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Volleyball team turns focus to next year after run in AAC tournament ends

Dave Ongie • Nov 18, 2015 at 5:40 PM

There were plenty of peaks and valleys for Milligan’s volleyball team this season, but the Buffs managed to rally last week to end the campaign one step short of the mountain top.

Milligan knocked off top-seeded Bryan in the semifinals of the Appalachian Athletic Conference tournament in Kingsport last Friday before falling to Union in the title game on Saturday.

With a berth to the national tournament up for grabs, Milligan coach Doneva Bays said her team arrived in Kingsport with an opportunistic mindset.

“We went in feeling like we had nothing to lose and everything to gain,” Bays said. “We really pulled ourselves together mentally and really were focused going in.”

After opening play on Thursday by beating Columbia for the third time this season and the second time in the span of a week, the Buffs were able to maintain their focus against Bryan, a program they hadn’t beaten in over five years.

“We came out really focused and executed (against Columbia), maybe the best we were all year, and then to turn around on Friday and do that again against the No. 1 team was a remarkable feat for us,” Bays said. “Our seniors had not beaten them in their time here.”

The run ended on Saturday as the Buffs were swept by Union, but the result didn’t diminish Bays’ view of her team’s successful 20-win season.

Now the focus turns to the future, and the Buffs will have some key pieces to replace, starting with setter Jessica Davenport, who finished her stellar career with 3,807 assists, second all-time at the school behind Chelsea Spivey.

For the past seven years, Bays has enjoyed having either Spivey or Davenport running the offense, but now she finds herself in the unenviable position of bringing in a new setter. In addition to the possibility of signing a junior college transfer, Bays also has her eye on a high school player from Cleveland, Tennessee, the same town Davenport came from.

“We’ve had good success in setters, and hopefully we will have that going forward,” Bays said. “We’ve offered a kid out of Cleveland hoping to sign her to carry on that tradition.”

The Buffs will also miss Emilee Linkous, a huge presence both offensively and defensively as a middle hitter. But Bays said Linkous’ physical attributes won’t be the thing the Buffs miss most moving forward.

“I think Emilee’s emotion, her passion for the game will be the biggest thing we lose,” Bays said. “That fire and passion, that will be the hard thing to find.”

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The men’s and women’s swim teams are rounding into midseason form, and the Aqua Buffs put their progress on full display by winning a duel meet against Warren Wilson last weekend inside the Steve Lacy Fieldhouse.

The Buffs swept the relay races while Caroline Walker won two individual events. With another meet looming this weekend in Gainesville, Georgia, Milligan coach Jes Sutton said his swimmers are doing a short taper before getting back to work in advance of the three-session meet.

“It’s a long meet and we’ll get to do a lot of swimming down there for three sessions,” Sutton said.

At this point in the season, Milligan’s swimmers are starting to hone in on their best strokes as preparations for the postseason begin.

“We’ve got some specific things for each of the strokes, trying to focus in on each individual swimmer and give them some things to work on on their top stroke,” Sutton said.

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Both the men’s and women’s basketball teams remained undefeated heading into a key AAC doubleheader against Tennessee Wesleyan on Wednesday night.

After dropping an exhibition game at UNC Wilmington last Friday night, Milligan’s men rebounded by beating Warren Wilson 68-60 on the road Monday night on the road to move to 4-0.

The women, meanwhile, swept a pair of games in the Union College Classic last weekend to move to 6-0.