Friday, March 26, 2010

The Perfect Pitch: The A-Sun’s Success in the Circle

MACON, Ga. – Last year, the A-Sun baseball pitchers gained national acclaim when Lipscomb’s Rex Brothers, Kennesaw State’s Chad Jenkins and Kyle Heckathorn all heard their names called early in the June MLB Draft and FGCU’s Chris Sale lit up the Cape Cod Summer League.

This year, two female hurlers in Lipscomb’s Whitney Kiihnl and USC Upstate’s Morgan Childers climbed to the top of the A-Sun leaderboards and claimed national recognition in the first release of the NCAA Division I softball stats report as the conference season gets underway. Kiihnl and Childers, who both own three no-hitters this season, rank first and second in the NCAA in fewest hits allowed per seven innings. Kiihnl holds foes to only 1.89 hits per seven innings with Childers close behind at 2.15.

Kiihnl tops Lipscomb in the circle with a 14-2 record, 0.87 ERA and 155 strikeouts on the year.

“As far as Kiihnl goes, you are looking at an extremely good pitcher,” USC Upstate head coach Chris Hawkins said. “Lipscomb is full of seasoned veterans and they are playing extremely good competition, a lot better competition than we have faced and they are holding their own. I would say they are a lot more ready to play these games than we are, but we will see what happens. Hopefully we won’t concentrate on whether we are winning or losing, but on having fun and challenging each other.”

Childers tops the nation with 13.5 strikeouts per game and ranks second with a 0.42 ERA in addition to her second-place showing in hits allowed per game and 15-2 record on the season.

“You could say USC Upstate and the first name that comes out of your mouth is Morgan Childers,” Hawkins said. “That is good and bad for me. That is good in the fact that you are able to recruit somebody who is that good and can single-handedly carry a team through any times that they have.”

Childers also ranks ninth in strikeouts, 16th in wins and 19th in shutouts.

“Morgan is self motivated and stat motivated,” Hawkins said. “She did not get something this preseason and that has really put a fire under her. I have no worries and no doubts that if she needs an ‘A’ game she will throw an ‘A+’ game. We will just have to see what happens.”

Hawkins believes the reason behind the Spartans’ early success lies with their defense and the strong effort Childers puts forward.

“We’ve only made nine errors so far and we play well behind her and whoever else is back there. I’d like for us to hit better. I’d like for our games to get blown open where we can relax a little bit through them. We have gotten extremely good at winning a one to nothing or a two to one game. We’ve even won a game this past week where we didn’t get a hit.”

This weekend also marks the opening of conference play for many teams in the conference. Hawkins views USC Upstate’s games in Nashville as a test to see how his squad compares in the rankings.

“Morgan is legit,” he said. “But a lot of these other statistical categories might fall against some of the competition we have faced or it might be because we are good. I’ll find out this weekend if those kids are hitting the way they are hitting or doing some of the things they are doing because we were playing good teams or bad teams, or if that is just what is in them. I’ll find out.”

Heading into the weekend, Lipscomb and USC Upstate ensure each squad is prepared for the competition as conference play begins a whole different ballgame for players in the A-Sun. Many will face pitchers and hitters they have faced many times before, unlike non-conference play.

“People always talk about these big teams out west, but, the A-Sun has some really tough teams,” Childers said. “We may be little, but a lot of our teams in the A-Sun battle hard. Freshman year I came in and nobody knew us and we kind of shocked some people.”

“I think it is great for Lipscomb and I’m glad that we are getting noticed as a Christian school,” Kiihnl said. “We’re a small school and no one really knows about us. I think it says a lot about us as a conference like when Stetson beat Alabama. I used to play with Amanda Lindsey back in the day. I think it is awesome that a lot of our teams are doing so well against other teams. Just do your best and let God do the rest.”

The league pitchers stand as one of the secrets to why the A-Sun is so successful in softball. Along with Kiihnl and Childers, many other A-Sun pitchers like UNF’s Devyn Findley, Stetson’s Lindsey and Mercer’s Jenni Holtz make any A-Sun team forceful on any given day against any opponent.

“Every team has at least one very, very capable pitcher. Some teams have two,” Lipscomb head coach Kristin Ryman said. “We have all seen each other enough now that everybody saw Whitney last year and they already have an idea of what to expect from her. The same goes with Morgan and the same with multiple pitchers in our conference that are doing well right now. This is going to be the challenge for all of them going into this portion of the season. Now they are going to be facing some hitters who know them like the back of their hand. They have an idea of what to expect a little bit more than nonconference teams.”

Last season, the Lady Bisons swept the doubleheader with the Spartans in the A-Sun Series of the Week by marks of 9-1 and 3-0 in Spartanburg, S.C. For Lipscomb, Kiihnl pitched a complete game in game one, as the then-freshman scattered three hits while striking out eight. Saturday in Nashville, Tenn., Childers and USC Upstate seek redemption.

