Thursday, December 31, 2009

Putting a Bow on the Non-Conference Season

In basketball the ball gets tossed up to start games, but tonight, its a ball drop that will serve as the start of a new year, so with that back "drop" and with conference play set to begin in earnest on Saturday, it's time a review of the non-conference portion of the 2009-10 Atlantic Sun Men's Basketball season.

The season began on Friday, Nov. 13 and the day proved lucky for the league, as five of the six schools competing earned victories led by Mercer and Belmont winning opening games of neutral-floor tournaments. The reigning champs, ETSU, opened its defense one day winning with a home contest against former SoCon rival Appalachian State. The day began with a memorial service for former Buccaneer Seth Coy, who died in the offseason.

Campbell jumped out to a 3-0 start and welcomed in opponents from Conference USA (East Carolina) and the Atlantic Coast Conference (Virginia Tech) into Buies Creek, N.C. for the first time in long periods. East Carolina had not played in Buies Creek since the 1940's and no ACC team had ever made the trip to Campbell's campus. While the Hokies pulled out a victory. The Camels downed the Pirates, 74-68. In five non-conference games, Campbell owns a 4-1 record.

On the day after Thanksgiving, "Black Friday" almost became "Black A-Sunday" as ETSU gave the conference it's sixth win against the SEC in the last three season and two more schools, Mercer and Jacksonville almost pulled off upsets of BCS schools. ETSU turned in the most accurate 3-point shooting night in the country, up to that point, among those schools making at least 10 3-pointers in a game, as the Buccaneers shot an outstanding 11-for-14, good for a 78.6 clip. Justin Tubbs made five in six tires and Micah Williams connected on all three of his tries. Tommy Hubbard only tried two 3-pointers, but hit on 11-of-17 overall, part of a 32-point, 10-rebound performance that earned the junior a Player of the Week award.

Who turned in the top individual Performance during the non-conference season?
James Florence, Mercer at Georgia Tech (40 pts, 14-20 FG)
Adnan Hodzic, Lipscomb at Arizona (34 pts, 13 rebs, 14-21 FG)
Tommy Hubbard, ETSU at Arkansas (32 pts, 10 rebs, 11-17 FG)

Individual performances shined in the two near misses as Mercer's James Florence poured in a career-high 40 points at Georgia Tech. He shot 14-of-20 from the floor in becoming the first player in the the league to reach the 40-point mark since Troy’s Lemyan Wilson scored 43 against FAU on Jan. 12, 2002, in double overtime and the first to do so in regulation since Georgia State’s Thomas Terrell scored 42 against Jacksonville on Jan. 8, 2001. Florence became the first A-Sun player to score 40 in a non-conference game since UCF’s Mark Jones scored 42 in Dec. 18, 1997 against St. Thomas. In Columbia, S.C. Ben Smith tried to lead Jacksonville to a win at South Carolina as he scored 31 points and dished out seven assists, but ultimately, the Gamecocks survived, 97-93.

As the calendar turned to December, Belmont, a school replacing four senior starters, took a turn as the league's hottest school, winning four non-conference games as part of a six-game win streak. The Bruins' new inside tandem of Mick Hedgepeth and Scott Saunders combined to shoot 72 percent from the floor during the win streak (36-for-50) while averaging 24.6 points and 11.0 rebounds.

FGCU also started on a three-game non-conference streak of its own on Dec. 12 against a famous first-year coach. The Eagles defeated Isiah Thomas' FIU Golden Panthers and followed up with a road win at North Carolina Central and culminated with a home triumph against DePaul, out of the Big East, on Dec. 22. The win marked the first for an A-Sun school against a Big East foe since Belmont opened the 2007-08 season with a road win against Cincinnati, 86-75, on Nov. 9, 2007. The last home win by an A-Sun school against a Big East school came on Dec. 3, 20002 when FAU defeated Miami (FL).

Which A-Sun team turned in the best performance in the non-conference season?
Campbell vs Appalachian State, 12/30 (W, 92-63, 58.6 FG Pct, 52.6 3-pt FG, 28 Assists)
ETSU vs Arkansas, 11/27 (W, 94-85, 59.3 FG Pct, 11 3-pt FG, 78.6 3-pt FG Pct)
Jacksonville at UCF Holiday Classic (2 10-pt wins vs RPI top 100, Ben Smith MVP) Jacksonville at UCF Holiday Classic (2 10-pt wins vs RPI top 100, Ben Smith MVP)
UNF at South Mississippi Christmas Classic (3 wins in 3 days, 2nd A-Sun team to ever do so, held opp to 52 PPG)

Two performances in holiday tournaments highlighted the final two weeks of 2009. The conference's pair of schools out of "The River City" provided the moments, starting with UNF at the South Mississippi Christmas Classic. The Ospreys opened the tournament having won three consecutive games only once as a Division I program. However, after defeating Canisius and New Orleans in their first two games, the Ospreys defeated Southern Miss, 53-46, the claim the title.

In winning the tournament, UNF became only the second Atlantic Sun team in league history to win a three-game, regular-season tournament in the span of three days. From Dec. 21-23, 2000 (the same three days in December as UNF’s wins), Georgia
State won the Nike Festival in Honolulu by defeating the host Hawaii, UAB and Cal-State Northridge, kick-starting a season that ended 29-5 with A-Sun regular-season and tournament titles and the most recent NCAA Tournament win for the conference.

One week later, Jacksonville stayed within the state, traveling to Orlando for the UCF Holiday Classic. The Dolphins took on Buffalo and former A-Sun rival UCF, a pair of RPI top 100 opponents and emerged the victor in both, led by Smith. The A-Sun's Preseason Player of the Year averaged 21.5 points while shooting 50 percent from the field. The Dolphins finished the non-conference portion of the year having played one of the 10 toughest non-conference schedules in nation, according the the USA Sagarin rankings.

Two players reached the 1,000-point plateau during the season and one reached ever higher marks during these opening marks. Stetson's A.J. Smith and Lipscomb's Adnan Hodzic topped the 1,000-point mark. Hodzic continued to excel as the league's top interior player as he averaged almost 23 points per game in non-conference action while shooting close to 60 percent. His top performance came in his most recent game as he scored a career-high 34 points at Arizona, extending his streak of double-digit scoring games to nations-best 37 straight games. He also pulled down 13 rebounds. Hodzic's performance got overshadowed by the finish, as Arizona's Nic Wise hit a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.

Mercer's Florence topped two milestones in the Bears' final non-conference game, at Charlotte. In one game, Florence surpassed Sam Mitchell as the school's all-time leading scorer and he also reached the 2,000-point mark. He joins Centenary's Willie Jackson and ETSU's Courtney Pigram as the only three in league history to score 2,000 points.

Who has been the top A-Sun player during the non-conference season?
Daniel Emerson, Mercer
James Florence, Mercer
Adnan Hodzic, Lipscomb
Tommy Hubbard, ETSU
Jonathan Rodriguez, Campbell

Did we leave a team or individual performance, let us know in the comment section below. The conference race promises to be an exciting one. Catch all the conference action on ASun.TV and look for the return of the league's CSS television package on Friday, Jan. 8 with UNF and FGCU.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Let the Race for the Men's Indoor Title Begin

ETSU looks to claim back-to-back indoor track and field titles in 2010 and their fourth crown in five years to cement its place atop the A-Sun in track and field.

Kennesaw State sits as the only team other than ETSU to claim the A-Sun indoor team title. The Bucs won the title in 2009 besting the second-place Owls by 10.5 points. Campbell finished third, USC Upstate fourth, Belmont fifth, Lipscomb sixth and UNF seventh.

ETSU returns six Atlantic Sun Individual Champions from a season ago, including Jarrod Burton, who claimed the indoor title in both the weight throw and the shot put in 2009. Benjamin Ronoh leads the way on the track as the returning conference champion in the 3,000 and 5,000-meter run. His cousin and two-time A-Sun individual cross country champion Kenneth Rotich, placed second behind Ronoh in both events. Quentin Greenlee claimed the 200-meter crown last season for the Bucs but could not pull off the double due to a disqualification in the finals of the 60-meter dash (Greenlee posted the best time in the conference a season ago).

2009 A-Sun cross country champion Kennesaw State sits as one of the top contenders looking to knock ETSU off the top step. The Owls claimed the conference title in 2008 stopping the Bucs last bid for consecutive conference titles. Senior Joshua McNair leads Kennesaw State in throws, placing second in both the shot put and weight throw at the championships in 2009. Jerome McKinzie leads the way for the Owls in jumps claiming the conference title a season ago. McKinzie also looks to contend at the national level in the high jump after posting a leap of over seven feet a season ago. All of Kennesaw State’s 4x400-meter team returns after falling just .26 seconds short of a conference crown in 2009.

