As luck would have it, the starting line for the campaign will be held in the ETSU/Mountain States Health Alliance Athletic Center, a building Milligan coach Chris Layne is hopeful will also serve as the finish line for as many of his runners as possible later this spring.
“Certainly with the NAIA National Championships back here (in the Mini-Dome) for two years, it would be really neat to see a lot of our folks line up (on Saturday),” Layne said. “We’ll have a big squad. We’ve entered almost everybody who is healthy and ready to roll, which is pretty much everybody.”
Layne was still waiting to get a look at the list of accepted entries on Wednesday afternoon, but he expects 30 to 35 Buffs to take part in this weekend’s event, which will serve as Milligan’s first foray into competition this year. As a result, Layne said the meet will provide a good baseline for his top runners and a serve as a proving ground for some of the up-and-comers on the squad.
“We are excited to get going,” Layne said. “The crew just came back this past weekend, so we’re kind of slow rolling this thing. I think we’ve got some kids in shape and we’ll get a read on where some other people are. We’re grateful that East Tennessee State has this facility here.”
The Buffs will get another chance to run inside the Mini-Dome during the Buccaneer Track and Field Invitational in February before hopefully returning in large numbers for the national meet in early March.
“Three opportunities in the Mini-Dome where nationals are going to be held, I think that’s pretty priceless to have that opportunity in our own backyard,” Layne said.
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The track athletes aren’t the only ones itching to get back into competition — the Milligan swim team is set to hit the road this weekend for a meet at Lindsey Wilson College in Kentucky on Saturday.
The Buffs haven’t competed since taking part in a meet in Georgia on the weekend before Thanksgiving, but they have been far from idle. A grueling training regimen over the long holiday break has the Buffs eager to see what kind of gains they made.
“Over the Christmas break, we took a good nine days and went down to Florida, trained at a pool down there,” said Milligan swimming coach Jes Sutton. “We did two-a-day practices, which was real good for us. Got back up there this past weekend, of course the kids started classes today, so we’re pretty much peaked after that winter training.”
A main focus for Sutton was to help his swimmers continue to fine-tune their strokes during training in preparation for the conference meet, which will take place in less than a month.
“The training we had over the break really helped us focus in on those individuals working on their strokes,” Sutton said. “We’re ready at this point to get into the competition scene again and have some good results.”
The ultimate goal for Milligan is to qualify as many swimmers as possible for the national meet. That being said, Sutton said he will plan on tapering training leading up to the conference meet in mid-February to ensure his swimmers are primed to post their best times.
“We’ll taper the last week of training before conference,” Sutton said. “We’ll drop down the distance we’re swimming each practice, and we’ll increase the intensity level a little bit, do some more sprinting. By that point, they’re ready to get their rhythm back and stay in tune with the water.”
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Milligan’s cycling program maintained its positive momentum by finishing third in the USA Cycling College Cyclocross National Championships this past weekend in Asheville, North Carolina.
“I am very proud of the whole team,” Milligan cycling coach Zack Nave said. “They all raced their hearts out.”
Nave took a step toward building toward the future on Wednesday when he announced the signing of Beth Sodergren, a cyclist out of Baraboo, Wisconsin.
“Beth is extremely motivated for the things that interest her, especially cycling,” Nave said. “Her passion is bike racing, especially mentoring juniors and teaching them about racing. It is awesome to have Beth joining our team as she brings a lot of strength, heart and dedication.”