“I think we always have that expectation of going out and getting a sweep, but we know it is never going to be easy,” Ryman said. “We don’t ever want to go out and say, ‘Well we swept them last year! We feel like we could do the same this year.’ We know that they have new players and some players that maybe did not perform against us last year that we know are still good players. That could step up this year for them. We go into every game with the expectation that we are going to sweep and that is what we go after. We also know that Morgan Childers is a great pitcher and she is on her game right now. Yes we beat her last year, but we still know she is still a good pitcher. She is still going to present some big challenges for our hitters and we have to be ready to adjust early and try to put some things together and score some runs against her. We know they are a good team. We feel confident in our game, but we are not going into it overlooking anybody right now.”

Even as conference play starts to heat up, Childers always remembers the secret to doing well in the game is to have fun.

“The older I get, the less frustrating it is if something bad happens. I just smile and try to enjoy it because I pretty much only have two years left.”

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.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Dominance Dinged

In case you missed it, one of the Atlantic Sun’s most dominating regular season runs came to an end last week.

Tennis appears to be on an uptick in the A-Sun with the top of both the men’s and women’s standings, boasting nationally ranked programs and gaudy records.

USC Upstate snapped ETSU’s 38-match conference win streak with a thrilling 4-3 victory in Johnson City. The Bucs completed unblemished runs through the regular season every year since the introduction of the round-robin schedule in 2007. The team’s only loss to this point was one of the most stunning upsets in A-Sun tennis history when fourth-seeded Belmont rolled past top-seeded ETSU 4-2 in the semifinals of the 2006 championship.

Only two teams in the past decade can even make an argument to be considered as dominant as the ETSU netters and neither had to contend with those pesky regular season schedules. In women’s track & field, UCF won eight of nine championships stretching from 1997 to 2005 while the Jacksonville women have won five straight indoor titles to go with four consecutive outdoor trophies. In sports with regular season play, only two teams boast runs that could over-shadow ETSU. From 1993-98, the UCF volleyball team won 55 consecutive A-Sun matches including four straight postseason titles. During that same stretch (1993-96), the FIU women’s hoops team went 54-2 in the regular season and won three out of four tournaments.

Needless to say, this could be a program-defining win for the Spartans.

"We've been waiting for this match since last year," said UCS Upstate head coach Alessandro De Marzo, who became the second coach in school history to reach 100 career wins with the victory. "They showed a lot of courage. I'm too excited."

The program can reflect on a long history of success at the NAIA and NCAA Division II levels, but in three years with the A-Sun, had yet to clear its biggest obstacle until that day.

On the other hand, the well-established Bucs will move on.

“Records and streaks eventually come to an end and that’s simply what happened today,” ETSU head coach Yaser Zaatini said. “I was extremely proud that this program didn’t lose a regular season match for so long but the bottom line is that we are out here just playing tennis. It’s not life or death. These kids work so hard and I’m heartbroken that it’s over, but now our team has a chance to start a new one tomorrow.”

The one ingredient missing from the burgeoning rivalry is postseason showdowns. That will have to wait two more years as the Spartans complete their re-classification process to Division I. Until then, we’ll have to enjoy those matches in March.

Who do you think will win the 2010 A-Sun Men's Tennis Tournament?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Second Chance at a Lasting Impression

What a difference two weeks makes.

Last night, senior Ben Smith banked home a 24-footer with less than a second to go to launch Jacksonville past Arizona State and into the Second Round of the NIT. His shot capped a furious rally in the last four minutes to hand JU its first postseason win in four decades.

"I got a good look," said Smith. "I didn't call 'glass,' but as it was in the air, you could see it had a chance."

This is the type of “senior moment” that nearly every student-athlete dreams about.

It’s a huge departure from the last time we saw Smith attempt a three-pointer at the end of the game. In the Dolphins’ semifinal loss to Mercer at the General Shale Brick A-Sun Championship, the guard saw his shot deflected by long-time nemesis James Florence as the Bears completed the upset.

Monday night’s dramatic finish in front of a national television audience on ESPN2 is more fitting for a four-year starter who helped re-invigorate a near dormant program.

Joining with Lehmon Colbert four seasons ago, the senior duo took a 1-26 team and turned it into a two-time Atlantic Sun regular season champ. Both scored over 1400-points and both have led a revival that brought JU basketball back to relevance. A few things were missing on the “bucket list”, but consider two of them scratched off now: a win over a BCS team and a win in a national postseason tournament.

Hopefully, Smith and his teammates have something left in the tank for Texas Tech. Wouldn’t back-to-back BCS wins be awfully enjoyable?