One of the key races at the 2010 Championships should be the distance medley relay. Both Kennesaw State and ETSU holds a solid group of distance runners as the Owls return the team that won the A-Sun title in 2009 while ETSU must replace two runners on its distance relay squad.

Campbell looks to track a step in 2010 as it returns 60-meter hurdles champion Adoniss Jones, who claimed the conference title a season ago by more than a full tenth of a second. (The next three runners in the finals were separated by .07 of a second). The Camels also feature Harold Sims, the reigning 400-meter conference champion. In 2009, Campbell also picked up the 4x400-meter relay title by edging out Kennesaw State this season the entire 2009 relay team will return.

The Camels’ Harold Sims returns as the best finisher from a season ago in the long jump, while Perrish Goggins of USC Upstate brings back the best finish in the 2009 championships.

Justin Crawford looks to repeat as the conference champion in the pole vault after best the field a season ago by half a foot.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

South Dakotan Family Races to a Different Tune

MACON, Ga. – There is something about a politician’s calendar that fills up quickly, but in the case of John Thune, Republican Senator from South Dakota, the first entries on his do not involve political meetings. For this Senator, priority number one has been family, and the events usually involve the cross country and track and field schedule of his daughter Brittany Thune.

Brittany Thune learned the importance of family from an early age before attending Belmont, playing a strong role in the election of her father to the senate seat, especially by starring in a series of commercials with sister Larissa. Now that re-election nears for John Thune in the fall of 2010, the family considers making more commercials for the voters of South Dakota.

“Those were a really, really big hit six years go, so I think we’re going to be doing some this spring or summer,” she said. “It will be really interesting because people haven’t seen us now for six years. We went off to college and really grew up. I think South Dakota voters will really like it too, seeing how much we have changed. I come from a really conservative smaller state, they love seeing the family involved so those were a huge hit.”

On TV, commercials aside, John Thune usually speaks on the behalf of the Republican Party, who has been looking up to him, asking him to step up much more lately. Around campus, Brittany Thune hears about her father’s appearances more often now than in the past.

“We need people paying attention, there’s a lot of stuff going on right now in the political world,” Brittany Thune said. “College students tend to not be as engaged as you’re doing your own thing. There are students that definitely pay attention, especially in the political science department, but I find that a lot of students really just aren’t that into it now. This is your future, so you should be paying attention.”

Brittany Thune knows firsthand about paying attention to the events around her. She knows her father to be very influential in the Senate right now, as John Thune has earned the respect of people not just in his home state but across the country as well.

“What I love about him is he’s super grounded in his values because he stands up so much for what he believes in,” she said. “A lot of people look up to him in the Senate, and I’ve really watched him grow and develop as a Senator and as a leader and that’s been extremely influential. I just see him making a difference because he wants to make a difference. He wants to make this country a better place.”

Though challenging at times, attending Belmont did not seem to alter these family values much, even with the variation from Sioux Falls, S.D. to Nashville, Tenn.

“I think it’s just one thing that speaks well on behalf on my parents, they just raised me very well,” Brittany Thune said. “They are very firmly grounded in their faith and in their values. The same goes for me. It’s just like at any college, you’re challenged at times and your views are challenged. If anything, they were strengthened.”

At Belmont, Brittany Thune is actively pursuing a business major and political science minor. She sometimes finds it difficult to keep the family name under wraps on campus, especially in her political science classes – her favorite, but with the help of a favorite professor, it is not difficult.

“When I came to Belmont I really wanted to keep that under cover, in South Dakota you’re kind of a star because it’s so small,” she said. “Everybody knew me because of my dad. I chose Belmont because of running and other things. But, I also wanted to go somewhere where people wouldn’t know me. I wanted to find out who I was as a person, so I really kind of tried of keep that quiet.”

A fan of John Thune, her political science professor remained very encouraging of the young academic and athlete, never using the Senator’s daughter as an example in class and respecting Brittany Thune’s desire to be an individual.

“I’m Brittany Thune, I’m not John Thune, I’m John Thune’s daughter,” the senior said. “He (my professor) respected that and knew that I was going to school. What he liked about me too was that I worked really hard. He was always really appreciative of that.”

This work ethic always translated onto the course, as Brittany Thune turned in the fastest time at the 2009 A-Sun Cross Country Championships. The reigning women’s cross country individual champion took control of the race early to finish the race in 17:17, becoming the sixth repeat women’s champion in women’s history, and the first since Campbell’s Alicia Valtin won in 2006.

In late October, John Thune took time out of his busy schedule to travel to DeLand, Fla. for the A-Sun Cross Country Championships to see his daughter cross the finish line just 14 seconds ahead of her closest competitor, Kennesaw State junior Mackenzie Howe.

“People do not understand how dedicated he is to his family, it’s incredible,” Brittany Thune said. “I think about the things that he does and how he stays so busy, especially with all the things going on in Congress right now. I am the top priority. My cross country meets are the top priority.”

As family always ranked as a priority for the young politician, scheduling Brittany Thune’s athletic events into his calendar comes before anything else.

“My dad is never too busy for his family, for his kids,” she said. “We’re behind him and he’s behind us, we’re all on each other’s team. You’re each other’s support group. He supports me in running and I support him in his job.”

Having that family support seems to propel the senior on the course as the four-time all-conference performer and 2006 Freshman of the Year turned in the fastest time at an A-Sun Championship since Valtin’s 2005 time of 16:56, and the third fastest time for a winner in A-Sun history.

“I love having them at my meets, my mom is one of my number one fans,” Brittany Thune said. “I just get butterflies when I know they’re going to be at a meet.”

As John Thune proves to be a great influence for the Republican Party in Washington, D.C, he shows himself to be an even greater influence as a father figure to Brittany Thune, as she values many of the qualities that they share.

“I’m very driven like him and I’m very motivated and determined,” she said. “In high school I was the one who always wanted to be with my dad at lots of campaign events. I just really like being involved.”

Even though Brittany Thune finds herself in the political sphere, she also attended Belmont for several other reasons, especially for the school’s location in the “Music City” and the ability to take classes in the top-rated music school.

“There was a time when I pursued something different,” Brittany Thune said. “I’ve always been really into music and was thinking of going that route. It’s funny, now I find myself going back and I just find myself really interested. I feel like my political science classes have been the classes I’ve been the most interested in, more so than my business major. I feel like if I were to do it over again, I probably would have been a political science major. But, it’s too late now.”

As Brittany Thune nears the finish line at Belmont, she looks to continue her education at law school, keeping several in mind across the country, knowing that her family hopes to have her closer to home this time around.

“Pepperdine’s definitely at the top of my list, I was so attracted to Pepperdine because it’s smaller like Belmont,” she said. “Part of me has always loved new adventures, but this time I’m looking at something a little bit closer like in Minneapolis, and I’ve thought about looking in Washington, D.C. to be near my dad. But, Pepperdine’s the one that’s been on my radar.”

If Brittany attended a graduate school in the nation’s capitol, she would return familiar to the area, having interned for a summer in the White House for the Office of Political Affairs during President George W. Bush’s second term.

“My job was to keep, in essence, the President up to date on everything that was going on in the South,” Brittany Thune said. “Every day, the first thing I had to do was look up everything that was going on, and I could not miss something. I printed out all these issues in all these newspapers and all these things that are going on and I would give them to my director. She would look through it and see what was important, and then eventually, they would probably brief him.”

The internship proved to be a great experience, helping Brittany get interested in following her father’s footsteps, however challenging as her schedule proved to be through 60-hour work weeks and two-a-day cross country training sessions.

“It was like public service for me because, in essence, politicians are supposed to be serving their state and their country, trying to do the best things for the nation,” she said. “That’s where I learned that it’s a lot bigger than just politics. It’s about service. Now a lot of times people don’t treat it that way, but that’s what you do when you get elected to office, you’re serving the people that you represent. I loved it because it was such a great experience. For me, it was just being a part of the decisions that were being made for the country. I’m serving my country by working for the White House, because the decisions that are being made here affect everybody.”

Speaking of the White House, someday Brittany Thune has hopes to see her father’s name on a ballot for President.

“There’s a part of you that would feel super, there’s probably a certain amount of pride,” Brittany Thune said. “You know you’re so proud of how much he’s accomplished. But at the same time, this is my dad. This name is my father’s, so it would be incredible. I think he deserves to have his name on a ballot like that someday, for sure. I don’t know about 2012, but someday his name should be on a ballot.”

“Watching him has really inspired me and that’s part of the reason I chose to pursue law because I want to do the same, she said. “I want to do something that’s going to make a difference, like him.”

