Friday, April 27, 2012

New Coaches Get Their Feet Wet by Playing in the Sand

With the 2012 sand volleyball season and varying levels of success under their belts, first-year volleyball coaches Steve Loeswick (North Florida), Michelle Collier (Jacksonville) and Damian Elder (Mercer) continue to place their stamp on their individual programs.

All three were hired in January 2012, and each came to their respective program with impressive backgrounds. They have all enjoyed success as players and coaches, and one common thread that ties them together is their experiences of having coached in the Southeastern Conference – Loeswick at LSU and Collier and Elder at South Carolina.

A-Sun Sand VB Coach of the Year, UNF's Steve Loeswick

Loeswick takes over the Ospreys program following a 14-year assistant coaching career that included the last five seasons at LSU. The Tigers finished 19-11 in 2011 and earned their fifth consecutive SEC Western Division title.

During his tenure at LSU, Loeswick was a key component in the Tigers’ five consecutive SEC Western Division titles and the 2009 SEC Championship, the program's first since 1991. The Tigers also accumulated 112 victories and were one of 25 programs nationally to string together four straight NCAA Tournament appearances (2007-10) fueled by a trio of 25-win campaigns in 2007, 2009 and 2010, respectively.

Collier comes to Jacksonville after spending the 2010 and 2011 seasons as an assistant coach at South Carolina. 

In 2011, she helped the Gamecocks to a seven-win improvement, ranking it as the second-best turnaround in school history. The Gamecocks improved in nearly every category, including a hitting percentage that rose 45 points above that of 2010. She also helped Paige Wheeler finish third in digs (4.57) in the SEC, while Juliette Thévenin was fourth in kills pet set at 3.65.

In 2010, Collier was instrumental in coaching Thévenin to the SEC all-freshman team. Thévenin led the Gamecocks in kills and aces, the third rookie ever and fifth freshman to lead South Carolina in kills. Thévenin ranked in the top 10 in the SEC in both kills and points per set, and she finished second on the team in hitting percentage.

JU Head Volleyball Coach Michelle Collier

She takes over a JU program that has been below .500 and out of the A-Sun Championship the last two seasons, so she understands that where the program is does not match up with where she would like it to be. “We are just trying to take one step at a time and slowly change the culture of the program,” Collier says. “We have to change how we approach practice, conditioning, and understand how much we have here and appreciate it. Coming here is a privilege and they are going to have to know that they will have to give a lot of things up for us to be successful. Winning more and playing better will obviously be important, but changing the overall culture will be my goal starting my first indoor season.”

Elder assumes his first head coaching role after spending 11 years as either an assistant or an associate coach in some of the nation’s top conferences. Besides the SEC, Elder has coached in the Pacific-12 and the Southern Conference.

He joined Mercer from the College of Charleston, where he was an assistant in 2011. There he helped guide the Cougars to a 25-10 (14-2 SoCon) record and a runner-up finish in the 2011 SoCon Championship. Prior to his stint in Charleston, Elder spent five seasons and preceded Collier as an associate head coach at South Carolina. The Gamecocks racked up 71 wins during his tenure, including posting a program-record 21 victories in 2002. He was also a part of South Carolina fielding its first competitive sand volleyball team. He assumed responsibility of the sand program, instituting the first sand training program and first SEC sand camp before leading the team to the SEC Beach Championship title in 2009.

Elder got his start in Division I volleyball at Stanford, spending two seasons as a volunteer assistant coach with the Cardinal. In his first season at Stanford, the team captured the 2004 NCAA Division I National Championship.

Mercer Head Volleyball Coach Damian Elder

“I am a person who has counted on work ethic and I am going to count on that from my team,” he says. “The player that I want is someone who is going to be a student first. I think being a competitive students leads to being a competitive athlete and a maturity that I would like to see for our team. Of course I would like great volleyball players, and I think we can handle great players as long as we get players who are willing to work hard and sacrifice.”

Another commonality among the trio of coaches is that they are each pioneers in the sport of sand volleyball, not only in the A-Sun but across the nation. However, unlike most current volleyball coaches who are coaching indoor and sand, these three have only seen their teams compete on sand. The transition from indoor volleyball to sand volleyball for most players is a difficult one. The physicality of the game, fewer players, no set positions, challenging conditions such as heat and rain, very limited coaching during the match – all things that make the game very different.

“The transition from indoor court to sand is very challenging for most of the players,” says Collier. “It is not about how hard you hit it, it is about where you place it. In sand you have be in the game all of the time, unlike indoor where at certain positions you get a bit of a break. It changes a lot of the way you play.”

Loeswick agrees with Collier. "No doubt sand is a completely different game. Some of the skills sets are the same, but the outdoor game has so much more to do with how you control the ball, your vision of the court and how well you communicate with your partner.”

Loeswick enjoyed immediate success during the sand volleyball season, guiding the Ospreys to a 5-2 regular season and the inaugural A-Sun Sand Volleyball Team Championship. The Ospreys were 4-0 in dual competition and won 15 of their 20 individual matches during the championship. Loeswick was also named Coach of the Year and his No. 1 pair of Dagnija Medina and Anna Budinska claimed Pair of the Year honors. Medina begins play today with Emily Strack in the pairs championship portion of the AVCA Collegiate Sand Volleyball National Championship.

“I am extremely happy that we won the championship, but I am happiest about how our team is growing as players and as people and moving the program in the right direction.

“My immediate goal was to try to help become a better team. I have been so proud of their work ethic and their being on board with what we are asking them to do.”

Collier’s Dolphins posted a 1-4 record in their first sand volleyball season, and finished 1-3 at the A-Sun Sand Volleyball Championship. JU claimed victories in nine matches during the championship, including a No. 1 pairs win by Kendall Courtney and Cari Whitmire over the A-Sun Pair of the Year, Medina and Budinska. Courtney and Whitmire were also named to the All-Tournament Team.

“My expectation for this first year was to raise the level of where we are playing,” says Collier. “I don’t expect to win championships overnight – that takes work. It is about sharing my knowledge and passion for the game with the players we have and bringing in players that share that and we’ll get better over time. A lot of it, too, is working on the mental part of the game and reteaching these kids how to win. We have a great group of players who work hard but they haven’t had those great experiences yet, so I hope that I can share the great experiences I had in the sport with them.”