Media Coverage: Replay
Arizona Republic: Jacksonville Sinks Arizona State with Late 3
Florida Times-Union: Ben Smith’s Shot Leads JU to Shocking NIT Upset Jacksonville Shocks NIT Top Seed Arizona St. BANK OPEN LATE: Smith’s Shot Stuns Arizona State, 67-66
Smith’s Last Second Bank Shot Burns Sun Devils

Of all the dramatic finishes you’ve seen in March, what is your favorite or most memorable?

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Lady Bucs: An A-Sun Championship and Beyond

MACON, Ga. – After coming off a record-breaking season in 2010, the ETSU Lady Buccaneers are looking forward to a third trip to the NCAA’s in three years.

Senior forward TaRonda Wiles scored the winning layup to lead the Lady Bucs to the win in the 2010 General Shale Brick Atlantic Sun Women’s Basketball Championship game with a 63-62 victory against the UNF Ospreys. Senior Siarre Evans led the Lady Buccaneers with 20 points and 11 rebounds, recording her 21st double-double of the season. Wiles and Tarita Gordon each accumulated 14 points each in the victory, and combined for a total of 13 rebounds.

For two seniors on the team, the little piece of net collected postgame means the culmination of four years of hard work and dedication, all leading up to their last dance.

Evans earned A-Sun Player of the Year honors for the second consecutive season, as the league’s top-scorer ranks fifth all-time on the ETSU scoring list (1,573) and third all-time on the ETSU rebounding charts (1108) and ranks nationally in rebounds per game (13th) and double doubles (third). The Griffin, Ga. native stands with USC Upstate’s McMillan as the only two players in the A-Sun averaging a double-double, as the senior tallied 16.2 points and 11.0 rebounds per game, while earning three Atlantic Sun Player of the Week awards (Dec. 28, Jan. 18 and March 1). Evans stands as the first player in A-Sun history to receive four first-team all-conference honors and the sixth player to earn two player of the year selections.

TaRonda Wiles joined Evans with All-Atlantic First-Team accolades after helping guide the Lady Bucs to the top seed, as the senior started all 25 regular-season games. Wiles paced the league with 17.5 points per game, ranks third in free-throw percentage with an 83.1 mark from the line, seventh overall in field goal percentage with a 44.3 rate from the floor. The Danville, Va. native ranks second in the conference with a 41.9 tally from behind the arc. Wiles ranks 48th nationally in points per game. For ETSU, Wiles ranks second in assists (3.0 per game) and third in steals (1.7 per game), in addition to ranking sixth all-time in scoring with 1,562 points.

With the win, ETSU earned the Atlantic Sun’s automatic bid to the NCAA Championships. ETSU won its ninth consecutive A-Sun Championship game, and the Lady Bucs join Georgia State (2001-03) and FIU (1992-95) as the only schools in A-Sun history to win three straight titles. ETSU also become the first team since Georgia State (2000-2003) to make four consecutive title games.

On Monday, March 15, ESPN will announce ETSU’s fate in the NCAA tournament in a special pairings show.

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.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

ETSU Goes from Tragedy to Triumph

With the Atlantic Sun Championship on the line sophomore Adam Sollazzo was fouled and headed to the line with his team up one.

Sollazzo stood at the line and connected on both free throws of a one-and-one and did not scream or celebrate. He just turned pounded a small 43 on his chest and pointer skyward. Sollazzo wears number 43, but that has always been because last year his roommate Seth Coy wore 43. During the summer, Coy was killed in an auto accident.

The team wanted to honor their fallen player and did so by placing small number 43 patches on their uniforms. Sollazzo wanted to do more, so he changed his number to that of his former roommates.

“My whole freshman year he was there for me,” Sollazzo said. “Whenever I was home sick or anything he was always there to help. He was my best friend.”

Sollazzo has never forgotten his former roommate and before every game just like when they were freshman, Sollazzo talks to his friend.

“Every game after the national anthem I take a minute and talk to him,” Sollazzo said. “Tonight I told him I know you are going to be out there with us and lead us to victory.”

After claiming the Atlantic Sun title on Saturday night, ETSU held up a number 43 sign in honor of Seth Coy.

“It gives us that extra drive,” Tommy Hubbard said. “We think about him in every possession. We never forget how fortunate we are to be able to play.”

With the game on the line against Mercer, the Bears locked down Hubbard and Micah Williams as Sollazzo came open. The sophomore ran down floor and got fouled. The forward’s free throws hit almost every part of the rim and went in. Sollazzo knows why.

“A couple of those free throws hung on the rim a little bit and I know he (Seth) helped me push them in,” Sollazzo said. “Afterward, I pointed up just to thank him and told him I love him.”

