The Milligan College women’s basketball team picked up the pace last season and won 24 games.
Coach Rich Aubrey says there’s no turning back to the days of more deliberation in the half court.
“I think we’ll be even faster this year,” Aubrey said Thursday. “We’re kind of evolving. Our roster is faster, and we even have a little more depth. Hopefully we’ll be able to take that next step.”
The Lady Buffs returned four starters from that 24-9 team, but it will be hard to replace the one that graduated.
Heather Mandela was a fixture in the lineup from the day she arrived on campus, becoming one of the top post players the program has produced. She led the Appalachian Athletic Conference in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots last season.
Mandela actually hasn’t strayed far from her team. She’s working as an assistant coach to Aubrey this season.
“Heather really brings a nice, fresh perspective,” he said. “It’s more of a player’s perspective, and I think it’s always helpful as a coach to get some of that and use it.”
There are two seniors to pick up the leadership role, and that’s exactly what Aubrey expects from center Alisha Mainer and forward Ashlee Price.
“The great thing is that both have played many, many minutes since their freshman year,” said Aubrey. “They’re my favorite kind of leaders; they lead by example. Both are quiet by nature, but they speak up when they need to.”
The team has seven freshmen, and at least a couple will play significant roles this season.
“Chelsea Weddle from Hampton will be an immediate contributor,” said Aubrey. “She’s a very versatile and athletic player who fits well in our system. We’re fortunate to have her, and she’ll certainly be on the floor a lot.”
The coach also expects to get plenty of minutes out of point guard Kylie Russell of Alcoa and shooting guard Kristian Moses of Tellico Plains. And he likes what he’s seen of Makenzie Lilley, the former Dobyns-Bennett standout.
Tracy Hardiman, a sophomore guard from Maryville, had knee surgery in July but is progressing quickly in rehab. She could be back by late November.
The Lady Buffs, picked second in the AAC preseason poll, behind Tennessee Wesleyan, open their schedule Nov. 5 at Bethel.
n It looks like Milligan and Wesleyan will decide the men’s soccer championship.
The Buffs are undefeated in the league, and the Bulldogs have just one loss as they look toward a matchup at Milligan next Wednesday.
“It has all kind of come down to that,” Buffs coach Adam Laney said Thursday. “We’ve been in there watching film all day on Wesleyan. It’s nice to have a week to get ready.”
Milligan improved its record to 6-0 in the AAC (10-4 overall) with a 2-0 victory over Bryan on Wednesday night. Tennessee Wesleyan is 5-1, 12-3.
“I think the teams have similar talent,” said Laney. “Our explosiveness is a little different than theirs, and they may be a little more skilled. It should be a good matchup.”
The Buffs have two forwards who have each scored 12 goals this season -- junior Chris Ochieng of Kenya and senior Sandre Wilson of Jamaica.
Chris Ochieng has gotten five of his in the last two matches, including four in a 5-1 victory over Northwood last Sunday in Daytona Beach, Fla. He also has a team-high six assists this season.
“Chris is a tremendous player,” said Laney. “Up to this point, he’s really played the role of the guy who controls things instead of scoring goals. But he can certainly do that, too.”
Wilson also had a four-goal game earlier this season. He sat out the Northwood match with a toe injury but returned to the lineup and played the whole way Wednesday night.
n The AAC regular-season championship in women’s soccer is Reinhardt’s to lose. The Lady Eagles are 5-0 and handed Milligan (5-1) its only conference loss, 3-0, on Oct. 1.
The Lady Buffs improved to 8-4-1 overall with their 2-1 victory over Bryan on Wednesday night. Gretchen Allie and Rachel Martin each scored a goal.
Martin, the senior from Blountville, now has 10 for the season. No one else has more than four.
Milligan hosts Covenant in a non-conference match Saturday at 4, then wraps up the regular season at home against Tennessee Wesleyan next Wednesday.
n Milligan wrapped up its mountain biking season last weekend at the Southeastern Collegiate Cycling Conference championships in Banner Elk, N.C.
Competing in the Men’s A division, Ethan Quisenberry of Johnson City placed 26th in the dual slalom and 30th in the downhill. Quisenberry had already qualified for the College Mountain Bike Nationals at the end of the month in Angel Fire, N.M.
Micah Redden finished 11th in Men’s B short track, while Corey Smith of Johnson City had a pair of top-10 finishes in Men’s C. Redden is the team’s only senior.
Kelly Chism finished second and third in Women’s C short track and cross country, respectively. Jeanine Vaszari was fifth and sixth in those events.
“While it is the end of our race season, it is the beginning of next year,” said coach Brad Hill. “I look forward to seeing how our riders continue to develop in the sport during the offseason.”