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The Atlantic Sun Conference is an 11-member league committed to Building Winners for Life. The A-Sun stands for achievement with integrity in both the academic and athletic arenas, with a focus on the balance between the two for our student-athletes. Headquartered in Macon, Ga., the A-Sun boasts six of the top eight media markets in the Southeast. The A-Sun includes a blend of the most prestigious and dynamic private and public institutions in the region: Belmont University, Campbell University, East Tennessee State University, Florida Gulf Coast University, Jacksonville University, Kennesaw State University, Lipscomb University, Mercer University, University of North Florida, University of South Carolina Upstate and Stetson University.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Don’t Mess With the Eagles’ Nest

National powers like Florida State, Tennessee, Texas, and UConn have dominated in women’s sports, but since the fall of 2007, none have held a better home winning percentage than the FGCU Eagles.

The Longhorns, Seminoles, Volunteers and Huskies should not feel bad though because Alabama, Arizona, Baylor, UCLA, Louisville, Michigan, Michigan State, Missouri, Ohio State and Penn State also can’t win at home like the Eagles.

FGCU entered the Atlantic Sun and NCAA Division I athletics in the fall of 2007 and its women’s team sports have been rolling opponents ever since. The Eagles women’s soccer, women’s basketball, softball and volleyball programs have been dominate at home since the start of the 2007-08 athletic season. Since the fall of ’07, FGCU holds wins in 84.3 percent of its games in Fort Myers, Fla. in those four women’s sports. The Eagles own a mark off 119-20-5 on their home turf/court.

“One thing we really have going for us is a strong vocal fan base,” FGCU women’s head basketball coach Karl Smesko said. “We know there are a lot of things to do in Fort Myers, so we never want to let them (the fans) down so we make sure we give a great effort each time we are on the floor.”

The FGCU women’s soccer team owns a mark of 14-6-5 in its three year existence on its home turf, the FGCU Soccer Complex. On the hardwood of Alico Arena, the Eagles women’s basketball team owns a mark of 30-3 since the 2007-08 season, with a record of 107-9 in the building since it opened. The women’s volleyball program owns a mark of 29-4 in Alico Arena since the fall of 2007, just one win off the women’s basketball torrent pace. Things don’t get easier for A-Sun foes come spring time in Fort Myers because the Eagles hold a mark of 46-7 on their home softball diamond.

“Even some of the places we travel with great facilities don’t get great crowds but our fans are always out supporting us,” senior Ashley Yance said. “We get a lot of locals with little or no ties to the school but they are big supporters. People in Fort Myers have really bought into this program and bought into FGCU.”

Despite moving up to Division I in 2007, one thing that has remained the same for FGCU has been its coaches in Smesko, soccer coach Jim Blankenship and softball coach David Deiros. Each started their program at FGCU and each has had amazing early success in Fort Myers, Fla.

Deiros has lead the Eagles to 33-plus wins in each of his eight seasons and posted a combined 327-90-2 record. In their first season at Division I, the Eagles won the 2008 Atlantic Sun Conference regular season championship. This past year, the Eagles finished the season ranked #23 in the nation.

“Our administration has really made a great effort to make sure that all the sports at FGCU are competitive,” Deiros said. “They especially done great work with the women’s sports. I know we have a great home record the last two years (46-7) but overall we hold a mark of 95-25 in the last two years, so I think we are better at home but overall we are just a good team.”

Smesko and the women’s basketball have never posted a season with 10 or more losses in seven seasons. Last season, Smesko, who was voted A-Sun Coach of the Year, led the Eagles to a regular-season Atlantic Sun Championship with a 17-3 record.

“We don’t approach home games any differently, we try to come into each game with the same approach,” Smesko said. “We have moved up a couple of times since I’ve been here and each time it gets tougher.”

Blankenship holds a mark of 32-16-6 since starting the women’s soccer program in the fall of 2007, earning at least 10 victories in each of his first three seasons. Also in those three seasons, Blankenship has coached two of his players to the A-Sun Freshman of the Year award.

“Looking at the University and what we have to offer here, I think we are on par with any place in the country,” Blankenship said. “We are kind of the nation’s hidden secret.”

Dave Nichols recently finished his season as the head coach of FGCU volleyball team, guiding the Eagles to a third-place finish in the conference and the A-Sun Championship final match. In his first season with the Eagles, Nichols led FGCU to the 2008 Regular Season Atlantic Sun Championship with a 20-8 overall record and an 18-2 conference record.

Since the start of the 2007-08 sports season, no school in the Atlantic Sun has posted victories against FGCU in all four of these women’s team sports in Fort Myers. ETSU sits as the only A-Sun women’s basketball team to defeat the Eagles in Alico Arena in that span. Only Lipscomb and Jacksonville own wins against FGCU volleyball at Alico Arena, leaving seven conference schools that have never posted a victory in a women’s sport in Alico Arena. During this run of female team sport dominance, Belmont, Kennesaw State, USC Upstate and Stetson have not been able to post a road victory against FGCU in volleyball, women’s soccer, women’s basketball or softball.

“We share a mentality and we are very comfortable at home and we take great pride in our play and part of that is taking care of business at home,” Blankenship said. “It is not something we talk about (protecting home turf), it is understood.”

Since the fall of 2007 no team in the A-Sun holds more victories or fewer losses at home then FGCU. The Eagles boast only 20 losses in the four major women’s team sports. No other school in the conference holds less than 50. Mercer sits as the closest team in the Atlantic Sun to FGCU in home winning percentage, during the same time frame, as the Bears hold a 60.8 winning percentage (Reminder: FGCU wins at an 84.3 percent clip). The Eagles’ 119 wins since joining the conference also ranks as an A-Sun best with no other team in the conference holding more than 91 (Mercer-second with 91).

If conference wins are not enough, the Eagles have also bested solid non-conference foes both at home and on neutral ground. FIU fell in Fort Myers to the women’s soccer team, UCF to the volleyball team. Florida, UCF, Cornell and USF have come to Alico Arena to take on the women’s basketball team and all have left with additional loss on its record. With a much longer schedule, the Eagles’ softball squad owns the most victories against “major conferences” with home triumphs against then - No. 13 DePaul, Michigan State and Boston College. FGCU softball also boasts neutral site wins against the likes of USF, Ole Miss, Oregon State, Mississippi State, Indiana and UMass.

“I think the days of us sneeking up on people are over,” Deiros said. “We (softball) got ranked pretty high a year ago and I think we have really started to mark a name for ourselves.”

Nationally few teams hold better home marks, Florida wins home contests at a 90.3 percent clip, Stanford at 89 percent, North Carolina also wins more than more than FGCU at home scoring victories in 86 percent of its home contests.

The day may come when FGCU ranks right along with those national powers and fifth-year senior volleyball player Ashley Yance remains proud to be one of the building blocks to the get the Eagles to that level.

“Those of us that came here and started this tradition will look back in 20 years when this is a huge program and say we start that we were there when that school was Division II and helped it become a Top 25 program in the nation.”

Thursday, December 10, 2009

What Drives Ford, the Muscle in Mercer’s Machine

MACON, Ga. – We know Mercer’s Courtney Ford as the only women’s basketball player in the A-Sun’s recent history to earn three consecutive Player of the Week awards. The senior guard recorded her second triple double of the season with 14 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists against Belmont, but the A-Sun needed to know what drives the engine behind one of the league’s top seniors on the Mercer court.

When discussing Mercer women’s basketball from last season, senior Courtney Ford tended to fall behind the names of top scorers Dominique Chism and Natasha Doh. However, the 5-foot-8 guard made her mark on the stat sheet, as she stood as the top rebounder on the team with 180 (5.8 per game). Ford still flew under the radar, however, the communications major knew her chance to break out would come in the fall of 2009.

This season on the court, Ford knows how to play her game as the guard has already turned in three-consecutive Atlantic Sun Player of the Week awards. It makes her final season of ball at Mercer mean so much more knowing that this year is her last chance for a championship, and Ford’s in it for the long haul.

“I am definitely focused on a championship, I would really, really love that, because I have, after all my years of basketball I have not come out with any championship ring or anything like that. Every time, there’s always been something in the way,” Ford said. “My high school years there was this really good team that stood in our way my senior year, we couldn’t get around them. Then, both of years at JuCo there’s been a significant injury that kind of limited us in those last few games. So this year I’m hoping for a big win. But, we’re just taking it a day at a time.”

Even though Ford has not experienced any championships or “big dances”, the A-Sun Player of the Week accolades seem to be piling up for the modest star.

“It’s such an honor to get that award, because last year I don’t think I got anything last year. I kind of flew under the radar” Ford said. “This year I’m kind of breaking out again as in the senior year kind of thing that happened in high school. It’s kind of a fun thing to look at.”

Ford lettered three times while playing high school basketball for the Villa Park High School Spartans, earning league MVP honors during her final season in 2006. As Ford made a niche for herself on the stat sheet, the senior found herself getting to know Janell Jones, the head coach for the UC San Diego Tritons, during a series of several visits down to the university.