Elder’s Bears also won one match during the regular season, posting a 1-6 record. The Bears did not win a match during the team championship, but got wins from No. 3 seeds Emily Rochefort/Caroline Carlton and No. 1 seeds Jamie Duffy/Cassie Roy. Duffy and Roy were also named to the All-Tournament Team.

The fact that sand volleyball was part of the head coaching responsibility was one of the main things that attracted Elder to the Mercer vacancy. “At first what attracted me to the job was that sand volleyball was part of the deal,” he says. “Given my experience with sand volleyball, I thought that was something that would be really neat to be a part of, to be a groundbreaker in the sport of sand volleyball. So for our program, I want people who are on board with me, on board being pioneers.”

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Creating a Culture of Winning

It was an uphill battle for North Florida Head Coach Audra Cohen. Cohen started at North Florida in June and was left with just four players and two months until the season, and the school year began.

“I spent so much time making sure I could just field a team,” Cohen said.  

So naturally it was shocking when North Florida put together a 9-0 conference season and a 15-4 regular season.  

“I absolutely had no idea that would happen. It’s been a wonderful surprise I guess you could say.”

Cohen had to scramble to put together her team. She picked up Lorena Aviles from Texas Tech and she was able to nab two players from Brazil with Marina Cunningham and Rebeca Pereira.  

Snagging Lorena Aviles from Texas Tech has given the Ospreys a big boost on the court. Aviles and Player of the Year Aline Berkenbrock went 9-0 in No. 1 doubles and are ranked No. 66 nationally.

As a player she had a big forehand and didn’t have a great backhand. She says that she recruits players that are similar and these tactics have certainly served her well this season.  

“I have to feel as though I trust my players and I obviously trust players more that play more similar to how I played when I was playing.”  

Cohen says she also looks primarily for competitiveness.  

“The better player doesn’t always win in college tennis. You just have to be the better competitor. That was something that going into recruiting I almost don’t even look at their strokes I just want to see how well they compete and how they compete in big moments.”  

There were certainly a lot of big moments in this conference championship, particularly in the conference final. Both ETSU and North Florida were fighting tooth and nail and with the match coming down to No. 5 and 6 singles it was extremely tight.  

“This team is so used to winning they expect nothing less. They expect to win every time they hit the court and they expect to find a way,” she said.  

Cohen’s squad will now have the opportunity to compete in the NCAA tournament after downing ETSU so they will have at least one more big moment remaining in the season.  

“It’s awesome words can’t even explain it. I think that sometimes it doesn’t take so much talent to win. It doesn’t take the best recruiting class. It doesn’t take the most amount of operation budget. It doesn’t take all of those things. It takes a culture of winning.”

From a Great Player to a Great Coach

For Yaser Zaatini becoming the head coach at ETSU was a dream come true. Zaatini began his collegiate career at ETSU in 1990 and was the most-decorated Buccaneer in the history of the men’s tennis program.

Zaatini was the first individual from ETSU to compete in the NCAA Championships. In 1992, he was ranked No. 4 in the nation in the ITA rankings, the highest-ever for an ETSU Buccaneer. When Zaatini was awarded the head coaching job after the former coach, Dave Mullins, was promoted to Athletic Director, he saw it as an opportunity to give back.

“When a place is so close to your heart, and it’s a place that you feel gave you your first start it’s extremely important that in some way we feel like we give something back to our school,” Zaatini said. The passion that I have for our university is beyond words, and for them to give me this chance and to trust me with their program it just makes me the happiest camper.”

Zaatini has brought ETSU tennis a lot of success in recent years in the Atlantic Sun Conference. He has led the men’s team to six-straight conference championships. He also led the women’s team to its third championship last year.

”I felt like I did my part as a player, and now I want to be able to give the players the same satisfaction that my boss gave me,” he said. “He was my coach and at the same time he was my mentor and my friend. He’s basically my hero. When you have all of those things put together you want to be some of that to the kids that you bring in.”

Even after his own successful collegiate tennis career and leading ETSU to the top of the A-Sun year-in and year-out he said that one of the greatest obstacles he faces is trying to convince players to play for him at ETSU.

“The biggest challenge is trying to convince people to come to this area,” he said. “They think that just because our name [ETSU] is not a household name then we’re not deserving of a chance. I just tell them to look at the results and from there just understand that we are every bit as important as anybody else.”

Zaatini explains that the ETSU tennis program is drastically underestimated many times.

“Not giving us a chance, it’s a big loss to those people,” he said.

Regardless of whether or not he can convince the top players in the country to come to ETSU each year, Zaatini has picked up some extremely talented players over the years including former Buc and ITA All-American Enrique Olivares. Olivares finished his career second in ETSU’s record books with 118 wins, finishing just behind Zaatini’s 134. This season the Bucs had their ups and downs. After losing eight straight matches, ETSU hit a wall and started to turn things around. The Bucs went on a 14-match win streak that led them all the way to the conference championship with a defeat of No. 2 North Florida, 4-1, in the championship final.

“North Florida was ranked above us all year and they have what I think is a better team than us on paper,” he said. “I mean they are solid, they’ve had some great wins, but our guys never give up. They just work hard and we hit rock bottom and only then were we able to discover how good we are.”

With the conference championship behind them the Bucs have set their sights on the NCAA Tournament, last year ETSU fell to Notre Dame 4-3 in the first round; however the Bucs defeated the Fighting Irish in 2008 but fell to Ohio State in the second round.  


Saturday, April 21, 2012

Age and Experience Don't Always Go Hand in Hand

After undergoing coaching changes over the summer and fall on the men’s and women’s tennis squads, the possibility of both teams making it to the conference final wasn’t extremely likely for the North Florida Ospreys.

Head Coach Audra Cohen and Adam Schaecterle were hired over the summer to direct the women’s and men's tennis programs. Both Cohen and Schaecterle faced the obstacle of gaining the respect of their players.

“I look even younger than I actually am. I’m 28 years old but I look like I’m still in college,” Schaecterle said with a laugh.

