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Milligan well-represented as nationals begin

Daniel Manget and Kyle Stafford • Nov 13, 2018 at 7:38 PM

It’s been a successful fall season for the Milligan College athletic department, and for three teams, their season continues to march on as the NAIA national championships are set to begin this weekend.

Both the men’s and women’s cross country teams are already on their way to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for the NAIA Cross Country National Championships, and the volleyball team will head to Grand Rapids, Michigan, for the opening round of the NAIA Women’s Volleyball National Championship.

MEN, NO. 15 WOMEN NATIONALS BOUND

The Milligan men’s cross country team will make its third trip in the last four years while the No. 15 women will make their 16th straight trip when the Buffaloes compete at the 2018 NAIA Cross Country National Championships this Friday in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

The 39th annual women’s 5K race is set to begin at 11:30 a.m. ET, followed by the 63rd annual men’s 8K race at 12:30 p.m. The event, hosted by Mount Mercy University, will take place at Seminole Valley Cross Country Course.

Despite a season marked by uncharacteristic illness and injury, head coach Chris Layne says his teams are ready.

“Physically I think both teams can take another step, and that’s our main goal,” he says. “I believe we do have momentum, and that stems from both squads being excited with the opportunity to compete in the national meet.”

XC HISTORY AT NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS

With 16 straight trips to the NAIA meet for the women and three trips in the last four years for the men, the Buffs have plenty of experience at the NAIA’s highest stage.

Last season, the women made a big move, jumping from No. 12 heading into the meet to finishing seventh nationally. From that group, Erica Stone (105th) and Hannah Bell (176th) are back from 2017, and Stone (270th) also is back from 2016. Plus, Milligan has an outstanding frontrunner in NCAA Division I transfer Jacquelyn Crow, along with a wealth of talent in its freshman class.

Milligan’s men will have runners from two of the last three NAIA championships competing this weekend. Although Nathan Baker ran to a 34th-place finish in 2017, injury has the indoor track & field 3000-meter national champion sidelined for the national event. Instead, the Buffs will look to Mitch Bronstetter (127th in 2017), Sam Wehner (186th in 2017) and Eric Shull (271st in 2016) as returners from previous national championships.

Additionally, the Buffs will have Alex Mortimer, an NCAA Division I transfer from University of Kentucky, who has led Milligan in all four meets he has run this season.

VOLLEYBALL TO FACE CORNERSTONE

Milligan (25-6) will square off against the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference tournament champion, Cornerstone University (30-9), in the opening round of the national tournament on Saturday inside Mol Arena. The match will be played on the home floor of the Golden Eagles.

The Buffs clinched the second Appalachian Athletic Conference bid with a thrilling five-set victory over Point University in the semifinals of the conference tournament Friday afternoon. Milligan found themselves trailing the Skyhawks two sets to one and 6-2 in the fourth game, but a 12-2 run out of a timeout shifted momentum in favor of the Buffs and they ultimately defeated Point in five.

Milligan fell to the regular season champions, Reinhardt, in the conference finals, but still received the automatic bid to nationals. Juniors Kellee Geren and Julie Dockery were named to the all-tournament team.

Captains Alyssa Rupert and Geren have shown great leadership throughout the 2018 campaign guiding a young Buffs squad to their first national tournament appearance since 1996.

“[Geren and Rupert] have been leaders on and off the floor all year for us,” said coach Doneva Bays. “Both of them have done more than we could ask for, and more than a share of our team’s success has lied upon them. They don’t make our team — we have lots of kids that make our team — but they are a huge, huge part of our team and without them we wouldn’t be as successful as we are.”

Rupert, who was named the 2018 AAC libero of the year, is coming off a record-breaking performance in the conference tournament as she surpassed the school record for digs in a single season. The senior ranks second in the nation in digs/set (6.8) and sixth in total digs (768).

Geren led the AAC and ranks 26th in the country in assists/set with 9.84 per game. The setter has tallied 1,112 assists on the year and has racked up 16 double-doubles en route to an All-AAC first team selection.

The Buffs have won 16 of their last 18 matches, but will face a tall task in the Golden Eagles. Cornerstone is riding a seven-match winning streak of its own and boasts one of the top players in the nation.

Kendra Zwart, three-time WHAC player of the year, leads the NAIA in blocks with 229 and ranks second in kills with 597. Mackenzie Vallad serves as the Cornerstone libero and was a first-team all-conference selection.

The winner of the match will advance to the final site in Sioux Falls, Iowa, Nov. 27-Dec. 1 for a 32 team pool play tournament.

ATHLETICS ROUND-UP

The Milligan women’s soccer season came to an end in the AAC tournament championship as the team dropped a 5-1 decision to Tennessee Wesleyan on the road Saturday. Overall, it was a great season for the Buffs, who finished with an 11-7-1 record and won six of their last seven matches.

Bekah Cundiff led the team with nine goals and Dharma Fawbush was tops on the team in assists with six.

Both men’s and women’s basketball teams are off to hot starts as conference play is just getting under way. The men’s team currently sits at 4-1 (1-0 AAC) on the year, while the women are unblemished at 3-0 (1-0 AAC).

Milligan is in action Tuesday night at 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. in an AAC battle against St. Andrews, and both teams will remain home for a matchup with Union Saturday, Nov. 17. Saturday’s games are scheduled for 2 and 4 p.m.

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