“She was a lot like my high school coach and I really learned a lot from my high school coach,” Ford said. “She ended up sending me to a junior college because she wasn’t sure if she was going to stay out there. I went there for two years.”

Fate brought the Orange, Calif. native to the Orange and Black, as Ford followed Jones after the head coach made the cross-country move to central Georgia and invited the guard to Mercer University for a visit.

“I honestly didn’t know very much about Mercer until she brought me over here, so I pretty much just followed her,” Ford said. “But, from what I’ve heard and what they’ve told me, this was a really good school to come to.”

Last season, Jones guided the Bears to the program’s first conference tournament victory since 2006 and highest win total since the 1991-92 season. Ford learned very quickly what kind of a basketball program that her new head coach introduced her to, as the junior played alongside two other accomplished transfers, both of whom came to Mercer from Oklahoma State. In 31 games started, Chism averaged 14.4 points per game, finished with 22 blocks and 55 steals and earned Second-Team All-Atlantic Sun honors, while Natasha Doh averaged 9.5 points and 5.0 rebounds, while leading the team with 58 steals in 30 games played.

“I knew coming into it that those two players were a key part of what we did that year,” Ford said. “I knew that it was going to run through them a lot considering what had happened the year before and then they finally they get to step in and play.”

This season, Mercer has made an early statement with a 4-2 overall record and a 2-0 A-Sun mark, after the coaches slotted the Bears fifth on the Atlantic Sun Conference preseason poll and placed senior LaToya Jackson on the Preseason All-Atlantic Sun Team. The senior has teamed with Ford to form the second-highest scoring duo in the conference, at 32.8 points per contest, behind only the pair from ETSU in TaRonda Wiles and Siarre Evans (36.3 ppg).

“Toya and I, ever since last year we’ve kind of gotten that bond, both being seniors and kind of the team leaders and stuff,” Ford said. “We try and run this team as well as we can and feed off of each other.”

The winning record aside, Ford can only look ahead to what lies in conference play, especially when considering A-Sun foes ETSU, the two-time defending A-Sun champions and FGCU, last season’s regular-season champion.

“It feels good right now, but as our coaches said, the toughest teams are going to pull out and win this one and that’s what we’ve got to work on,” Ford said. “We’ve got to work on being tougher. But, I think we’re doing OK right now.”

Fans can follow the Atlantic Sun on Twitter and on Facebook. Visit to begin receiving updates on conference news, weekly awards, and from A-Sun championships. Atlantic Sun followers with a Facebook account can become a "fan" of the conference by visiting

The Atlantic Sun Conference is an 11-member league committed to Building Winners for Life. The A-Sun stands for achievement with integrity in both the academic and athletic arenas, with a focus on the balance between the two for our student-athletes. Headquartered in Macon, Ga., the A-Sun boasts six of the top eight media markets in the Southeast. The A-Sun includes a blend of the most prestigious and dynamic private and public institutions in the region: Belmont University, Campbell University, East Tennessee State University, Florida Gulf Coast University, Jacksonville University, Kennesaw State University, Lipscomb University, Mercer University, University of North Florida, University of South Carolina Upstate and Stetson University.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Kennesaw State men’s high jumper Jerome McKinzie holds school records and individual Atlantic Sun records, with hops that could clear a flat footed Dwight Howard … with room to spare.

Last season, McKinzie posted the best high jump in the conference by three inches with a mark of 7 feet, 1/4 inches. A mark that if he would have repeated at the national indoor meet, would have earned him national runner-up honors. The native of Marietta, Ga. has a new goal this season, to clear 7 feet, 4 inches. In case you were wondering, that mark won the NCAA indoor title a season ago for Kansas State’s Scott Sellers.

“My goal for the season is to hit 7-4,” McKenzie said. “I have worked very hard with my jumps coach (Mike Goss) to getting and with him being a certified USATF level-two strength and condition coach, I know I’m going to get better in all aspects.”

A few schools recruited McKinzie, but in the end staying close to his home appealed to a kid who attended Marietta High School, which sits less than 15 miles from the Kennesaw State campus.

Family remains very important to McKinzie, whose mother passed away when he was only two years old and who was raised by his grandparents. The campus sits close enough to his hometown that his grandmother still brings him groceries. Family and friends try and make it out to every meet they can especially when he competes at Georgia Tech or Georgia.

“I know I would not be where I am today without the help and support of my grandparents,” McKinzie said. “If I am ever lucky enough to jump professionally, one of the first things I would do is get them a house to try and pay them back for all the things they have done for me. My dream is to good enough to pay them back.”

Giving back to others is not just something that resonates with this senior, but with the entire Kennesaw State track and field team as the team organized and staffed “Dodge-for-a-Cure”, a charity dodge ball tournament held on Kennesaw State’s campus on Nov. 23.

The proceeds of the tournament benefitted St. Jude Children's Research Hospital based in Memphis, Tenn., widely considered to be a world leader in treating children for all forms of cancer and other potentially life-threatening conditions. St. Jude’s is well renowned for treating any accepted patients regardless of their ability to pay.

McKinzie’s work off the track has not distracted him from his goals on the track as he opened the season with a leap of 6 feet, 11 inches, a mark topped by only seven jumpers at the 2009 NCAA Indoor Championships. The senior wants to top the 7 foot, 4 inch mark either during the indoor or outdoor season but he does have a preference.

“The NCAA Indoor Championships are in Arkansas,” McKenize said. “That would be the easiest for my grandparents to get to see me jump. I know they want to come out to every meet but we travel so far sometimes they just can’t make it but being able to do it in front of them would be special.”

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Opposites Attract Wins for Lipscomb Volleyball

“Program Changers”

Those two words tell you everything you need to know about Lipscomb juniors Alex Kelly and Stefine “Jake” Pease. Those are also the words head coach Brandon Rosenthal would use to describe the pair.

In three seasons, Kelly and Pease have racked up an overall record of 69-26 and a mark of 44-7 in Atlantic Sun Conference play. The two have also earned eight league “Player of the Week” awards, four First-Team All-Atlantic Sun honors, two A-Sun Championships, two Player of the Year trophies, one regular season conference crown and two tournament MVP selections, not to mention leading Lipscomb to two NCAA tournaments and three Atlantic Sun Volleyball Championship Finals.

Despite the fact that these two work like a well oiled machine on the court might surprise some that off the floor these two are not as close. Pease remains a soft spoken and levelheaded leader while Kelly runs the court with a fiery intensity, often putting her emotions on full display.

“It surprises people we are not best friends,” Pease said. “It is not that we don’t like each other, it is just we are very different in so many ways.”

Though the two may differ off the court, on the same side of the net they are a winning combination. It is something that their head coach knows is quite rare.

“Usually when two players move from club (volleyball) to college one shines and they other is not as successful.” Rosenthal said. “Jake came in and was so successful right away that I think it helped Alex develop and I think together they are better then they would be apart. To be honest we got lucky with two very talented young ladies.”

Pease earned all of the accolades during her high school club volleyball years, with her including being named the 2006 Gatorade High School Player of the Year. Rosenthal knew the moment he saw Pease that he needed this player in Lipscomb’s Purple and Gold. Pease committed early to Lipscomb and remained unaware she would end up playing with the same middle hitter in college. At the time Rosenthal did not know it either.

“I went to tournament with Jake early on and knew right away this is the setter I need to build around.” Rosenthal said. “We were looking for a setter first. Months later it was one of my assistants that floated the idea of adding Alex as well.”

Rosenthal saw Pease as great talent that could set in right away and be one of the best players in the conference, but in Kelly he saw a talented young player who needed to develop and who had great on court chemistry with her setter.

“Jake is a great setter and the best one I have ever had.” Kelly said. “We really mesh well on the court and I love to hit off her. I am very picky with my sets.”

Off the court the two tend to contrast, not so much as in polar opposites but more as in two sides of the same coin. Kelly and Pease have a tremendous desire to win but each approach it in different ways.

“We do not always see eye to eye on a lot of things.” Kelly said “But when we hit the court a switch flips and we both have a trust in one another that we will do anything to win.”

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Former All-Conference Hoops Standout Stars on Reality Show

Michelle Brutlag Hosick at The NCAA News recently published a feature on former All-Conference basketball standout Herb Lang (Centenary 1996-98). The current Harlem Globetrotter competed on CBS's "The Amazing Race", falling just one episode shy of the season finale.

"Flight Time" Lang is not the only A-Sun alum to tour with the Globetrotters. 2005 All-Tournament selection Herbert Evans from Troy also suits up for the world-class showmen.

Former student-athletes finish short in 'Amazing Race' - The NCAA News

Friday, November 20, 2009

Lipscomb's Pursuit of Perfection hits Second Stage

Tonight, the Lipscomb volleyball team faces the last Atlantic Sun opponent to hand them a loss, their rivals from down the road, the Belmont Bruins.