Cohen ended her collegiate career in 2007 and Schaecterle in 2006. The two are some of the youngest coaches in the A-Sun, but still managed to lead the Ospreys to the top-seed in women’s tennis championship and the No. 2 seed in men’s.

Cohen says that what’s helped her most as a coach is drawing from her own success on the courts while in college. Cohen became the only woman in history to reach the NCAA final competing at two different schools (Northwestern and Miami). She also won the 2007 NCAA singles championship while at Miami.

“It’s really, really important that I have had such a great career as a player and I’ve been around a lot of teams because I am very young.”

Another hurdle facing Cohen was that she only had four players on the team when she arrived in June. She had to scramble to pick up some student-athletes to be eligible to compete. She said she utilized her stellar college career to help bring players to North Florida.

“I think players always respect a good player and know that a good player needs to know what it takes to get to the next level if they do want to go on tour in the future or have a great collegiate career,” she said. “They are going to look for a coach that they feel can get them better and prepare them for that level. I think that is definitely a huge part of my recruiting tools.”

Cohen also feels that her own personal triumphs help her coach the girls when it comes down to big moments, like conference championships.

“Going in to big moments, I feel like I’ve been here and I’ve done it in many different ways, and at even higher levels – at finals of NCAA’s. Handling the big moments is really when I think the experience shows a lot.”

Schaecterle said that when he was hired at North Florida he knew he had to be tough on the guys at first.

“I think for me the most important thing was the first week or two I was at UNF I worked them incredibly hard and then I think they understood that I was pretty serious and focused. So there was a certain respect level there.”

Schaecterle said he also draws on his own personal successes as well. He led the Northwestern Wildcats to a berth in the 2005 NCAA Championships and also qualified individually for the 2006 NCAA Doubles Championship.

“Our relationship is a little bit more relaxed than maybe some older head coaches might be,” he said about his team.

“I think that the first two weeks of setting the tone for what my expectation level was made them understand that yes, I might be young, but I’m still going to be extremely professional about the way I go about things.”

For Schaecterle and Cohen the regular season at North Florida couldn’t have gone better. The women’s tennis team went undefeated in conference play and the doubles squads went a combined 27-0 in A-Sun play. The men’s team enjoyed a Division I-high No. 50 ITA ranking and also downed then No. 42 South Alabama and then No. 33 UNC Wilmington in back-to-back days.

Their successes continued into the postseason as the North Florida women’s tennis team made it to their third consecutive championship final and the men’s tennis team halted Stetson’s run for an eighth consecutive championship final berth.

The North Florida men’s team will face five-time defending champion ETSU in the championship final at 10:00 a.m. tomorrow to try and secure the Ospreys first-ever men’s tennis conference championship.

Whereas, the North Florida women’s tennis team will take on defending-champion ETSU in a rematch of last year’s championship final and try an bring home UNF’s second women’s tennis conference title in three years.

Friday, April 20, 2012

FGCU Women's Tennis Taking Advantage of Opportunities

It has been a long year for the FGCU Eagles women’s tennis team – but it has been a good year. To many, the Eagles have exceeded all expectations, more than doubling their wins from three to seven in 2011-2012. They also did this while their Head Coach Jennifer Gabou was on maternity leave since February.

However, despite the obstacle of not having their head coach, the Eagles have not strayed or lost sight of the goal – to make it to the A-Sun championship. Assistant Head Coach Joey Barnes has been extremely impressed with their progress over the past two seasons.

“The team has really improved a lot,” Barnes said. “I’m not going to lie to you – they have really gone out and done their best. They’ve been doing everything that Coach Gabou has set up.

“You count your wins, your losses and your prayers and say, ‘OK it’s been good but you know what we have a lot of work to do,’” he said.

Barnes, who has been the assistant at FGCU for the past three seasons, stepped in for Gabou in her absence. Barnes explained that while she is not here he has continued to follow her plan to the letter.

“We have followed her program path. I tell everyone that what you are seeing is the beginning of what her dream was.”

Barnes, who helped coach at the University of Maryland for nearly 20 years, says he is just trying to implement Gabou’s blueprint.

“I was a coach for almost 20 years, so it’s almost like stepping from one shoe into another. Basically Coach Gabou has a plan and I am executing it.”

Barnes admits he may be a bit tougher than Coach Gabou, but with nearly 26 years in the military that is to be expected.

“I don’t look at things as a challenge. I see them as an opportunity,” Barnes said. “Every team brings something new to the table. I think your job as a coach is to find out how you can bring out the best in your players. Some players are going to be upper echelon, some players are going to be middle-of-the-road and some players you are just going to have to pull them up by their bootstraps. 

I don’t think that’s a challenge, but more of an opportunity.”

FGCU now has an opportunity to pick up the Eagles' second Division I postseason victory after advancing to the semifinals by defeating Jacksonville, 4-2.

Motivated King Crushes A-Sun Record

Setting a personal record at the conference championship is the goal for most competitors at a track & field meet.

North Florida’s Christina King accomplished that in her fifth attempt at the 2012 Atlantic Sun Track & Field Championship in the women’s pole vault. In the process, she also set the A-Sun Championship and Hodges Stadium Facility Records at a height of 4.00m (13’1.5). Her top height ranks as 38th in the nation and 19th in the NCAA East Region.

King and teammate Caleigh Boyington – the second-place finisher – had a secret weapon in their corner, assistant coach Ken Taylor.

Taylor is the president of Ken Taylor & Associates, a training and consulting firm working with major corporations throughout America for training seminars and motivational speaking. The fourth-year assistant coach asked King to vault with two poles she had never used before – vault with poles she had never tried before.

“Everyday, (Ken) is such a great motivator. He tells me that I’m ready and that I can do this and he is very positive all the time. He kept telling me that I could go for the (Olympic height) and I told him that he was right and I went for the height.”

King failed to reach the height on three attempts, but with North Florida hosting the 2012 NCAA East Regional on May 24-26 at Hodges Stadium, King will have a chance to qualify for nationals and potentially the Olympic Trials in front of the home crowd once again.

