But when the Buffs line up on the starting line at Victor Ashe Park, they’ll have history on their side, both recent and past.
Less than two weeks ago, Milligan’s men and women acquitted themselves quite well in the Sand Shark Invitational against a large field of stout runners from throughout the Southeast.
‘I think it confirmed where their fitness is at this point, and obviously that’s important because conference is now here,” Milligan coach Chris Layne said. “Both squads really positioned themselves well in the conference as being, perhaps, teams to beat.”
The goal for Milligan is to put both the men’s and women’s teams into the upcoming NAIA national meet, and the Buffs seem to have the depth and ability to do just that.
The women, led by Hannah Seagrave, have an excellent shot to best a field that includes top contenders Tennessee Wesleyan and SCAD Atlanta. The men, paced by Taylor Tafelsky, will enter the meet mostly healthy after battling through illness prior to the Sand Shark meet in South Carolina.
Layne said some nervousness at the starting line is natural, but as the event approaches, he will continue to remind his runners that years of data show that the Buffs are capable of putting together a big day in Knoxville.
“I think we’ve got a history of proving that we’re ready to go this time of year,” Layne said. “And so we continue just to reinforce with them, ‘Look at the training you’ve done. Look at the history of our program,’ and I think that will have them somewhat settled going into the weekend.”
Two games into the season, there has been no shortage of excitement for the women’s basketball team.
In the season opener last Thursday, the Buffs outscored Cincinnati Christian 25-12 in the fourth quarter to win 78-65. Hayley Wyrick scored the 1,000th point of her career and led all scorers with 18 points.
On Monday, Allison Jones hit the 1,000-point plateau as the Buffs roared back from 19 down in the third quarter to win their home opener over St. Catherine, 77-67. Milligan outscored its opponent 31-12 in the final quarter on Monday, continuing a trend of finishing strong.
“We’ve kind of hit the ground running,” coach Rich Aubrey said. “Both games were really fun and both games have been good for us. We’re happy for both Hayley and Allison for scoring their thousandth point. It’s just been an exciting start.”
The big challenge for Aubrey early on has been trying to figure out how to maximize his deep roster. While playing a lot of players has helped the Buffs stay fresh for their fourth-quarter rallies, developing chemistry will be an ongoing process.
“I still have a long way to go,” Aubrey said. “It’s nice to have flexibility, it’s nice to have options, but it will take me a while to figure out how to blend all the talent that we have.”
Senior Night came for the volleyball team on Tuesday, and while the Buffs fell in four sets in a pivotal AAC battle against Union, coach Dovena Bays expects her team to be ready to make a run in the upcoming conference tournament.
Much of the reason for her optimism lies in the senior class that was honored on Tuesday. Middle hitter Emilee Linkous and setter Jessica Davenport have provided tremendous leadership along with Savannah Benton, Heather Harvey and Jenna Headrick.
“I hate to see them go,” Bays said. “They have been a blessing to me and our program.”
Linkous has been the dominant offensive force up front for Milligan.
“Emilee has been most of our offense all year long,” Bays said. “She leads us in kills and has led us in blocks for the last three years. She’s just a real threat that’s going to be hard for us to replace.”
The vast majority of Linkous’ opportunities have been set up by Davenport, who seems destined to finish second on Milligan’s all-time assist list behind Chelsea Spivey. Davenport also has a shot to notch her 1,000th dig before her career is over.
“That is a huge milestone, especially for a setter because setters like to cheat on defense,” Bays said. “They like to get an early start on offense. She’s made a huge impact on our program in three years.”
Benton, a middle hitter from Sullivan Central, he distinguished herself as solid middle hitter despite a lack of size.
“Her heart and effort are unmatched,” Bays said. “She’s just one of those players love to coach. She’ll do what you ask her to do, and she’ll do it at 100 percent.”
Headrick, a Sullivan South product, has made constant improvements during her two years at Milligan after transferring in from Tennessee. And while Harvey hasn’t seen much time on the floor because she plays the same position as Davenport, she did manage to record nine digs playing on the back row as a defensive specialist on Tuesday.
The Buffs will wrap up their regular season with league matches at St. Andrews and Columbia with hopes of wrapping up at least the No. 3 seed for next week’s AAC tournament in Kingsport.