That last loss came 52 weeks ago at the 2008 edition of the A-Sun Volleyball Championship in the title contest. Lipscomb, the top seed, was trying to win consecutive A-Sun Championships. However, they could not withstand the Bruins' attacks, falling in three sets.

Fast forward to 2009 - in the preseason, the Lady Bisons edged out the Bruins and the FGCU Eagles for the top spot in the coaches' poll and Alex Kelly garnered the Preseason Player of the Year accolade. The two have never once fallen out of the top position. After two weekends of non-conference tournament action, the Lady Bisons opened A-Sun action with a familiar foe, Belmont, at the Bruins' Curb Event Event Center. The Lady Bisons showed 2009 might take on a different feel for 2008, dispatching the champs in the three sets.

Home victories against Jacksonville and UNF, followed by a road conquest at Stetson, pushed Lipscomb to 4-0 with their first trip of the year to Alico Arena up next. FGCU, the league's regular-season champion in both 2007 and 2008, had never tasted a home defeat to an A-Sun opponent. All-Atlantic Sun setter Stefine "Jake" Pease registered 35 assists and 11 digs in a stunning 3-0 sweep of the Eagles - a result that resonated throughout the league.

Home victories against Mercer and Kennesaw State increased the A-Sun mark to 7-0, but perhaps even more impressively, in those seven wins, the Lady Bisons had yet to drop a set. The streak within a streak ended in a five-set thriller against ETSU. The Lady Bisons never trailed in the three sets, dropping the second and fourth, holding on by virtue of a 15-11 victory in the deciding set.

They completed the first round of the double round-robin portion play by defeating Campbell and USC Upstate. The second round brought Belmont into Allen Arena. While the Bruins picked up a set, the record moved to 11-0. As dominating as the Lady Bisons looked during the first round of A-Sun play, the second round might have appeared more impressive. Lipscomb embarked on another set streak, this time reaching 28 in a row before losing the third set to ETSU in the regular-season finale.

Along the way, the Lady Bisons as individuals and as teams have shot up the charts in national categories. They open the week placing 39th in RPI, two spots higher than their previous watershed mark, reached earlier in the season. At 26-3, their win percentage of .897 places them eighth and thanks to the play of Pease, they rank third in assists per set, a mere 0.03 behind the pace-setting Texas A&M. Juniors Alex Kelly and Meghan Hinemeyer have propelled the Lady Bisons to the top of the nation in kills per set. Pease places seventh on the individual side in assists per set while Kelly stands 15th in kills per set and ninth in points per set.

Despite the gaudy achievements, a loss this might mean that a 26-4 or 27-4 Lipscomb might be on the outside looking in for the NCAA Tournament. The A-Sun has never sent multiple teams to the tournament and that RPI rating of 39 sits right around the spot where teams can be passed over by the committee. Last season, Miami (FL) owned the dubious distinction as the highest ranked school not to make the field. They owned an RPI of 41. Three other top-50 schools, Houston (43), Creighton (46) and Indiana (47) did not make the cut while schools from the powerful SEC, Tennessee (50th) and LSU (51) did.

Schools with Undefeated Records In Conference Play

Lipscomb, Atlantic Sun, 20-0
North Dakota State, Summit, 18-0
Florida International, Sun Belt, 17-0
Penn State, Big Ten, 16-0
Northern Iowa, Missouri Valley, 16-0
Long Island, Northeast, 16-0
Furman, Southern, 16-0
Central Arkansas, Southland, 16-0
Hawai'i, WAC, 16-0
Notre Dame, Big East, 14-0
Albany, America East, 10-0
Maryland Eastern Shore, MEAC, 10-0
Florida A&M, MEAC, 8-0
Alabama A&M, SWAC, 8-0
Grambling State, SWAC, 8-0

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

First-Time Participants, Host Headline Volleyball Championship

For the third consecutive two-year cycle, the Atlantic Sun Volleyball Championships finds itself at a first-time host. In 2005 and 2006, Belmont's Curb Event Center served as the venue and for both of the last two Novembers, play at Mercer's University Center capped the season. In March, the conference approved a bid from FGCU to play host for this year's and next year's Championship, marking the first time that Fort Myers, Fla. would be the destination city for six teams competing for the volleyball crown.

FGCU, Fort Myers and Alico Arena welcomes five teams, Lipscomb, Jacksonville, Belmont, Kennesaw State and Campbell to town for the Championship in just its third year in Division I and in the Atlantic Sun. In both of the previous two seasons, the Eagles volleyball team won the league's regular-season title with a combined 28-3 record.

“I think some of the people that have been at [FGCU] longer, it means even more [to host]," FGCU head coach Dave Nichols said. "I came in very late, so for me its been a swift transition. Here it is, my second year and we already got [to host]. I think some of the people who have been here since the beginning and watched it go from fledgling to Division II to Division I to now postseason eligible, I think it means a great deal - this is their baby. We just happened to be pushed along a little bit and I think a lot of that is based on the success of my predecessor. They felt that volleyball could compete right away and be fairly successful”

By fast-tracking the sport, the Eagles gained access to the NCAA Tournament, and thus the A-Sun Championship after two years of reclassifying. Since the program started in 2004, they own an all-time record of 139-36, including 52-5 at Alico Arena.

"I think we have outstanding facilities which is important...for anybody," said Ken Kavanagh, FGCU Director of Athletics. "We play in these events whether [here] or on another campus. Part of the voting process we have is what will benefit the student-athlete the most. I think our weather – for outdoor events – certainly in many cases lends itself to good opportunities for us but our venue here at Alico Arena, we think is probably the finest in the conference, in both size as well as overall amenities we provide and we also have a quality volleyball team that we think will lend itself to a good tournament"

While this A-Sun Championship serves as a first for Alico Arena and the first for an FGCU team that includes and automatic NCAA bid, a second team amongst the field of six, Kennesaw State finds itself at its first A-Sun Volleyball Championship. In contrast to the Eagles, who were picked as the favorite to win A-Sun Championship, the Owls' three-year transition has not gone as smoothly and without the same level of success, picking up only 11 wins.

Enter first-year head Karen Weatherington. She came to Kennesaw, Ga., after serving most recently as the Associate Head Coach at Butler following time at Clemson, Duke and Iowa State. The Owls picked up 11 wins, in A-Sun play alone, and reached 17 wins entering the A-Sun Championship. Despite the lack of a winning tradition, Weatherington and the team set the bar high, and achieved goals not predicted by many in the preseason.

“We are thrilled to be here, we are just elated. We set our goals really high for coming into a new group," Weatherington said. "I've been really excited to take this team to a championship. We have some good background and experience between our coaching staff. [Our team is] very inexperienced, so we have talked about teaching them championship volleyball – how champions think and how they maintain themselves, how they carry themselves and how they prepare, so actually the staff has probably used the word ‘championship’ more than the players.”

Both Nichols and Weatherington acknowledged having a postseason opportunity resulted in substantial changes in the effort from their players, especially late in the season.

“It’s a big difference…when we finished last year’s final conference match, it was like with a whimper instead of a bang," Nichols said. "We had won the conference…we had already sealed it the night before, and we went in that match [against Jacksonville] flat because there was nothing left. It was odd, I had never felt that, it was my first year at [FGCU], I’ve always played for something. This year, after that final conference match, its been a whirlwind getting ready and I like it that way.”

FGCU has secured its spot in the field prior the the final weekend. Conversely, going into the final day of play, there existed remote scenarios that could have knocked the Owls out. Their win against the UNF Ospreys locked up their berth.

“We were very aware, our staff was very aware," Weatherington said. "We just tried to keep it under wraps as far as the players were concerned but the information went public on our Web site with all the different opportunities for the tiebreaker, but they really stayed focused."

One stat trend both teams will look to reverse this week: Only once has the A-Sun Volleyball Championship been won by a school making its first appearance, Stetson in 1985 at the very first A-Sun Championship. In fact among the current membership, only Stetson and Belmont, in 2004, have even reached the final in their first appearance.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Stetson Looks to Erase Memory of 2006 Final

The last time Stetson reached an Atlantic Sun Conference Men’s Soccer Final the Hatters had everything going for them. They were the league’s defending tournament champs. They were the league’s regular season champs. They were at home as the top seed.

And they lost.

Fast forward three years. Stetson returns to the finals for the third time in five years after outlasting ETSU in Friday’s semifinals. A win will help erase the memories of 2006 and send this set of Hatters to the NCAA Championship.

“Our goal is to try and get to the NCAA each season,” head coach Logan Fleck said. “Personally, it is something that I have experienced before as a coach and I would definitely like for my kids to experience.”

If the Hatters are going to get there, they will need another strong effort from the quartet of seniors: Set Carpintero, Griffin Gilstrap, Robert Hodge and Kevin Munz.