“I wanted to set my personal record and that’s what I did first and then I wanted to go for 14 feet which I attempted on a pole I had never been on before,” King said of her standout performance. “I know I can get it, which would be the Olympic Qualifying mark.”

With both King’s and Taylor’s sight on regionals both are confident in Christina’s chance to reach their goal of 14-feet.
“Going into regionals after setting my PR today I’m more in a secure position. Now that I have been on bigger poles I know I can get on it easier and go for 14 feet and try to qualify for nationals."

FGCU and Sand Volleyball A Family Tradition for Holly Youngquist

Four and a half years ago, Brooke Youngquist was completing her career as a standout volleyball player for Florida Gulf Coast University. A member of the inaugural team at FGCU, Brooke finished her four-year career as the team's career leader in kills with more than 1,000 kills and digs. FGCU was a NCAA Division II member in her first three seasons and became a Division I school during her senior year. As a junior, Brooke was named the AVCA South Region player of the year. She was also selected as an Atlantic Sun Conference second-team player in her senior season.

Also during her senior season, Brooke began to take an interest in sand volleyball. Once her indoor collegiate career was over, her passion for the game heightened to the point that she became a regular on the AVP Tour. Now Brooke Youngquist Sweat, she has also enjoyed some success on the sand/beach volleyball tour. She advanced to her first main draw in what was her 10th tournament on the AVP Tour and chalked up her first career main draw match win in the 2009 Manhattan Beach Open. Also in 2009, Sweat and Tealle Hunkus were named to the USA Volleyball Under-26 beach volleyball national team.
Holly's sister, Brooke Youngquist Sweat.

Fast-forward four and half years, and younger sister Holly could be following in her sister’s footsteps. Holly followed Brooke to FGCU, passing on offers to play indoor volleyball elsewhere to stay at home. The senior has enjoyed a successful career of her own, earning membership to the A-Sun All-Freshman Team in 2008, Second Team All A-Sun honors in 2010, Second Team membership to the CoSIDA Academic All-District 2010-11 Women's Volleyball Teams and was a selection to the Preseason All-Conference team this season.

“My decision to go to FGCU was both easy and difficult, but I chose to follow in my sister’s steps. I don’t regret my decision one bit. I passed on offers to go to other schools, but coming to FGCU was a wonderful decision. I have had a great time growing up with these girls and now getting to know the newer ones as I am on my way out. I wanted to come and leave a legacy like my sister.”

Ironically, it is in Holly’s senior season that she has taken to sand volleyball as well, due in large part to Brooke’s influence.

She started playing about four and a half years ago. It was during her senior year and she got into it, and then she got me into it,” says Holly. “We found about the Dig the Beach tour in Florida and got really excited about playing. We both started playing in random tournaments and she obviously caught onto it more because her indoor career was over. We played together in one tournament, and we had a blast. We almost beat the number one seed. I had never really played sand volleyball before, and I was only 19 years old.”
Playing in her first sand volleyball season in the A-Sun, Holly is still experiencing the difficult transition from indoor court volleyball to sand.
“It is a totally different game,” she says. “You have to play every position, not just the one that you have in indoor. I can’t be strictly a libero, I have to learn how to set and hit too, so that is another thing that we are learning in the transition.”
Youngquist also points out the physical challenges that come with sand volleyball.
“Indoor court players aren’t used to playing in the heat, we are always indoors. Plus, the sand is much tougher to move in. On the indoor court you are able to change directions in an instant, but you don’t have that advantage on sand. It is so much harder to move, you get stuck and you just have to do your best to keep going. Every court, every condition is different, so you just have to keep doing what you can and never give up.”
So as Holly wraps up her career at FGCU and continues down the learning curve into sand volleyball, has big sister Brooke provided any words of wisdom?
“We talk about it sometimes. One thing she says is to never give up. If you see a ball you can always run it down, no matter if you are on the other side of the court,” says Holly. “She is very good about that because she is so explosive on the sand, it’s like all of us on indoor. She does that so well. Then too for her it is about hitting shots. She hits the same shot 200 times in practice and just makes sure that she gets it every single day.”
At this point in her career, Holly isn’t sure what the future holds for her. With still more sand volleyball to play over the next two days, she will take the experience and skill that she has learned with indoor and sand volleyball and try to help propel FGCU toward a championship.
“I felt very comfortable indoor, just playing libero. Out here is so much different, but I love them both because they are both such different games. I just want to be the best at what I can do,” she says.

USC Upstate's Brothers Courting a Championship

Ramiro and Gonzalo Blanco were first introduced to the sport of tennis when their grandfather Hector Cambas set up a makeshift tennis court in his backyard. It was there that the brothers – Ramiro, 7, and Gonzalo, 5, – would bounce a tennis ball off of a stone wall in Chascomus, Argentina.

Ramiro and Gonzalo’s grandfather had a passion for tennis and wanted his grandsons to be the best they could at the sport he loved.

It didn’t take long for them to fall in love with tennis. The brothers entered tournaments in Argentina to refine their craft, practicing every morning and afternoon. When Ramiro graduated high school he had some critical decisions to make about his future.

“I finished high school and didn’t know what to do with my life; I wasn’t done with tennis,” Ramiro said. “I also wanted to study, and I thought I could always study in Argentina, but I couldn’t keep playing tennis.”

A friend of Ramiro’s who was a year older than him took a scholarship offer to play tennis in the United States. That’s when the pieces started to fall into place for the then high school senior.

“It’s perfect. You can study and you can play tennis,” Ramiro said. “If you want to study and you want to play tennis I think it is the best option.”

Ramiro’s decision to join the USC Upstate tennis team wasn’t a difficult one. He had met Head Coach Trittenwein in the past and he felt comfortable with him.

A year later, Ramiro came to Coach Trittenwein to speak to him about the possibility of signing his brother Gonzalo.

It didn’t take Trittenwein much time to decide that bringing Gonzalo on was a good idea. For Gonzalo, coming to USC Upstate was an easy decision as well. He said he felt he got along well with his teammates and couldn’t wait to start at USC Upstate.

“It’s a great experience. We are so far away from our family and it makes it much easier,” Gonzalo said about the playing at USC Upstate with his brother.