Florence Holds Final Bullet in a Four-Year Duel

For four years, Mercer's James Florence and Jacksonville's Ben Smith have been compared and contrasted to each other. Ever since both emerged from the Georgia high school scene they have stared each other down on the basketball court, often matching up in one-on-one showdowns.

While Florence put up the gaudier numbers (Mercer's all-time leading scorer, second in A-Sun history), Smith's teams enjoyed more team success (two regular-season titles) but in the final minutes of their final showdown, Florence stated his case for top guard as he drilled a 3-point try from the top of the key (his first basket in his last two games against Jacksonville), and made a pair of clutch free throws to extend the Bear lead to three.

If any of the better than 3,000 in attendance could not predict who from Jacksonville was going to have the ball in his hands in the waning seconds, they would have had to have spent the entire game on the their cell phone or munching on snacks. Of course Ben Smith would be taking the shot that could have extended Jacksonville's run in the Championship for at least the five minutes of overtime, and possibly for another day. As he rose up to fire his final bullet, the crowd feared he would deflate an arena primed for an explosion. Alas, his try at the tie did not reach the rim as Florence closed from behind to block the shot - only his 34th block in 118 games in a Bear uniform. Smith could not get another chance as Tevin Galvin misfired of the Dolphins' last try and Mercer secured the rebound, setting off the second wild celebration in as many nights.

Smith will forever hold the series edge, winning seven of the 10 times the two shared the collegiate hardwood. However, Florence has a chance at holding the ultimate trump card, a spot in the NCAA Tournament - something not experienced by Mercer within the lifespan of anyone of the current roster. Sam Mitchell, whose scoring record at Mercer Florence broke during the season, last led the Bears to the NCAAs, back in 1985.

Friday, March 5, 2010

ETSU's Run to Final Hardly Unlikely

A fifth-seeded team winning a close game in the final minute of a semifinal match-up has Cinderella story written all over it. At the least, some might call ETSU’s run into its third straight final unlikely.

Not hardly.

The Bucs finished the season one game behind the A-Sun’s unprecedented quartet of regular season champions and could reflect on a two-point loss to Stetson and a one-point overtime setback versus Lipscomb, both at home. Additionally, ETSU has beaten three of the four co-champs during the season as well as collecting notable non-conference wins over Arkansas and College of Charleston.

So, now that ETSU has dispatched one co-champion and two others did not make it out of the quarterfinals, the Bucs are in position to become just the sixth team in league history to win consecutive tourney titles.

And if their opponent is favored in the title game, it won’t be by much. This week, ETSU claims two of the best players in the conference. Micah Williams is averaging 26.0 points per game in the championship while Tommy Hubbard continues to provide defense and leadership while contributing to the offensive production.

The Bucs look to provide a happy ending for the league’s most fervent fan base.

Macon needs to start preparing for a Buccaneer invasion tomorrow.

Has the Bucs run to the finals surprised you?

From “Make Macon” to “Macon Noise”

After completing the sometimes grueling, sometimes grinding, sometimes trying four-year transition period into Division I, the UNF women’s team entered the season with a slogan – “Make Macon” – in reference to the location for this year’s General Shale Brick Atlantic Sun Championships and after a regular season that included an upset of FGCU late in the year, the Ospreys achieved their mission, and made Macon.

Upon arrival, their appearance was thought to be a quick one. They entered as the seventh seed - a seed that had never won a game in the A-Sun Championships – and they drew the host, Mercer, in the quarterfinals – a team that swept the regular-season meetings.

After dismissing the hosting Bears with suffocating defense on Wednesday afternoon, the Ospreys matched that intensity with an equally impressive effort in eliminating their crosstown rival, Jacksonville, to advance to Saturday’s title game.

“In the preseason coach told us that [M2] that was our slogan for the year,” guard Juliemay Syquio said. “M2 is ‘Make Macon’ and we made it. Now our slogan is ‘Why Not Us?’ The whole conference tournament we have been the underdog and now our new slogan needs to say ‘Stay True to the Blue’ because sticking to defense has been in our favor the whole tournament.”

For a team offering up as many fresh slogans as the latest snack trend, the Ospreys have sold their product the old-fashioned way – with on court performance. You like defense? How’s holding Mercer and Jacksonville to a combined 5-for-38 from beyond the 3-point arc and 30-for-119 (a 25.2 percent clip) suit you?

If beating the tournament host and biggest rival weren’t enough, the reward awaiting the Ospreys is the conference heavyweight and two-time defending conference champion, ETSU. The Ospreys held a late second-half lead on the Lady Buccaneers when the two met in Jacksonville on Feb. 25

“We had them at our house and we had them down seven and didn’t handle it, their experience just took over,” UNF head coach Mary Tappmeyer said. “It’s going to be a battle of wills tomorrow. We are absolutely the underdog, so the ‘Why Not Us’ factor really plays into it…I like being [the seventh seed]. If there is pressure on a team it’s probably on ETSU. We are in the championship game so we will roll it out tomorrow and see what happens.”