Hodge, the 2009 A-Sun Defensive Player of the Year, converted a penalty kick late in the first half while Carpintero added an assist on Stetson’s first goal. Munz and Gilstrap made life miserable for the ETSU defense with their constant pressure and numerous scoring opportunities.

“As seniors, we have played in a final before and what it is like to lose,” Hodge said. “We know what it means to the team and what it means to be a student-athlete on a side like Stetson. Our collective leadership seems to help the team and that’s good.”

That leadership seems to rubbing off in a good way on the younger Hatters. If they can leave anything with their teammates, Coach Fleck hopes it will be a championship title and a tradition that sees Stetson contend annually.

“That is our whole mindset, mine, my hard-working assistant coach Eric Dutt as well as the players,” Fleck noted. “These guys give us great leadership.”

A match-up with No. 5 Mercer awaits on Sunday.

“They don’t look like a No. 5 seed to me,” Fleck said. “The way they played today and the pressure they put on was great, especially down a goal and having to come from behind. They have a couple kids healed up. I think it will be a very tough match. I’ll be losing sleep and looking at game film all night long.”

Be sure to follow the action live on

Friday, November 13, 2009

Another Inspection Passed for Mercer Building Project

Shots fired left and right. Sprawling saves bolstered spirits. That style of play characterized the first 20 minutes of the Atlantic Sun Conference Men’s Soccer semifinal between No. 1 Campbell and No. 5 Mercer.

However, few matches are won that early in a contest, but they are often won in the last 20 minutes and such was the case on Friday.

Mercer scored twice in an eight minute span late in the match to advance to their first final since 2004. Second-year head coach Brad Ruzzo seemed to relish the closing seconds of the contest as he saw his team pass another important inspection on their way to building a first-class program.

“It certainly was a goal that we had coming into this tournament,” Ruzzo said. “We left her last year with a little bit of a bitter taste, leaving in the first round. I can only credit the players, the upperclassmen in particular. We had a lot of changes from last year to this year and they continue to buy into what we are teaching them. I could not be more proud of those players. Obviously, the freshmen coming in have been such a big part of this. We had seven freshmen start the game today and they don’t really know any better which is a good thing sometimes.”

The Bears seemed to be well on their way to establishing themselves as one of the top programs in the conference, winning three straight matches to open A-Sun play. However, a late-season slide saw Mercer lose six of seven to close out the regular season.

“We started off great in conference and then, just like any other team, we had some key injuries. We made no excuses because we know other teams struggle with that as well,” Ruzzo explained. “We had a tough time fighting through that a little bit and finding a way to win those games. We have some guys back healthy which has made a big difference. It wasn’t like we were playing awful during that stretch, we just weren’t coming up with the results.”

Tournament play gives teams another opportunity to define their season, and Mercer has made the most of the chance. After trouncing UNF 3-0 in a first round match, a sky-high group scored three unanswered goals to become the first fifth-seeded team since 1999 to reach a final.

“Before this game, I said ‘the NCAA is probably in your wildest dreams right now, but let’s keep it there until we get a result’,” Ruzzo commented. Now we got the result and now we can dream. It is one game away. We’ll come as prepared as we possibly can and give it a go,”

The Cinderella story will have another chapter written during Sunday’s final.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Three Comebacks, One Championship

Within a three-day span at the Atlantic Sun Women's Soccer Championships, three comebacks fueled Kennesaw State's run to their second title in the last three years, but only one took place on the field in terms of goals.

In Saturday's title match with the defending champion Belmont Bruins, the Owls recovered from allowing a first-half penalty-kick goal to the Bruins' Jessica Rix with a pair of goals in the second half to claim the league championship. The first goal came courtesy of Maylee Attin-Johnson on a half volley to right side of the net.

Attin-Johnson had a head in the Kennesaw State attack that ultimately resulted in the Owls' second goal. Her header on net would have found goal if not for a lunging save from Rix, but with the ball still inside the penalty area, the Owls earned a penalty shot of their own after a hand ball inside the box.

For Attin-Johnson and teammate Caitlin Dingle, the goal scorer in the Owls' 1-0 semifinal overtime victory against Jacksonville, Saturday's championship completed comebacks two years in the making. As sophomores, both had been part of a championship squad in 2007 that rolled up a 17-4 record and the program's first A-Sun Championship.

The following season, Dingle opened the year as the league's preseason Player of the Year and the Owls picked up all 11 first-place votes from the coaches as the league favorite. Injuries cost Attin-Johnson her entire 2008 campaign and Dingle only played in three games. Both watched from the sidelines as the Owls' bid for a repeat title ended against these same Bruins in the semifinals on penalty kicks. In 2009, both worked their way back into the lineup and delivered a third regular-season crown and a second A-Sun Championship victory.

"To come back from knee surgeries takes a lot and they've been getting better and healthier the longer the season has gone on," Owls' head coach Rob King said. "And to cap it like that, particularly for Maylee with a fantastic goal, but both of them, on their home field in front of home fans and to go back to the NCAA Tournament, it doesn't get any better than that."

Following her goal, Attin-Johnson bolted up the near sideline, past the boisterous crowd and displayed the speed she displayed prior to her injuries.

"I think it was all adrenaline, " Attin-Johnson said. "After I ran I was tired, I was like 'what am I thinking about' but I had to do it; I had make that run, my people from the Caribbean came out [for] support, so I had to give them something to cheer about."

In the postgame awards ceremony, when it came time for the Owls to collect their hardware, the team's three seniors, Attin-Johnson, Dingle and Defensive Player of the Year, Bridget Gaughan, accepted the trophy before returning to the rest of the team

"I looked at Maylee and Bridget [Gaughan] and we were like 'this was the way it was supposed to be'...the three seniors, we're not done yet," Dingle said. "We win at home, we win our conference, our conference tournament, we're going to the NCAA tournament, it couldn't be any better."

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Goal Four Years in the Making

In her four years with the Owls, Kennesaw State forward Caitlin Dingle has witnessed a full gambit of experiences at the Atlantic Sun Women's Soccer Championships.

All four, contested at the KSU Soccer Complex, have taken on vastly different meanings for Dingle. In 2006, as the regular-season champions, the Owls dropped a heart-breaking overtime game to Jacksonville. A year later, she scored in both the Owls' semifinal and title game victories to earn MVP honors as the the Owls made their first NCAA appearance. Last season, while dealing with a season-ending injury she watched from the sidelines as her teammates fell short in their bid to repeat.

“Four year the ups and down have been crazy," Dingle said. "My last thought before I took the field was the last time we were on this field against Jacksonville in the A-Sun Tournament we ended the game on the field crying. We have been through it all. We have won some great games and suffered some heartbreaking losses.”

In Thursday's semifinal contest with Jacksonville, Dingle spent much of the final 51 minutes in the corners as she fired off 10 corner kicks - many of which nearly resulted in Kennesaw State goals. Six minutes into overtime the senior played the role of finisher, connecting on a header off a feed from Thais Gibson and sending the Owls back to the title game.

“Four year the ups and down have been crazy," Dingle said. "My last thought before I took the field was the last time we were on this field against Jacksonville in the A-Sun Tournament we ended the game on the field crying. We have been through it all. We have won some great games and suffered some heartbreaking losses.”

The dramatic goal only added to Dingle's comeback story. She increased her point total to 22, good for third in the conference and boosted her points-per-game average of 1.47, which places her second. After not starting in any of the Owls' first seven games, Dingle reclaimed her rightful starting spot and finished the year back on the All-Atlantic Sun's First Team.

“It is different when you are a senior and if you lose it is your last game" she said. "It makes it mean so much more and it makes you want it that much more. When you take field for overtime you know if you don’t score you're going home and your not coming back. It puts a pain in your chest to think about it. Tournament play is hard and its tough and it is emotional.”

Following a team-wide recognition to the more than 600 fans in attendance, Dingle felt the adoration of the crowd for herself as she walked towards the ASun.TV broadcast for a postgame interview.

“I was shaking from the adrenaline” “We have fantastic fans and even on a frigid, cold night like this, we’re going to have a lot people, a lot of friends, a lot of family and even just fans from the community and that makes the difference…when you’re dead tired in overtime.”

Her returned status among the A-Sun's elite would come as no surprise based on her 2007 season. Dingle led the league in goals, points and shots as the Owls rolled to a 17-4 record and an NCAA Tournament appearance. The 17 wins ranks among the top-five single-season totals in league history. The conference's coaches voted Dingle as the Preseason Player of the Year for 2008 but her season got limited to just three games.

“As a soccer player, it those moments when you get that goal in overtime – that’s why you play," Dingle said. "That’s why you put in the hours and hours and that’s why you go through surgeries and rehab your butt off and sit out for a year and you put your body on the line for moments like this.”

A victory on Saturday afternoon against Belmont and a return trip to the NCAAs could provide Dingle and her teammates another such moment to treasure.