With Ramiro’s time at USC Upstate coming to a close at the end of the season, there was one thing he couldn’t wait for, the opportunity to play in the conference championship.

“It’s amazing because I have been waiting for this moment for a long time,” Ramiro said. “My first three years we had a really good regular season. Every time I couldn’t play in the tournament I would watch and follow it online and think, ‘I really want to be there.’

This year, all that changed when the Spartans became eligible for the conference tournament. The thought of winning USC Upstate’s first-ever match in the postseason was all that was on their minds. However, if they were going to get there, they had to overcome Lipscomb, a team they had lost to earlier in the year, 4-3.

The Spartans went in with a clear head, realizing this was a whole new match. In the regular season match on March 31st, the Spartans lost the doubles point. After losing doubles point in Friday's quarterfinal, the fear of déjà vu began to set in.

“When we lost doubles I thought, ‘No, don’t tell me it is going to happen again.’ I think that the guys worked really hard,” Ramiro said.

A feeling of relief swept over the Spartans after coming back to win four singles matches, downing Lipscomb 4-2.

“It is super special for me and it is really nice that I can do it in my last year," Ramiro said. "I have many friends that studied with me in the past that couldn’t make it. It’s so nice to do it with this team.”

Ramiro and Gonzalo didn’t want to talk about the possibility of winning the tournament saying they are taking it day by day.

However, Trittenwein did have something to say regarding the possibility of another upset.

“I told our guys last night in our team meeting after dinner that if there is one team that I would not want to play against in this tournament it would be us. I feel like we are the dark horse of this tournament, primarily because nobody knows how we are going to be coming out.”


Scott's Individual Success Driven by Team Goals

A distraught K’Vonte Scott left a lasting impression on A-Sun Track & Field fans during the Indoor Championships.

The East Tennessee State freshmen had just finished second in the heptathlon by a single point despite running a 2:48 in the 1000-meters. The first thing a coach relayed to the A-Sun staff was that Scott was most disappointed because he felt like he let his teammates down.

Fast forward to day one of the conference outdoor championships. Scott dominated the first day of the decathlon by winning three of the five events to lead his indoor spoil Brian Graham of Kennesaw State by over 200 points. Looks like the lessons learned in February paid off.

“During indoor season, it was still experimental. I had never done a (combined event) before, so it was cool to know it and learn it,” stated Scott. “Losing by one point was really heartbreaking, but it was a lesson in itself. A combined event is all about preparing for the next event. So today long jump goes bad, but then I have high jump to worry about next. You just have to go out and give it your best on what you have next.”

Scott’s teammates drive his success. The focus for him is team achievement.

“I am trying to give my teammates the best chance to win and hope in me. Now you go out and give as much heart as I am right now. It’s all about trying to perform for the team. Sure I want to be as good as I can and win a conference championship but I want to win as a team as well. It’s a team aspect for me,” commented Scott.

As if grabbing control of the most grueling event in track & field was not enough, a quick look at the entry list shows that Scott will get a lot of opportunities to help the team. He is entered in six other events as well: 110 Hurdles, 400 Hurdles, High Jump, Javelin, Long Jump and Triple Jump. All told, Scott could appear in 17 total competitions if he advances in the 110 Hurdles semifinals on Friday night.

“I want to help my team and help those seniors. I want them to have something to look back on as an accomplishment for the team,” reflected Scott.

If he piles up the points for the Bucs, maybe the seniors should give him his own seat on the bus ride back for a well-deserved nap.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Ryder Weathers Storm; Captures Dream Title

Four strokes down the leaderboard entering the final round, Stetson's Sam Ryder knew he still had a chance to attain his goal of winning the 2012 Atlantic Sun Conference Championship title, but a two-and-a-half hour rain delay before the round began gave the senior a little extra time to contemplate the possibility of teeing off in his last collegiate round.

"I knew the conditions were going to help me out and if I could pull out a pretty good round in these conditions it would be easier for me to move up the leaderboard."

Early in his round, Ryder maintained a level score with seven pars and only one birdie and a bogey on the front nine for an even-par, 36, at the turn. A bogey on the course's fourth hole - his 13th hole of the day after starting on the back-nine - dropped Ryder a few spots back of the leaders.

"It was all about grinding it out today," Ryder said of the wet Wednesday conditions. "There were tough conditions, but I made some putts down the stretch and avoided big mistakes throughout the round."

A 25-foot putt on No. 6 placed Ryder right back into the ring for the conference title following bogeys by the competitors in front of him. With only a few holes remaining, Ryder was informed of where his three-day total stood by the Hatters' Head Coach Bob Weickel and a friend on the course. He was only one shot back from first place.

"I knew when I was on eight that I probably needed a birdie to finish the round and really give myself a chance to win," Ryder stated.

With his ball sitting only 15-feet from the hole, Ryder had a birdie putt and as the ball rolled into the cup he a fist pump in celebration. He knew his goal was almost in hand and his collegiate career would see another round.

The Longwood, Fla. native finished the tournament at three-under-par two strokes ahead of a three-way tie for second. The individual medalist honors was the first for Stetson since 1991 when Tom Creavy won for the Hatters.

The title clinched Ryder an individual berth into the NCAA Regionals on May 17-19. With a strong performance at the regionals, Ryder could earn a spot in the national tournament as well.

"I had the mentality coming in that this could be one of my last tournaments if not my last time out so I'm really excited to keep on going."

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Dale Leads Next Generation of Talented and Experienced A-Sun Golfers

UNF junior Sean Dale tees off as Matt Nagy (behind left) and Rhys Enoch look on.

UNF junior Sean Dale fired a 68 in the first round of his first ever A-Sun Championship. To many, that probably did not come as much of a surprise. After all, the success of the Jacksonville, Fla., native is certainly well documented.
In his carer Dale has recorded 17 top-10 finishes, including three individual titles. He was the 2010 Atlantic Sun Player of the Year and an All-Atlantic Sun first team selection. Also in 2010 he earned second team Ping All-American honors and was the Florida State Amateur champion. Prior to transferring to UNF from Ole Miss, Dale was also a member of the 2009 SEC All-Freshmen team.