What's your all-time favorite Cinderella moment?

Evans Looks to Cap Career with Historic Three-Peat

Even when the Lady Bucs struggle recently in A-Sun Championship play, struggle is defined loosely.

After sprinting out to an 11-0 lead against Belmont in the team’s semifinal game on Friday, the Bruins clawed their way back into the contest and held a 29-28 advantage in the closing seconds.

About that time, the ball found its way into the hands of Siarre Evans as it has so often the last four years. The versatile forward sprinted down the floor and hit a shot just before the buzzer to give the Lady Bucs a one-point advantage despite one of the team’s worst offensive halves of the season. ETSU would go on to win 77-63.

The first half was a microcosm of Evans’ career. She accounted for 16 of the ETSU’s 30 first half points and took the air out of Belmont’s spirited effort with the shot at the end of the half. That was what the Lady Bucs needed today, and she delivered.

This tournament has already been a special run for Evans. Her hometown of Griffin, Ga., is a short drive down I-75 from the University Center. She entered the championship as the 2010 A-Sun Player of the Year plus she has played in front of several friends and family including her former high school coach the last two games. More folks are expected to make the drive down tomorrow as Evans looks to help deliver ETSU’s third straight title.

No matter what happens in Saturday’s final, Evans will go down as one of the top players in A-Sun history, racking up award after award and reaching the title game in each of her four seasons.

Who do you think is the best women's basketball player in A-Sun history?

Mercer Rides Home Support into Semifinals

An event 32 years in the making, Mercer’s men’s basketball team played an Atlantic Sun Championship game on its home floor finally arrived on Thursday. And after years of anticipation (and waiting through seven men’s and women’s quarterfinals), they took the floor against the conference’s gold standard, Belmont and the Bruins looked to the silence the partisan crowd early.

Like many classic Belmont teams, they struck early from deep, hitting their first five 3-point field goals and opened up a 26-12 margin on the home team. But the Bears, led by its two wounded seniors, James Florence (sprained ankle) and Daniel Emerson (eye injury – suffered against Belmont a week earlier) refused to end their careers without a fight.

The Bears responded with a 3-point barrage of their own, making eight in the first half and pulled to within six at the break. Belmont again tried its best to take the crowd of 2,287 out of the game as the again worked the margin up to 13 barely three minutes into the second half. It remained 12, 60-48, before Mercer scored 20 of the next 28 to forge the first tie since 4-4. Jeff Smith’s 3-point shot gave Mercer its first lead of the night and despite Belmont’s best efforts, could not derail Mercer’s momentum train and the Bears had their first win in an A-Sun Championship since 2003.

As a side effect of Thursday’s game being a tournament game and Mercer being tabbed as the visiting team, the student section and the band moved from its traditional spot of the closed end to the open end, right in front of Bears’ bench meaning the team played in front of its loudest fans as they made their run.”

“I think they should do that more often, I really enjoyed it,” head coach Bob Hoffman said. “Often times you think that you place the students near the other team to try and heckle them, but I thought that our team really fed off of our student section tonight.”

Emerson, who set a school record for rebounds in a single season with 357, echoed his coach’s sentiments.

“I really enjoyed having the [student section] near us tonight. It might not have been the largest crowd we have ever had here, but it was definitely the loudest. We just want to thank all of our fans for coming out tonight we really fed off of them.”

While the crowd played its role sixth man to perfection, it was Mercer’s starting five (responsible for 71 of the Bears 87 points – led by Florence’s 24) that will allow the Bear faithful to experience at least one more performance from Emerson and Florence.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

JU Sets Stage for River City Rubber Match

Sixth-seeded Jacksonville harassed, annoyed and pestered No. 3 Campbell from the tip to pull off the second upset of the women’s draw in the General Shale Brick Atlantic Sun Championship.

The Dolphins took a page from the defensive formula that intra-city rival and No. 7 UNF used a night earlier to set the stage for a rare No. 6 versus No. 7 semifinal match-up. Coach Jill Dunn’s team limited to just 30 percent shooting from the floor and forced 23 turnovers in the win.

While the defense stands out to some, the play of Gigi Thomas carried the Dolphins offensively. The junior went 10-of-19 from the floor to score a game-high 23 points, nearly half the team’s point production.

In UNF’s first year eligible for postseason play, the A-Sun has exactly what they were looking for … a head-to-head contest between the intra-city rivals with high stakes in tournament play.

The two squads split the regular season match-up with each winning on their home floor. Thomas carries extra motivation into the contest as she broke her nose and suffered a concussion in the first meeting and sat out JU’s loss at UNF

Now, bragging rights will be won in the tournament, as best said by Dunn.