For the full Caitlin Dingle interview, listen here

From Spectator to Playmaker: Musacchio's Adventuresome Semifinal

In the middle of the first half of Belmont's Atlantic Sun semifinal match with Stetson, the Bruins' Annie Musacchio approached the scorer's table to enter the contest. However, in a moment of confusion, the officials ruled she had checked into the match and later pulled back, thus costing her any chance to play in the first 45 minutes.

"I went to go sub in and the fourth official told me I had already been in - and I guess the rule is that once you check in, you must enter on the next play and...they said we missed it," Musacchio said. "It was confusing because I checked in when the ball was out and they said I should have gone in on that play. The reason given was that I missed my opportunity."

Belmont's second leading score was forced to endure the final 20+ minutes of the opening half from the sidelines as she watched her teammates dominate play, but fail to net a goal. When the second half began, the senior took to the field looking to atone for lost time.

"It was pins and needles...I was excited to get on the field and do my part," she said. "We had so many great opportunities...we hit the post, we had it in the six so many times. We were going to finish, it was just a matter of time. It was a rush of emotion...I wanted to make every minute count."

In the 83rd minute, the Nashville, Tenn., native had her chance, facing a free kick from 30 yards out in a still scoreless match, Musacchio struck a perfect shot, glancing off the crossbar and into the net for the game's lone goal and sending the reigning champs back to the title game.

"When we played them in the regular season, we tied them 1-1 and that exact same play was our tying goal," Musacchio said. "It was cathartic almost to score that goal after the first half."

Should a similar situation present itself during Saturday's title game match, Musacchio will not allow for a repeat of Thursday to take place.

"Assuming I will be coming off the bench [on Saturday] I will make sure I am on guard coming in," "This is such a great feeling, I'm so proud of all our girls and we are looking forward to Saturday."

For the full Annie Musacchio interview, listen here

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Rotich Turns Disappointment into Victory

by Matt Wilson

Harkening back to a similar scene a year ago, Kenneth Rotich glanced back over his left shoulder and saw … nothing. Runner-up Gilbert Kemboi trailed by as many as 10 seconds late and no kick would make up the distance over the final 100 meters.

Rotich slowly lifted his right hand in victory.

Flashback to October 27, 2007. Then a sophomore, Rotich dominated the first three-quarters of the A-Sun Championship. However, his body started working against him in the final stretch. De-hydration set in and he limped home to the finish in seventh place.

“I was winning in 2007 but unfortunately I became de-hydrated,” said Rotich. “I just could not run anymore and definitely not fast enough to compete for the win.”

The disappointment of 2007 transitioned into the dominance of the last two years.

“I think about it (2007). Sometimes when you mess up running, some things give you more motivation than others,” stated Rotich. “That was one of those things that makes me say ‘come on’.”

Redemption came last year as he led ETSU to its first conference title in cross country. This year as the favorite, he did not disappoint.

Dolphins Make a Fall Splash

by Matt Wilson

Dominance. That has been the easy way to describe the Jacksonville University women’s Track & Field team. The Dolphins have won four straight outdoor titles and four straight indoor titles.

Hurdle. Belmont’s women’s cross country squad owned seven of the last eight A-Sun championship trophies.

“Belmont University has set the standard and the reason that the whole conference is getting better in cross country is because of how good Belmont’s women have been forever,” said A-Sun Coach of the Year Ron Grigg. “We aspired to meet that level and that is why you saw such fast times today.”

The Dolphins cleared that hurdle with ease at the 2009 Atlantic Sun Cross Country Championship as six runners finished in the top-14. What some spectators may have seen as a one-trick pony without the depth to compete in cross country can now claim an unprecedented trifecta: owning all three track related conference titles in one calendar year.

“We want to be a balanced team with great throwers, great jumpers, great sprinters and great distance runners. Our middle distance kids have performed on the track all along. We just haven’t put it together in cross country,” Grigg said. “We were close last year. I guess there is a learning curve to winning championships and that is what we told the team. They were ready last year and we finally got it done this year.”

Senior Elsabeth Goshu led a pod of Dolphins across the finish line, placing third in her final championship.

“I am happy to be part of it. We worked really hard,” added an animated Goshu. “We were excited before the race started and are now very happy. We are proud to bring this trophy to our University and our great head coach.”

Running 5000 meters around winding turns, across gravel roads and through soccer fields can be mentally grueling and sometimes lonely. The JU track & field contingent was determined not to let their distance teammates endure that extra challenge. Nearly 15 student-athletes made the just over one hour drive down to Stetson.

"Cross country is a really hard sport and it is crucial to have people there to support you. Having that support gives you the extra push you need to pass the next person,” said Unique Singleton, a junior sprinter.

They were among a large number of enthusiastic supporters at the Sterling Sports Complex and may have made a difference.

“It was awesome. I heard them at every corner and it is a great feeling to hear them,” Goshu said.

When Goshu and her teammates came across the finish line with plenty of room to spare to claim the title, it was special for their track & field teammates as well.

“We were so excited. Some of us even got teary eyed and almost cried. We hope that this will carry over into track season,” said Singleton.

Singleton and her track teammates’ chance to continue the title streak and build towards winning all three titles in a single academic year takes place at the Indoor Track & Field Championships on Feb. 26 - 27, 2010 from the Memorial Center in Johnson City, Tenn.

Friday, October 23, 2009

A-Sun What to Watch For - Oct. 23, 2009

Cross Country:
• In the final week before the Atlantic Sun Cross Country Championships, two schools host meets with a total of four running. Lipscomb and Mercer join the hosting Kennesaw State at the Owls Invitational from Noonday Park in Kennesaw, Ga. Down south, FGCU hosts its first invitational in school history.

Men's Golf:
• In a busy weekend on the links, eight men's golf teams tee it up at various tournaments across the south. A trio of the league's Florida schools, FGCU, Jacksonville and Stetson travel to Daytona Beach, Fla., for the Bethune-Cookman Fall Invite. Stetson's David McAndrew and the rest of Hatters look to defend titles from last year's event. McAndrew won a playoff with teammate Tommy Parker. As a team, the Hatters won the event by two strokes.
• In Windermere, Fla., ETSU joins 14 other prestigious programs competing at the Isleworth Collegiate Invitational from Isleworth Golf & Country Club. The tournament, conducted on a course designed by Arnold Palmer and Ed Seay, and later redesigned and enhanced by Steve Smyers features seven of the 15 teams in the field are ranked among the top 10 nationally, including top-ranked Oklahoma State.
Arizona State (2/2), Illinois (3/6), Washington (4/3), TCU (5/8), Stanford (6/5) and Florida (10/11).
• The conference's Georgia schools, Mercer and Kennesaw State cross the state line into Tennessee for the Scenic City/Aldila Invitational from the Council Fire Golf Club in Chattanooga. The host Mocs took second at Mercer's Brickyard Invitational, held earlier this month.

Women's Golf:
• On the women's side, three schools, Campbell, ETSU and Kennesaw State head to Kiawah Island, S.C. for the Palmetto Intercollegiate. The Buccaneers took second at the event last year, while the Camels placed sixth. Individually, ETSU teammates Mayte Vizcarrondo and Sinead O'Sullivan shared low honors in tying for third.
• FGCU and Stetson stay in the Florida for the FIU Pat Bradley Invitational. A year ago, the Hatters finished fourth, led by Danielle Jackson's sixth-place showing. Elsewhere, USC Upstate and Mercer partake in the Boscobel Invitational from the Boscobel Golf Club in Pendleton, S.C., along with five additional schools.Men's Soccer:
• Campbell knocked off Stetson on Thursday night in the A-Sun Game of the Week to extend their conference unbeaten streak to 18 games. The Camels have a shot to lock of the No. 1 seed in the A-Sun tournament if they can knock off FGCU in Fort Myers, Fla.
• Belmont looks to continue its winning ways coming off of their first winning streak of the season after defeating Jacksonville on Friday and UNF on Sunday. The two wins moved the Bruins up four places in the Atlantic Sun standings.
• FGCU goalkeeper Matthew Smith (Cape Canaveral, Fla.) has played every minute in goal for the Eagles this season and has a chance to led them to the A-Sun regular season title. The Eagles can take a big step toward that goal if they can knock off Campbell on Saturday.