On Tuesday he followed up with a 69, posting the only below-par two-day total on the leaderboard and showing no signs of being bothered by his circumstances. Perhaps that is because in that second round of the 2012 A-Sun Championship he played in the final grouping, a position with which he is also very familiar.

That particular grouping also included ETSU’s Rhys Enoch and Kennesaw State’s Matt Nagy, which made this particular threesome among the most highly decorated amateur players in A-Sun history. Enoch has participated in the Palmer Cup (2010-11) and the British Amateur qualifiers (2010-11). Nagy was a 2009 U.S. Open participant, and Dale played twice in the U.S. Amateur (2010, 2011).

True, the grouping possesses tremendous talent, the likes of which Dale will be seeing more of as his career continues to unfold. However, it is not the first time that the A-Sun has seen such ability from its members. In fact, the A-Sun has served as a launching pad for established veterans like Hal Sutton and Colin Montgomerie, as well as up-and-coming professionals such as Rhys Davies (European Tour) and Russell Knox (PGA Tour).
Playing alongside that type of talent is one reason Dale chose to finish his career at UNF. On his own team he is pushed by others who bring the same type of experience and talent that benefits the Ospreys and the A-Sun. Aylwin, who shot a second-round 67 on Tuesday, has also participated in the U.S. Amateur (2010). Joey Petronio also participated in the U.S. Amateur in 2011, and Kevin Phelan, currently ranked 42nd by, played in the U.S. Open in 210 and the World Amateur in 2011.

Enoch agrees that as a player in the A-Sun, the benefit of having played in those types of settings and facing opponents with that level of experience is certainly easy to recognize and to build upon.

“It helps to have played in those events not only because you are representing your country, but also because you are going against the top amateurs in the world,” says Enoch. “That experience builds your confidence and kind of settles your nerves. When you play here, with a field like this where we have with several all-americans and top golfers, it really pays off.”

Dale also appreciates the level of talent he rubs elbows with throughout the A-Sun season, and particularly now in this championship setting.

“It’s always good to have quality players alongside you, and Matt and Rhys are both great to play with,” says Dale. “Playing in a group with good players brings out your better game because you stay more focused and hit better shots as a result.”

So as Dale once again finds himself in the final group at the A-Sun Championship, there are several others whose careers are also in varying stages of launch mode. And while there were forerunners like Sutton, Montgomerie, Davies and Knox who helped lay the groundwork to put the conference on the map in regards to men's golf, it is a safe bet that several of these young guns can keep it there.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Enoch's Return Fuels ETSU on Day One

One stroke might not seem like a lot on the golf course, but for ETSU's Rhys Enoch it has served as a world of difference.

At the 2010 Atlantic Sun Championship, Enoch fired a 69 in the opening round at The Legends Club to tie teammate Seamus Powers for early lead. Enoch would go on to finish tied for sixth and help the Buccaneers to the program's second A-Sun title.

"We approach the A-Sun Championship like any other tournament and just go out there and try to do our best," ETSU Head Coach Fred Warren stated of his team's first-round performance. "Rhys is a very fine player and has picked up a couple win in his career."

As a junior, Enoch parlayed the top-10 conference finish to several honors over the next few months including; the NCAA East Regional individual medalist title, Ping All-America honors, a Top-35 NCAA Championship Finish and appearances in the presitigous Palmer Cup and British Amateur.

However, Enoch missed the 2011 A-Sun Championship due to an injury and was granted a redshirt as ETSU finished in fifth place and 16 strokes out of first place - both of which were program lows since joining the A-Sun

On Monday, Enoch teed off as a fifth-year senior with a wealth of experience and carded a four-under-par, 68, to land in a familiar spot at the top of the leaderboard with North Florida's Sean Dale.

"I knew there were birdies out there going into the championship and I was able to make six of them today," Enoch said. "I made a few bogeys, but I didn't panic and just stayed calm and finished with a few birdies late."

With six birdies in his opening 18 holes including four on the front nine, Enoch - the Bucs' lone senior - is well-versed on the links at the Legends Club and shared his wealth of knowledge with his younger teammates prior to the start of the conference championship. ETSU's line-up consists of Enoch, one sophomore and three freshmen.

"Only one of my teammates had played out here before and that was five or six years ago," Enoch in reference to the young Bucs' squad. "I told them where the problem holes were and where they should hit it. Most of all, I told them just to keep it in play because there are a lot of hazards out here."

The team collaboration helped as the Bucs finished in second place - one stroke behind North Florida - with an even-par, 288, through Monday's round.

With Enoch back in the fold at the A-Sun Championship, the Bucs look to improve upon last year's finish behind the guidance of the redshirt senior.

"(Rhys) knows there are 36 holes to go in this championship and there are a lot of good golfers and All-Americans in this conference so his competition will be tough for the next two rounds," Warren added about Enoch.

Coach Warren knows that ETSU's chances at a strong finish are riding on his senior.

"I just hope he can keep up his play over the next two days because we'll need some low scores from him to finish well."

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Freshman Wahl Plays Beyond Her Years

ETSU Coach Stefanie Shelton encourages Gabriella Wahl in the sudden death playoff.

Gabriella Wahl played her game for 53 holes.

The freshman from Heidenheim, Germany, fired a first-round 67, tying the A-Sun record for a single-round total and giving her a first-round lead. She maintained her lead after the second round, shooting a one-over-par 73 to begin Wednesday’s final round with a one-stroke lead on Mercer’s Lacey Fears and ETSU’s Sian Evans.

Wahl followed her plan all afternoon in the final round – keep the emotions in check, bring her game to the course and concentrate on and hit each shot. The first and second-round leader of the 2012 Atlantic Sun Women’s Golf Championship took a one-stroke lead into the final hole of the 54-hole championship, but needing two putts to win, began to feel some pressure as she stood over her first putt on the 18th green.

“I try not to play against my opponents and think about what they are doing, but that is what I did on 18 today,” Wahl says.

As the final group of KSU’s Ket Preamchuen, Mercer’s Lacey Fears and Wahl walked onto the green, Wahl was clinging to a one-stroke lead over Fears. With Fears relatively assured of a two-putt, Wahl ran her first attempt six-feet by the hole. Her second putt ran back past the hole six feet in the other direction, but still the youngster showed no sign of a loss of composure. She drained the third to tie Fears on the hole, leading to a sudden death playoff.

