Running without its top four, a pack of freshmen led the No. 3 Lady Buffs to victory at Tusculum University’s Zaxby’s Open last Friday. Freshman Gabrielle Mardis won the race individually as Milligan started the season on the right foot.
Head coach Chris Layne noted both sides ran without their top harriers in an effort to give them another couple of weeks of training as well as to see who might end up running in the 5-10 spots. Milligan was without top returners Amy Ferguson, Katlyn Haas and Erica Stone, as well as NCAA Division I transfer Jacquelyn Crow, on the women’s side. Nathan Baker, Tim Thacker and Mitch Bronstetter, along with NCAA Division I transfer Alex Mortimer, had the week off on the men’s side.
WOMEN’S TEAM LED BY FRESHMEN
Mardis covered the 5K course in a personal best time of 20:21, 35 seconds faster than the rest of the field of 80 runners. She was the first of four Milligan freshmen to score points and one of three Milligan freshmen in the top seven. Avery DeWolf and Kelsey Mowrey came in with times of 21:02 and 21:19 for third and seventh, respectively.
“What really stands out to me is how well our freshmen handled their first meet in tough conditions,” Layne said. “I was pleased with how they stuck with the plan and never let the elements get them.”
Mardis’ victory in her collegiate debut helped her earn Appalachian Athletic Conference runner of the week honors Monday.
“Gabby has had a great fall to date, and I felt like she had a chance to be really competitive and that didn’t spook her,” Layne said. “She showed a lot of composure for a freshman.”
MEN’S TEAM EARNS RUNNER-UP
Sophomore Tyler Bates led the No. 18 Milligan men to a runner-up finish behind host Tusculum, which was running on its home course. Bates was fourth individually with a 5K time of 16:51.
Junior Seth Nicol followed in seventh (17:01), freshman Samir Koko finished 10th (17:12), junior Cory Aulich finished 13th (17:16), and freshman Ethan Pfister took 25th (17:58).
“Our top four men did a nice job of working together,” Layne said. “The plan was to sit back due to the heat, and I think they moved from top 30 on to obviously putting a number of them in the top 15.”
VOLLEYBALL COMPLETES UNDEFEATED WEEK
Milligan volleyball improved to 7-2 (1-0 AAC) on the season after sweeping their tri-match Saturday inside Steve Lacy fieldhouse. With the two wins, the Lady Buffs continued their hot start but hit the road for the first road test of the season Tuesday evening at AAC foe Union.
Milligan’s hot start included a 4-0 record to begin the season, as well as six AAC athlete of the week honors so far. Senior libero Alyssa Rupert has accounted for two of them on top of an NAIA athlete of the week recognition a week ago. Rupert currently leads the nation in digs per game (7.24).
BUFFS DEFEAT TRUETT IN FIVE
The Buffs rallied from a 2-1 deficit in the first match against conference foe Truett McConnell to capture their first conference victory of the season in five sets (25-19, 18-25, 22-25, 25-22, 15-8). Junior Kellee Geren and freshman Elise Gregory led the charge for Milligan, recording their fourth double-doubles of the season.
“I’m happy with the win Saturday in our conference opener,” said head coach Doneva Bays. “I felt like we came out a little flat but stepped it up in the last two sets. I’m extremely proud of our fight and the resilience we showed.”
Geren orchestrated the offensive attack with 48 assists and added 20 digs on the defensive end. Gregory powered her way to 22 kills on 51 attempts and recorded 13 digs. Rupert posted a match-high 27 digs.
MILLIGAN DOMINATES SECOND MATCH
In the second match of the day, the Buffs cruised to a straight set victory over Hiwassee College (25-11, 25-10, 25-13). Julie Dockery fueled Milligan offensively with 10 kills on 20 attempts for a .450 hitting percentage. Geren added in 23 assists, and Rupert dug out 21 attacks.
UP NEXT AT HOME
Milligan’s next home match is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 21, at 6:30 p.m. inside Steve Lacy Fieldhouse, which will open up a nine-game homestand.