“We are looking forward to [facing UNF],” she said. “There is only one team from Jacksonville that can be here after tomorrow and our goal is to be that team.”
Who do you think wins tomorrow's River City Rumble?

Williams Adds Name to ETSU Postseason Shooting Stars

Who would step up?

That question has been asked by so many ETSU men’s basketball die-hards in so many different situations that it is hard to keep count.

Before the season started, many assumed Mike Smith would lead an offensive attack that had to replace one of the most prolific scoring duos in A-Sun history. After an injury derailed his senior campaign, the burden fell to a whole collection of Bucs with several players putting together great stretches of games. Most recently, Tommy Hubbard and Isiah Brown shouldered the load in the last few weeks.

Trailing 33-31 with just over 14 minutes to play, head coach Murry Bartow glanced down his bench and took in a disappointing site … Brown sitting next to him, saddled with four fouls. Want more bad news? Hubbard was playing with three fouls of his own and the Bucs were going to need someone to be the aggressor.

Looks like Micah Williams has been listening. The junior from Manchester, Tenn., rescued the Bucs offensively, scoring a career-high 32 points in a 72-64 victory over No. 4 Campbell.

“With Micah we just want him to be aggressive,” commented Bartow in the post-game press conference. “We tell him everyday to be aggressive. He is a very talented player that can score a lot of points in a hurry. I tell him all the time that he can get 20 points every game.”

Williams scored 20 of those points after Brown picked up his fourth foul to launch the Bucs into their fourth consecutive semifinal appearance.

“I was just trying to be aggressive like coach wanted me to be,” reflected Williams. “Luckily, I was making shots and once they were going down I started to get in a groove.”

While they may not have a “Big Three” to lead them to an NCAA appearance like last season, this year’s Bucs will keep you guessing game-to-game. All told, eight different players have led the team in scoring this year and “Big Eight” isn’t nearly as catchy and is more known for Nebraska-Oklahoma football.

Who do you think had the best single-game performance in ETSU's illustrious post-season history?

Mercer Golf Coach "Treds" Allegiances

For a head coach of any Atlantic Sun team, his loyalty should be unquestioned. However, when married to the daughter of a head coach of your closest rival, some concessions must be made.

So exists the conundrum for Mercer head men's golf coach Andrew Tredway. While he would never root against the school that signs his checks, this week's General Shale Brick Atlantic Sun Women's Basketball Championship allowed him to watch his father-in-law, Colby Tilley, the Kennesaw State head women's basketball coach patrol the sidelines in the Owls' first ever Division I postseason game. Unfortunately, his Owls suffered the same fate as the Mercer women of a night before, as they lost their quarterfinal game, 70-65, in overtime to Belmont.

"When Kennesaw State and Mercer play each other, I'll sit right on the middle of the floor and be impartial," Tredway said. "We've gone to Kennesaw four and five times and been able to cheer up there."

On Thursday, he sat isolated for much of the game and while still donning Mercer black and orange, he cheered every Owl basket as if it were one scored by Mercer’s Courtney Ford or LaToya Jackson.

His wife, Sarah, works as a first-grade school teacher thus could not attend the game. She was trying to follow on ASun.TV without her students noticing. A text from her describing her students chanting “Basketball game! Basketball game!” would lead one to believe that she couldn’t quite keep it a secret.

“We’ll spend most of our Thursday and Saturday nights watching his games on ASun.TV” Tredway said.

Staying True to the Blue, Kirkland Leads UNF to Upset

MACON, GA. – UNF has survived the toughest of conference foes. The first day of play at the 2010 General Shale Brick Atlantic Sun Women’s Basketball Championship is no different. UNF entertained fans with one of the more stunning spectacles of day one, the No. 7 Osprey’s upset of the No. 2 Bears. The game marked the first time that a No. 7 team won a game during A-Sun tournament play.

The season stands as the inaugural postseason experience for the Ospreys since reclassifying to Div. I. Brittany Kirkland led a UNF army through the unchartered waters at the University Center on Wednesday. The Ospreys controlled the pace early in the game, holding the Bears scoreless for more than 6:30, in addition to 6-for-26 shooting and just 16 points before the half.

Kirkland, a Second-Team All-Conference performer, led all players with a game-high 25 points, including hitting 9-of-10 from the charity stripe. The sophomore teamed with junior post Juliemay Syquio to hold Mercer's pair of All-Conference performers in check. Senior guards Courtney Ford and LaToya Jackson struggled throughout the night, connecting on only 8-of-31 from the floor in combining for 23 points.

