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Lady Buffs picked to win AAC hoops

Dave Ongie • Oct 19, 2016 at 5:41 PM

Despite a season-ending injury to star player Hayley Wyrick, the Milligan women’s basketball team managed to qualify for the NAIA Division II National Tournament last season.

The Buffs went 23-8 overall and 17-3 in the Appalachian Athletic Conference, good enough to make Milligan the regular-season champion. With Wyrick and several other key pieces returning from last year’s squad, Milligan was selected on Tuesday as the preseason favorites to win the AAC by coaches from around the league.

The Buffs received nine of 12 first-place votes for a total of 139, helping them edge out Bryan (131), which received the other three first-place votes. Tennessee Wesleyan (117), Point (106) and Union (80) also figure to contend for the conference crown.

After leading the Buffs to their sixth national tournament appearance in his tenure, Milligan women’s coach Rich Aubrey said the expectations are nice, but the games won’t be played on paper.

“I'd rather our team be picked first than last, but ultimately it doesn't mean anything,” he said. “Wins and championships are earned on the court. With that said, we are excited and optimistic about the season ahead. I expect our conference to be deep and competitive from top to bottom."

Milligan lost starters Allison Jones and Callie Cox, but seniors Wyrick, Lindsee Price and Kelly Barnett all have plenty of experience. Also returning is sophomore Sarah Robinson, who earned the league’s freshman of the year award last year along with all-conference and all-defensive team honors.

Milligan’s women will open their season on the road on Nov. 1 against the University of Pikeville and will play their home opener on Nov. 16 against Tennessee Wesleyan.

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With very little experience returning, Milligan’s men were selected sixth in the AAC’s preseason coaches poll. Milligan picked up 59 votes. Union was the preseason favorite, followed by Bluefield, Tennessee Wesleyan, Reinhardt and Bryan.

The loss of all-conference selections Kurt Brooks and Julian Bailey and a relative lack of experience beyond junior David Casaday and sophomore Will Buckner make the Buffs sort of an unknown quantity heading into the season. There is plenty of fresh talent on the roster, but it remains to be seen how everything comes together.

That being said, Milligan coach Bill Robinson expects his team to get better as the year goes on.

“I think we can be better than that by the end of the season, but we have a long way to go,” he said. “Replacing two all-conference players is never easy but even harder when you only have one player who has been in the program more than a year. I really like my guys and we’re excited about starting the season next week.”

The men will open up on the road Oct. 27 against the University of the Cumberlands before returning home Nov. 3 to play Alice Lloyd.

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Josh Gambrell wrapped up the fall portion of the men’s golf schedule on a high note by notching a fifth-place finish in the Bojangles Tennessee Intercollegiate.

Gambrell fired rounds of 75 and 71 in the two-day event to lead the Buffs to a 10th-place finish in the team competition. The Buffs carded rounds of 307 and 318 as a team. Dalton State won the event with a two-day total of 584.

SCAD Atlanta’s Nikolas Lurken was the individual medalist, posting a 36-hole total of 143 that included a 69 in the first round.

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