss any playing time.
Junior guard Caitlyn Cain suffered a torn ACL and is out for the season.
Aubrey isn’t predicting another 16-2 run through the conference schedule but thinks this will be a very competitive team.
“Every team has its own personality,” he said, “Our playing style will be similar to last year, but we have a few weapons and tendencies we didn’t have. It’s just a matter of how quickly we develop.”
The Lady Buffs tip off their season next Tuesday at Selma University in Alabama.
The men’s basketball team walked away with a 118-83 exhibition loss Tuesday night at East Tennessee State, but coach Bill Robinson was fairly pleased with his team’s performance.
A big part of the reason was guard Mike Woods Jr. The son of the former ETSU forward from the program’s heyday made 7 of 8 from 3-point range and finished with 21 points in his Milligan debut.
Woods, a lanky 6-foot-3 sophomore, transferred in after a year at Cedarville University in Ohio to be closer to his parents, who now live in Asheville, N.C.
A lefty, he showed a little more shooting range than his dad, but he did display some familial enthusiasm as he chirped at the Bucs after making four straight threes over a two-minute span late in the game.
“He’s a lot of fun,” said Robinson. “Anytime anything happens in practice, he’s right in my face asking me questions. We’re tickled to have him.”
The Buffs have another daunting exhibition, at UAB on Sunday, before opening their season Nov. 6 at Warren Wilson.
Fresh off a victory at a meet in Beaufort, S.C., the women’s cross country team was No. 19 in the NAIA weekly rankings released Thursday.
The Lady Buffs prevailed at the Sand Shark Invitational, with Lauren Grindstaff leading the way with a seventh-place finish. The senior from Kingsport posted a career-best time of 18:27 in the 5K and was named AAC runner of the week on Monday.
Milligan will shoot for its 11th straight conference championship Nov. 9 at Bryan College in Dayton.
The women’s soccer team is trying to find a spark for the postseason.
With four losses in their last five matches, the Lady Buffs close out the regular season at home Saturday against Truett-McConnell. It’s the final home appearance for seniors Lauren McInturff, Lindsey Ogle, Paige Thompson and Grace Shawley.
The Lady Buffs are 5-10-1 overall and 4-5 in the conference. They’re currently in sixth place.
The volleyball team saw its three-match win streak end Tuesday night with a 3-1 loss at Union.
The Lady Buffs are 13-19 overall and stand sixth in the conference, at 8-9, heading into tonight’s home match against Columbia. Unbeaten Bryan (18-0) is running away with the regular-season championship with four league matches remaining.