Women's Soccer:
• Belmont travels to Jacksonville in pivotal match up in the Atlantic Sun Game of the Week at 6 p.m. Friday at the Ashley Sports Complex. Both Belmont and Jacksonville remain in contention for the A-Sun title. Jacksonville can claim the A-Sun title with wins versus Belmont and Lipscomb. Belmont will capture the conference title with a win against Jacksonville and win against UNF. Belmont can also win the league title with win against Jacksonville and a tie or against UNF but only if Kennesaw State fall to Campbell on Saturday.
• Stetson’s Tessa Gavilsky scored the game-winning goal against the Bisons and assisted on the equalizer against the Bruins. With 69 career points she is now just one point shy of becoming Stetson’s all-time scoring leader. She also currently leads the A-Sun in scoring (25 pts), goals (9), and game-winning goals (5).
• Senior forward Jordan Monty earned her third career A-Sun Offensive Player of the Week honor Monday, as the Mesquite, Texas native picked up seven points during the week. Monty and the Bucs need a big weekend to make it to the A-Sun tournament as they enter the weekend one point out of the final tournament spot.

• Senior libero Shelley Walroth, a Cincinnati native, holds single season and career dig marks at Jacksonville, sur­passing Cheryl Rothwell (43 at Stetson - Nov. 12, 1996) for the program’s single match record (46 – Oct. 17). Walroth moved into 16th place on the NCAA all-time digs list with 2,267 and needs seven to move into the top 15 and 77 to crack the top 10. The psychology major also earned a Top Performer selection from the Col­legiate Volleyball Update for her performance this past week.
• Senior Chelsey Denesha tallied 18 kills while junior Sabrita Gulley made 17 kills and 11 digs to lead Kennesaw State to one of the biggest wins in program history; a 3-1 win against Belmont in an A-Sun match, Saturday afternoon at the KSU Convocation Center. Gulley's play from her back and subsequent block in the fourth set of the match earned her a nomination for the AVCA Play of the Week. AVCA member schools have the opportunity to submit up to three plays per week to be voted on by coaches, players, fans and the general public for the chance to be named Volleyball Market/AVCA Play of the Week. Watch Gulley’s play HERE and vote HERE by Tuesday at 11:00 a.m.
• Lipscomb (15) and Jacksonville (12) enter the week looking to extend double-digit win streaks. No other conference in the country features two schools with concurrent win streaks of at least 10 matches. The Lady Bisons (18-3, 13-0 A-Sun) placed 57th in the NCAA RPI rankings, up 14 places, and represent the highest ranking in team history. Lipscomb enters the week with a 15-match winning streak overall and a perfect 13-0 Atlantic Sun record. In 12 of those 15 victories, including each of the first eight, they won without dropping a set. The Lady Bisons are at home this weekend, hosting FGCU at 6:30 p.m. CT on Friday night and Stetson at 2:00 p.m. CT on Saturday afternoon at Allen Arena. After being shut out in straight sets against Belmont and Lipscomb to open A-Sun play, Jacksonville (15-5, 11-2 A-Sun) has won 12 straight matches. The winning streak represents the longest under head coach Shaun Kupferberg, as well as the longest winning streak for the Dolphins since joining the A-Sun in 1998. The Dolphins have won six consecutive road matches and boast a perfect 3-0 record in five-set matches as compared to a 0-5 mark last year. Jacksonville will return to action on Saturday at 3:00 p.m. as the Dolphins travel to USC Upstate.
• The battle for championship seeding headlines Saturday’s contest between ETSU and Kennesaw State - two schools locked in a bat­tle for the sixth and final spot. The last time the Owls and Lady Buccaneers met, ETSU held on to defeat Kennesaw State, 3-2, at the KSU Convocation Center. Junior Erin Ryan led the way offensively for the Bucs with a team-high 17 kills, while junior outside hitter Desiree Dyck posted a double-double with 12 kills and 15 digs. Junior middle blocker Alysa Long and sophomore middle blocker M­cKayla Barber each posted 11 kills and five blocks in the match. ETSU owns a 5-1 series advantage with Kennesaw State since 2006. Gulley, the Owls’ Top Performer of the Week, led Kennesaw State to a 2-1 week in the A-Sun and moved the Owls into the coveted sixth-place standing. The Lady Bucs have emerged victorious in 18 of their last 31 home contests in Brooks Gym. The match airs on ASun.TV.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Lipscomb and JU Look to Extend Volleyball Win Streaks

Lipscomb (15) and Jacksonville (12) enter the week looking to extend double-digit win streaks. No other conference in the country features two schools with concurrent win streaks of at least 10 matches.
One of the preseason goals for the Lady Bisons (18-3, 13-0 A-Sun) - to end the season in the top 50 in the national RPI ratings - moved within reach. The Lady Bisons placed 57th in the NCAA RPI rankings, up 14 places, representing the highest ranking in team history. The Lady Bisons enter the week with a 15-match winning streak overall and a perfect 13-0 Atlantic Sun record.

Featured in The City Paper’s “Triple threat's been a treat for LU volleyball team,” three of Lipscomb’s top players hail from the “Show Me State.” Missouri natives Alex Kelly, Stefine Pease and Meghan Hinemeyer played club volleyball together for three years before they embarked on their respective college careers. Kelly and Pease came to Lipscomb as freshmen and have played in integral role in the program’s steady rise, which now is in its seventh season under head coach Brandon Rosenthal. Hinemeyer transferred from Clemson in the spring and immediately added a devil-may-care attitude as well as a devilish ability to attack.

In 12 of those 15 victories, including each of the first eight, they won without dropping a set. Led by that trio, the Lady Bisons carry their 15-match win streak into this weekend. The Lady Bisons are at home this weekend, hosting FGCU at 6:30 p.m. CT on Friday night and Stetson at 2:00 p.m. CT on Saturday afternoon at Allen Arena.

After being shut out in straight sets against Belmont and Lipscomb to open A-Sun play, Jacksonville (15-5, 11-2 A-Sun) has won 12 straight matches. The winning streak represents the longest under head coach Shaun Kupferberg, as well as the longest winning streak for the Dolphins since joining the A-Sun in 1998.

The Dolphins have also won 13 straight home matches, the longest streak in the Division I era (1985-current). Jackson¬ville’s 6-0 mark at home this season accounts for the best start since the Dolphins joined the A-Sun. The Dolphins have won six consecutive road matches and boast a perfect 3-0 record in five-set matches as compared to a 0-5 mark last year.

Senior outside hitter Brooke Singleton was a major factor in extending Jacksonville’s winning streak to a record 12 straight matches, earning her first A-Sun Player of the Week honor for her efforts in a 3-0 week on the road. The Roseville, Ill. native joins senior libero Shelley Walroth (Sept. 8) in receiving the weekly honor this year. The duo are the first multi-award winners for the Dolphins since outside hitter Radka Dimitrova earned the accolade in consecutive weeks during the 2002 season.

Walroth, a Cincinnati native, holds single season and career dig marks at Jacksonville, surpassing Cheryl Rothwell (43 at Stetson - Nov. 12, 1996) for the program’s single match record (46 – Oct. 17). Walroth moved into 16th place on the NCAA all-time digs list with 2,267 and needs seven to move into the top 15 and 77 to crack the top 10. The psychology major also earned a Top Performer selection from the Collegiate Volleyball Update for her performance this past week. Jacksonville will return to action on Saturday at 3:00 p.m. as the Dolphins travel to USC Upstate.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Softball Team To Hold Donation Clinic For Amanda Littlejohn

BUIES CREEK, N.C. - Members of the Campbell softball team will be hosting a clinic on Nov. 7, 2009 to benefit redshirt junior catcher Amanda Littlejohn. The clinic will be open to the public and will be held at the Eakes Athletic Complex from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. The team will be accepting donations for a fund to directly aid in the medical bills incurred by Littlejohn in her fight against cancer.

Littlejohn was the starting catcher for the Camels during the 2007 and 2008 season. In the summer of 2007 she was diagnosed with melanoma. She fought the disease while continuing to play the game of softball during the spring 2008 season, a season in which she had a historic campaign with a .367 batting average, 84 hits, 15 home runs and a school-record 72 RBIs and ended with Campbell making the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 13 years.

The cancer was thought to be in remission until November 2008 when Littlejohn got the tragic news that the cancer had returned and a malignant tumor was found in her brain. Littlejohn, a California native, flew back home to fight the disease once again with the support of her family. Over the summer, after surgery in her brain to remove the tumors, Littlejohn was cleared by her doctors to play and given a clean bill of health in July 2009. The joy was short-lived though as this past September two more tumors were found in her brain. Littlejohn is currently living back in California and will begin radiation treatments later this month.

Campbell's softball team is now raising money for a fund to aid the Littlejohn family defray the medical costs for the surgeries and radiation treatments that she will be undergoing and are running this clinic to aid in the process.

"Amanda is one of those rare individuals that you can't help but love and look up to for her positive approach to life, and the way she treats others," head coach Drew Peterson explained. "She is a true inspiration to our team, and we look forward to celebrating her victory over this newest opponent in the future. We are constantly thinking about her and her family, and lifting them up in prayer. This fundraiser is just one small way we want the Littlejohn family to know how much we love them."

For any questions about the clinic or to make a donation please contact Peterson at 910-893-1355.