It’s a challenging time of year for Milligan College coaches with academic finals earlier this week and Christmas break coming up.
The only teams in action over the next couple of weeks are the men’s and women’s basketball teams. The Milligan men have a rare afternoon game scheduled today at 4 p.m. against Alice Lloyd and then faces ETSU in an exhibition next Monday.
The women’s team will travel to Florida to play Warner University on Saturday.
Concerned about replacing the trio of Justin Sylvester, Tim Harper and Hudson Fricke before the season, men’s head coach Bill Robinson has found two freshman and a junior who have stepped into their roles.
“Mickey Woods has done a good job filling Sylvester’s role,” he said. “I don’t know if we will find anybody who can play defense like Timmy Harper did, but Torian (Sitton) has filled that role well. Jordan Cross, when he’s shooting the ball, he’s as good as anybody in our conference. He’s not where Hudson was, but he gives us that outside threat that we need.”
Scoring just three points in the first game of the season, Woods has been one of the Buffs’ top offensive players since. He scored 17 points in the Appalachian Athletic Conference opener against Virginia Intermont. Sitton has improved defensively with steals in each of the past five games. His efforts included three steals and five defensive rebounds against Montreat.
Cross, a freshman from Bluff City, has made 50 percent (23 of 46) of his shots behind the 3-point line. Averaging an even 10 points per game, he and point guard Kyle Grisby are the only Milligan players in double figures.
The Buffs are 4-6 overall, with a 122-73 loss to NCAA Division 1 school VMI this past Saturday. Playing at the NAIA level, Robinson said you have keep things in perspective.
“You have to keep the right mentality,” Robinson said. “As coaches, you have to stay positive and not remember those Division 1 games. Most of our young guys are good about moving on and bouncing back quickly. Once finals are over, I think they will have forgotten about what we did last weekend.”
There are plenty of talented young guys on the Milligan roster, including freshman Jason Steele from Johnson County, whom Robinson sees with a lot of potential. Sometimes with post players, however, Robinson knows it takes a little longer to develop than with some of the guards.
The one player whom Robinson feels must contribute heavily over the second half of the season is Cordero Seymour.
The athletic 6-foot-5 senior from the Bahamas is a averaging eight points and five rebounds per game, but Robinson said more production is needed.
“We need Cordero to step up if we’re going to make a run at the conference championship,” Robinson said. “It’s hard for him to score against some of those Division 1 schools where he can be too unselfish. We need to him to step up offensively if we’re going to be really good.”
Among the post players, the strongest efforts have come from key reserve Tyler Devault. The head coach called the former Sullivan Central standout his best player in the post at the moment.
“Tyler is coming off the bench, but he’s playing better than any of the post players right now,” Robinson said. “His game has really improved, and we have three quality post players who any given night can give us 15 (points) and 10 (rebounds).”
There are the aforementioned needs to do better offensively, but it is the other end of the court which Robinson said the team as a whole must improve.
“We still need to work better defensively,” Robinson said. “We need to play more consistently. If we get the tempo going, we’re going to be able to score some points. But, defensively, we’ve got to get better.”
Despite the concerns, he feels good about the Buffs’ chances in the Appalachian Athletic Conference. Milligan has gotten off to a 2-0 start in league play with wins over Virginia Intermont and Montreat.
Picked as the preseason favorite among AAC coaches, Robinson believes his team certainly has the talent to hang with anybody in the league.
“I think we have to play well every night, but I don’t think there is anybody in the league head and shoulders above everybody else,” Robinson said. “If we play well, on any given night we should win.”
The Milligan women are riding a two-game winning streak and improved to 7-5 through 12 games. The Lady Buffs are 1-1 in conference play.
Kayla Kelly is the Lady Buffs’ leading scorer at 12.6 points per game followed closely by senior Alisha Mainer at 12.4 ppg. Mainer also leads the team in rebounds at 6.3 per game with Kelly at an even six per game.
Three more players -- Johneshia Good, Dorian Freeman and Jaimee Hill are all averaging over nine points per game. For the season, Milligan is nearly even with its opponents.
The Lady Buffs have to be more effecient on the offensive end, however, shooting under 40 percent from the field and only 65 percent from the free-throw line.
Among the other sports, plans were announced to change the mountain biking team into an actual cycling team, which will also compete in cyclocross events.
Track and field, as well as swimming have time off until after the Christmas break.