“I got a chance as coach to walk along Gabriella and to be there for her as she began the playoff,” said ETSU Head Coach Stefanie Shelton. “We did not talk about anything but the shot she was preparing to hit. We talked about her hitting the shots the same way that she did earlier today, and that is how she plays the game. She took it shot by shot, and that is what enabled her to come out on top.”

Wahl was consistent and made no mistakes in the two-hole playoff victory. While both missed the fairway with their drives on the second hole, Fears found the fairway bunker. Fears was able to come out of the sand, but left her second shot 25 yards left of the green. Wahl knocked her approach to within 18 feet and two putts gave her the victory. The win was Wahl’s first ever opportunity to even compete in a playoff.

The playoff was the first in the A-Sun championship since 2003, when Georgia State’s Lisbeth Meincke won the individual title in a four-hole playoff. The individual title was also ETSU’s third in the last five years, as Laura Jansone earned medalist honors in 2010 and 2008.

For A-Sun Women’s Golf, Wahl’s win seems to be ushering in a youth movement. Kennesaw State claimed the team title with a sophomore and four freshmen, while four freshmen and four sophomores joined only two seniors in the tournament’s top 10, giving a good indication that women’s golf is headed in the right direction.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A-Sun Championship Great Mixture of Experience and Youth

For Stetson University, it would appear that the come-from-behind win is so much sweeter than any other. For the last three years the Hatters have trailed after two rounds, only to come back in the final round to claim the championship.

Head Coach Floyd Kerr says it remains a mystery why his teams play so well in the closing round.

“If I knew the answer to that I probably could make a lot of money,” he chuckles.

In the last three A-Sun Championships his teams have shot a cumulative score of one over par in the final round.

“I trust these people to get the job done. They have confidence in themselves to get the job done and they play with a lot of charcter and with a lot of heart,” Kerr said.

It might seem that the Hatters’ victories were due to a single strong individual performance, but not so with Stetson. Kerr’s defending champions have placed three players in the top 10 of the last two A-Sun Championships.

Also in 2009 and 2011, Stetson was the home of the individual champion, as Danielle Jackson won in 2009 and Alex Buelow claimed the 2011 crown.

Kerr emphasizes that he doesn’t put in any extra preparation time for the championship.

“We don’t over-strategize. We don’t over-coach. I don’t put extra pressure on them to get the job done. They know what’s out there,” Kerr said.

“Our approach in any tournament, whether it is last round or first round, is to go out and play ‘just another round of golf.’ If you can keep that mindset it sometimes gives you and advantage because during the last round or any round if you put too much pressure on yourself, sometimes it can work against you. Basically we try to keep a normal tournament setting where no one round is more important than the other round. Of course you can say that, but can you do that?”

If the Hatters can win in 2012, they will again do so from behind. Stetson trails by 12 strokes, the identical total they overcame two years ago on this very Venetian Bay course. It seems like déjà vu for this Stetson Hatter team who returns two players from that championship team.

“Two years ago here at Venetian Bay we were down quite a bit. Going into the last day we came back and played absolutely out of our minds—threw the kitchen sink at the competition. Somehow, which I still have yet to figure it out, we managed the win,” said senior Lauren Cate, who was on all three of Stetson’s conference championship teams.

A win will also place the Hatters in elite company, becoming just the second team in A-Sun history to win the conference championship four consecutive years. Florida International is the only team to record such an achievement, making the run from 1991-94.

Kerr said he feels the level of play in the conference championship has gone up over the last few years.

“I think our conference overall is stronger than it has been.”

Waiting in the wings, however, is a young Kennesaw State team ready to show that it is their turn to raise that championship banner.

"I really want to go to regionals, and I think it’s the same for all of my team so we are really motivated about that,” said Ines Lescudier, who shot at 68 to tie the best second-round total in the A-Sun championship history. “Tomorrow is a new run and so I think we are just going to do the best. I am feeling really good right now about my team.”

The Owls have shot even par over the last two rounds and will head into the final round with a six-shot lead on second place ETSU. Third-place Mercer trails the Owls by 11.

The Owls’ quintet boasts three freshmen, giving them the youngest team in the field this year. Those freshmen, along with one sophomore, are all among the top 10 in the individual rankings. Sophomore Ket Preamchuen is tied for fourth, followed by freshman teammate Lea Charpier in a tie for sixth with Ket's freshman sister Keaw. Freshman Ines Lescudier rounds out the top 10.

“I have three freshmen out here that play like seniors, and that is just a great feeling as a coach, said KSU Head Coach Rhyll Brinsmead. I am really proud of the and it (first) is a great position to be in heading into the final round.”

With six strokes separating first and second place, Wednesday’s final round could be interesting. Is there one more magical round in the bag for the experienced Hatters, or is it time for a youth movement in A-Sun women’s golf?

CRONS Achiever Award Nominees for March 2102

Crons sponsors the monthly "Achiever Award," which is presented to the school recognized by a fan vote for the most notable achievement from the month prior. Below are the descriptions of each submission, along with the poll in the right-hand sidebar.

Alex Buelow, Stetson Women’s Golf
Buelow tied and then broke the school record for low round during the month of March. She tied the mark with a final round score of 68 at the JMU/Eagle Landing Invitational and then bested it in the first round of the MSU Ocala Spring Invitational with a 67. She went on to take top individual honors in that event for her eighth career tournament victory.

Mick Hedgepeth, Belmont Men’s Basketball
Hedgepeth represented Belmont at the NCAA Final Four as a finalist for the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award. He was also named to the DI-AAA ADA Men’s Basketball Scholar-Athlete Team and was the recipient of the postgraduate scholarship.

Langston Hall, Mercer Men’s Basketball
Hall led Mercer men’s basketball to a 5-1 record over the month, including five straight wins in the CIT postseason tournament. Named MVP of the Tournament, averaging 11.2 points, 5.6 assists and 4.6 rebounds per game. Scored 16 points, grabbed six rebounds and dished four assists in Mercer’s CIT Championship victory at Utah State.