The Monroe, Ga. native put UNF’s first points on the board with a layup and helped open a 10-0 run against Mercer. Kirkland also stymied all hopes for a Mercer comeback in the final two minutes of the second half, as she started a 7-0 run to seal the win for UNF.

As UNF’s leading scorer, Kirkland has the responsibility of pacing the team, but she knows she has a lot of support from her team, friends and family.

“One of the things I was pushing on is that it’s a basketball game in a sense. I felt like it’s good for a No. 7 team to win and go on. But we want to go to the championships. I feel like when you think it’s more than what it is you get nervous or you tend to do stuff that’s outside of the box. I felt like it was another game. It was another game where I had to do my job. I had to keep my head on straight. I had to keep my teammates in the game, and we came out on top!”

Even in just her sophomore season of collegiate play, Kirkland has already made a strong impact on the court for the Ospreys.

“Coach says I have a lot of impact,” Kirkland said. “When my attitude is not at the level it needs to be, we tend not to do well. When my attitude is going well, I think that the team plays really well, so when we lose, I think it’s my fault. Coach always said when you step on the floor you should give your teammates your best effort. I knew I had to do that in order for us to go on.”

This strong work ethic propelled the sophomore guard to pick up All-Conference honors after starting in all of UNF’s 27 games. Kirkland leads the Ospreys and ranks fifth in the A-Sun in scoring with 14.6 points per game. In league games, the Monroe, Ga. native has tallied an average of 14.4 points per game, scoring in double digits on 22 occasions this season, including tallying 20 or more points on eight occasions.

The Ospreys have also exceeded preseason expectations during the season, beating league-favorite FGCU on Feb. 13. The squad strives for a strong defense in order to drive them to big wins.
“Defense is what we are,” Kirkland said. “I don’t think anybody in the conference plays defense as well as we do. That works to our advantage really, really well. You’re shot is not always going to fall but if you can play defense you’ll be good.”

Next, UNF will face the winner of No. 3 Campbell/No. 6 Jacksonville on Friday at 6:30 p.m. Tickets to all Championship games are available at

Relocated Rumble Still Favors JU

Whether it is in Veterans Memorial Arena, Swisher Gymnasium, or UNF Arena, Jacksonville holds the upper hand in the River City Rumble versus intra-city rival North Florida. A change of location and relevance did not matter either as the Dolphins defeated the Ospreys in the quarterfinals of the General Shale Brick Atlantic Sun Championship at the University Center in Macon, Ga.

JU now owns an 11-1 advantage in the all-time series, but they know that the win over UNF was a huge first step in achieving their 2010 goals.

UNF has made huge strides in its first season as a full member of Division I. The Ospreys won 13 games which is the most since they joined the A-Sun and fell just two wins shy of matching the school record for wins. So, first-year head coach Matthew Driscoll seems to have them headed in the right direction.

However, none of that mattered on Wednesday. The Dolphins used a smothering defensive effort to limit a team that is built to win on defense themselves. UNF worked itself back into the game once in the first half and late in the game, but JU’s experience showed as the team hit 13-of-16 free throws in the final two minutes.

Head Coach Cliff Warren has led JU to back-to-back tournament finals, but is still looking for that break-through win to vault the program back to the NCAA Tournament. Maybe a win over their next door neighbor will be the catalyst that starts the charge.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

ETSU Battles on in Honor of Injured Teammate

MACON, Ga. - Over the past few season ETSU women’s basketball has been about winning, Championships and Latisha Belcher, Siarre Evans, and TaRonda Wiles

The three have been a huge part to the success over the past three years in Johnson City with their solid scoring talents. Evans ranks fifth all-time in points, while Wiles became the 17th player in Lady Buccaneer history to score over 1,000 points in her career. She joined the group following her 26-point performance at Arkansas Nov. 22.

But following that game, Wiles and every Lady Buc would find in hard to celebrate. After spending the last seven and a half months rehabbing from extensive knee surgery (left knee), senior post Latisha Belcher made her season debut at Arkansas but the return was short lived. Belcher, 2008-09 Atlantic Sun Defensive Player of the Year, went down with a season-ending ACL injury in her right knee early in the second half against the Razorbacks.

The injury stopped Belcher from helping ETSU on the court against Stetson in it first round win at the 2010 General Shale Brick Atlantic Sun Women’s Basketball Championship but her teammate still had her leadership and her voice on the bench. The Martinsville, Va. native marched out of the ETSU locker room, knee brace and all to support her teammate. Belcher, one of only three ETSU players to collect 200 or more steals, had not forgotten the team motto.

She wore it plain on her ETSU women’s basketball T-Shirt “One Team, One Goal”. Belcher talked in team huddles cheered during and once or twice even look like she wanted to jump and cheer. Until her knee stopped but even an ACL injury could not keep Belcher from getting up at each timeout to high-five each of her fellow Lady Bucs as they came off the floor.