Gabriella Wahl, ETSU Women’s Golf
The freshman enjoyed an outstanding March, capturing her first collegiate individual title with a victory at the John Kirk/Panther Intercollegiate. In that tournament, Wahl set a new Buccaneer program record for three-round score, carding a 7-under-par 209 (70-70-69). Her final round score of 3-under-par 69 also matched her career best for single round score. In addition to her victory at the John Kirk/Panther, Intercollegiate, Wahl’s month also included a 12th place finish at the Insperity Lady Jaguar Intercollegiate and a tie for 21st at the JMU Eagle Landing. She was the top ETSU performer at the Insperity event. For the month, she finished with a team best stroke average of 73.0.

FGCU Women’s Basketball 
Playing in its first-ever NCAA Tournament in its first-year of Division I postseason eligibility, FGCU broke the NCAA single-season record for three-pointers when it made its sixth of the game against St. Bonaventure in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Eagles broke the mark in 2010-11, but were in the four-year process of reclassifying to Division I so the total didn’t qualify. FGCU responded by hitting a record 342 three-pointers this past season, making double-digit trifectas in 19 of 32 games.
Leonardo Nahar, UNF Men’s Tennis
Leo went 9-1 in singles play and 4-2 in doubles in March. He was instrumental in both of UNF’s 4-3 wins over then-No. 42 South Alabama and then-No. 33 UNC Wilmington. Against No. 42 South Alabama on Mar. 12, UNF was leading 3-2 with two singles matches still playing. Leo fought his way to a 6-4, 6-7 (3), 6-3 win at No. 6 singles in order to secure the final team point UNF needed. The following day with UNF and UNC Wilmington tied 3-3, Leo battled to a 7-6 (4), 0-6, 7-6 (4) No. 5 singles win, giving UNF the match-winning point. As a result of beating back-to-back ranked opponents, UNF appeared in the Mar. 20 Campbell’s/ITA National Rankings at No. 50 – the highest ranking for the Ospreys in their Division I tenure. Leo’s back-to-back match clinchers allowed resulted in him being named the Atlantic Sun’s Player of the Week on Mar. 14.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Wahl's Secret to Success – Stay Calm and See What Happens

ETSU freshman Gabriella Wahl fired a first-round 67, tying the A-Sun Championship record for a single round. At five-under-par she leads the A-Sun Championship by three strokes.

ETSU Head Coach Stefanie Shelton says the back nine on Venetian Bay Golf Club was a microcosm of freshman Gabriella Wahl’s season. Wahl was two-under and tied for the lead with defending champion Alex Buelow heading into number 13.

That’s when it happened. The focused and stoic Wahl proceeded to fire three consecutive birdies, and Shelton knew that all the hard work was paying off.

“When she went birdie-birdie-birdie, I knew that she was in the zone,” says Shelton. “That is how it has been for her all season. She is just a sponge and soaks in all you work on, then goes out and works very hard to implement that on the course. She takes what she learns and goes one step at a time, playing a very regimented game. Today that is what she did, and you could see the process in her game. When she hit that streak on the back nine, you could see on her face that she was working through everything, not letting the highs or the lows play a factor.”

Wahl fired a five-under-par 67 in her first A-Sun Championship, tying the championship record low round set by another ETSU Buc, Laura Jansone, in 2008. She leads defending champion and Stetson ace Alex Buelow and Kennesaw State’s Ket Preamchuen by three strokes.

There was never a question that Wahl has the talent to be successful. She has finished in the top 25 of eight of the nine tournaments this season, and has three top-10 finishes this season, including a win in the Bucs’ final tournament of the season. Wahl shot three rounds under par at the John Kirk/Panther Intercollegiate to secure the victory, and expected to carry that momentum into her first A-Sun Championship.

“I had a pretty good tournament last week, and tried to continue that into this week,” she says. “I have worked on keeping the emotions out of the game, staying calm when I have bad shots or when I get on a streak like I did a little today. My goal is to not allow too many emotions in my game.”

Wahl didn’t play poorly on the front nine, missing a few puts that were right on the line but just short. At the turn her approach did not change, and things began to click.

“I tried to stay patient. I knew that they would fall because my stroke felt nice,” she says. “I just tried to continue what I did on the front and just hit it. My shots into the green were pretty much the same the entire round, and then the putts started to fall.

“I didn’t really feel any kind of pressure today. My team and my coaches were encouraging me, and I tried really hard not to put pressure on myself.”

Catching the freshman after turning in her scorecard, you would never describe her as emotionless or stoic. When informed about the record that she tied in her opening round, she gave a big smile and said, “Oh, that’s cool.”

Wahl is also very expressive and intentional when speaking about her first year at ETSU and the “family” that she has grown to know since September.

“My freshman season has been a wonderful experience. This has been my most favorite season of all in my golf career,” she says. “I learned so much from coach, and my whole game has improved in a major way. I like the way I feel on the course and I trust my abilities much more. There has never been a step back this season.”

The Buccaneer roster has a very distinct international flavor, something that the German native appreciates very much as well. Her teammates hail from England ( Lauren Smith, Cramlington, England; Sian Evans, Gillingham, England), Spain (Mayte Vizcarrondo, Cadiz, Spain), South Africa (Chloe Garner, Somerset West, South Africa), and Germany (Larissa Steinfeldt, Eschweiler, Germany).

“I love the ETSU facility, and the people that surround us are amazingly supportive, especially Coach Shelton. She knows a lot about short game, which I needed to improve in and I did. I love that we are all international, and so we are all in the same boat. No one has family here, they are all away, and so this team is like a family. I just love it.”

In a word, she describes her freshman season as “fun.”
As the freshman begins her second round as the championship leader, she admits that it will be difficult not to think about her position. However, just like during her performance in Monday’s round, keeping things in balance and not allowing emotions to dictate her game will be the key for her continued success.

“I can’t help but think about it. I will try to think about it in a positive way, to enjoy it right now,” she says. “I can’t control the way that other players will play in the next two rounds, and there are good players in this field.

“I will just try to get the game on the course that I know I have, and stay away from emotions.”

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