Belcher is scheduled to receive her degree this May and still has a red-shirt season available however, it is unclear if she will use the option. One thing that remain clear, Belcher will not forget one team one goal.

Owls Provide Early Energy to Championships

A men's championship promising to deliver excitement wasted little time as Kennesaw State, playing in its first postseason game ever as a Division I school, upset the top seeded Lipscomb Bisons, 72-69.

The men's championship had turned predictable recently as the top two seeds had faced off in each of the last six title games. A one seed had not dropped its first game since 2000 and no second seed has been bitten by the upset bug of the seventh seed since 2003. Now with the Owls' defeat of the Bisons, the draw that already features four co-champions truly opened up to the field.

Do not confuse this win with one of the all-timers. In December, the Owls hit on 19 3-point fields in scoring a 97-91 win at home against the Bisons. While they did not need 19 3-pointers, the shot played a key role in the victory as Kurtis Woods and Kelvin McConnell combined to hit 9-of-11 on their 3-point tries. The rest of the team combined to shoot just 2-for-16 from beyond the arc.

The outside game served as the perfect answer to the question, how does one offset the production of Lipscomb's Adnan Hodzic and Josh Slater? The only squad to boast a pair of First-Team All-Atlantic Sun performers and the Player of the Year in Hodzic did not disappoint as Hodzic controlled every inch of the paint, scoring 29 points and grabbing 16 rebounds - both schools records for a Championship single game and Slater deftly weaved through the Owl defense for 15 points - until a costly turnover inside the final 10 seconds denied Lipscomb a shot when trailing by a point.

The only disappointment appeared in facial expressions of the pair of juniors when they sat down in the postgame interview - both clearly unable to grasp the realization that their stay in Macon would be just one night.

Not surprisingly, the attitude of the victorious Owls' press conference stood in direct contrast to that of the Bisons. They entered the season, their first as a full-fledged Division I member, predicted not to even make the field of eight - as they were picked 11th in the preseason polls. However, an infusion of talent - Markeith Cummings, LaDaris Green and Matt Heramb chief among them - helped the Owls double their win total from last season, six, with the 12th they earned on Wednesday afternoon.

If knocking out No. 1 wasn't enough for Kennesaw State, up next awaits either the reigning champs, ETSU, or another one of this year's co-champs, Campbell. Either way, the odyssey continues Friday at 2:30.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Sponsor Spotlight: General Shale Brick

On Wednesday, the Atlantic Sun's signature event, the Men's and Women's Basketball Championships, will tip off from Mercer's University Center. For the fifth consecutive year, General Shale Brick has lent its name as the event's title sponsor. For some insight as to the relationship forged between the Johnson City, Tennessee-based company and the Atlantic Sun, Bob Propes, Director of Marketing for General Shale Brick recently spoke of the partnership.

Q: Why was it important for General Shale Brick to partner with the Atlantic Sun in sponsoring its premiere event?

A: There were a couple of reasons. First was it's a good fit marketing wise. The geography of the Atlantic Sun covers a lot of important markets for us, so it gave us an opportunity to get our name out in front of a lot of customers and potential customers. On the other hand, it gave us a a way to give back to a lot of excellent schools in those markets in one broad brush stroke.

Q: Have you seen the desired effects in those markets over the five years?

A: Yes - people see us, especially on the television broadcasts and remember us and it has given us a way to get out name out there in a repeating way, just over and over again. It's been pretty strong for us.

Q: Since the tournament moved from Johnson City, first to Nashville and now the Macon, talk about the the desire to remain affiliated with the A-Sun Basketball Championship.

A: Nashville has been a very strong market for us - we had a number of customers who came to us and wanted tickets for the tournament and we we glad to oblige them. I think the same will be true in Georgia. Even though we're headquartered in Johnson City, Tenn., these markets are very important to us. The Atlantic Sun got excellent schools and high academics, so from a corporate perspective, it's easy for us to support that kind of organization. In one broad stroke, we can support a lot of really excellent schools by supporting the conference and the tournament.

Q: How has the relationship between the Atlantic Sun and General Shale Brick grown over these five years?

A: We got off to a great start with the first championship, at ETSU, when we began our involvement and from that point, this situation has really been a good one. We've made a long-term commitment and its been an excellent working relationship with the conference and with the schools. The schools have been very gracious as hosts of the tournament. They provide good venues for the spectators. It's just been a good matchup for us.

Q: What led you to choosing a basketball tournament as your initial venture into college athletics?

A: In this part of the country and throughout the Atlantic Sun geography, basketball is a super popular sport. You don't have to be a huge university to have good, competitive basketball. I think the A-Sun's tournament winners have really represented the conference well at the NCAA Tournament and it really speaks highly of the conference.