Sunday, April 28, 2013

Jacksonville Lacrosse "Together We Make Things Happen"

Just over four years ago Jacksonville University and lacrosse was nothing more than just a club league, a group of nine girls created a club team in hopes that the university could expand the game to the Division I level.

Only one player remains from the club team, Jessica Hotchkiss. The next year Head Coach Mindy McCord recruited and brought in the first official Division I lacrosse class as the JU Dolphins became an NCAA squad.

Hotchkiss laughed as she said “I’m the only one that played on the club that first semester and there were probably nine of us total on the team.”

“I honestly thought coach lied and they were going to tell me later there wasn’t going to be a team so I was a little nervous,” Hotchkiss said. “But then all of these great girls showed up next year and we really started a legacy here at JU.”

In 2010 Jacksonville started Division I competition in the NLC and with the help of a core group of freshmen at the time the Dolphins have grown to become the first ever Atlantic Sun Lacrosse Champions and earn the automatic qualifier to the NCAA Championship.

Eight seniors on Jacksonville’s squad can now claim to be the first four year class to the JU lacrosse program.

“Starting the program we started with 21 freshmen so instead of inheriting a program we really had to out recruit freshmen to figure out how to become competitive so we could build this vision of what we wanted this program to be,” Head Coach Mindy McCord described.

Starting as freshmen, the senior class can now joke about how it started off a little rocky as a program, as to be expected, but the group bonded through their hard work to create a strong foundation for the program.

Senior goalkeeper said, “We definitely started from the bottom, but now we are here and we are heading to the NCAA Championship which has been a major goal of ours.”

Rachel Hannon remembers it to be quite the learning experience as they were getting started in the NLC.  

“All of those experiences we had our freshman year really made us stronger as a group and that is why we are such a good family because we have been through so much together and we started the program from the beginning,” Hannon said. “I think that is the biggest asset of our team is that we are all one family and we don’t win as individuals, we win together.”

Building that foundation was key for the Dolphins and Head Coach Mindy McCord couldn’t have found a better group to start with.

“Together we make things happen.”

This is the saying that this year’s senior class started when they had just begun the program four years ago.

Tobin said, “We told the team as it grew that it was now their turn to pass that motto on to everyone and if they hold onto that then this legacy will continue to grow.”

McCord could not be prouder of the group of senior on her squad that led them to this A-Sun Championship.

“I think they are a group of the most hardest working players that I’ve ever had. They weren’t top-100 recruits but they became top-100 recruits by the end of their four years here because of their hard work and belief.” 

Friday, April 26, 2013

Detroit's Erin Campbell Overcomes Adversity to Lead Titans to a Remarkable Season

The Detroit Titans capped off the regular season with by setting the bar very high for the future of Atlantic Sun Women’s Lacrosse. Zaynib Hamze earned A-Sun Player of the Year Honors, while her teammate Lexie McCormick scooped up Defensive Player of the Year Accolades. In addition to Hamze and McCormick, the Titans landed three more players on the A-Sun’s first team all-conference selection as voted by the coaches, including Erin Campbell, Britany Busch and Taylor Marshall.

It may be remarkable to just be named on the inaugural A-Sun Lacrosse All-Conference team, but for UDM’s Erin Campbell what’s truly remarkable is that she’s even able to play again.
Campbell suffered a major injury after her 2011 season where she had surgery to repair a hip impingement. 

The Titan had a stress fracture on the head of her femur which required a nine month recovery process post-surgery.

“My goal was to primarily play lacrosse again because that was unsure at the time of the surgery,” Campbell said. “I took huge strides to comeback and make all-conference.”

Before her injury, Campbell had played in 20 games for the Titans, only to have to declare a red-shirt during her third season as she was still undergoing intensive rehab two to three times a day.

“Truly seeing my teammate work hard every day really motivated me to come back.”

The Titans have a family atmosphere that supported Erin the entire way.

“We are a tight nit sisterhood. It was very nice having them because they were very encouraging me every day in getting me back on the field and staying positive because it was no
t always easy.”

Campbell said any time she had doubts she could always count on her bond with the team to being her back.

“I wanted to not only get back on the field for them, but I also wanted to prove to myself that I had the work ethic to overcome this and make me stronger.”

And she did come back stronger.

Campbell returned to not only play in all 17 games for the Titans but start in every one of their contests as well.

She was second on the team in points with 43 and goals with 33 this season, only behind Zaynib Hamze.

“Our team set a goal at the beginning of the season that we wanted to make it to the conference championship and we put ourselves in an excellent position to reach that goal,” Campbell said.

“It means a lot to achieve this goal with my team as they made me strong enough to be doing something I love again.”

The Titans defeated Stetson in the semifinal of the A-Sun Championship to accomplish their goal of making it to the championship match where they will face Jacksonville.

All of which might not have been achieved if Erin Campbell had not met her original goal to get on the field again. In Detroit’s 21-7 A-Sun Championship semifinal win over Stetson, Campbell registered two goals and an assist to help lead the Titan to the final. Now the team sets its sights on making history as becoming the first ever A-Sun Lacrosse Champion.

Jacksonville Lacrosse Look to Become Trailblazers to Growing the Game

The Jacksonville Dolphins Women’s Lacrosse squad is on a mission.

They are not only looking to win games, win the A-Sun Championship and move on to the NCAA Championship, they are looking to spread the game of lacrosse around the country.

Lacrosse is a sport that is primarily known to be a northeastern sport. Lacrosse is most popular in the state of Maryland.

Jacksonville, Florida on the other hand is nearly 700 miles away from Maryland and has still managed to recruit several players to come play for them from the northeast part of the country.

More interestingly is the players that come from outside that region of the country. JU has nine players on its roster from Georgia and Florida and because of that they have become huge advocates on growing the game of lacrosse.

Junior Morgan Derner  grew up in Lake Mary, Florida where she started playing lacrosse in eighth grade after a friend convinced her to join a new club that was getting started.

“We would go play up north and played against several teams and we didn’t win many games, but as we grew we started beating some of the top Maryland team which was really exciting and a big deal a Florida club,” Derner said.

One of Jacksonville’s seniors, Amanda Hurley, started playing lacrosse in high school in the state of Georgia. She credits most of her ability to make it to the college level to attending as many clinics as possible when she was younger.

“I actually met Coach Mindy at a clinic my freshman year of high school, she wasn’t a college lacrosse coach at the time but she really sparked my interest in lacrosse,” Hurley Said.

“Here I am today as a senior in college, eight years later and we’ve reconnected.”

The Dolphins throw clinics throughout the year with local schools in hopes of spreading an interest in the game to youth that may not have experienced the sport.

Derner said “This is a really important thing for Florida because the sport is not big, but they really look up to us and the more we can help them grow the more we can grow the sport.”

Hurley explains how much it helps that JU has several players that are from the south because other girls will see that in the community and draw a connection to them.

Both Hurley and Derner had the same advice to give to future lacrosse players as they look to get more involved in the sport.

“Keep working hard and focus on your dreams, the hard work will pay off" 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Ospreys' Youth and Balance Bodes Well for the Future

It has been a year since the North Florida men's golf team did not count a score from senior and the No. 2 ranked player in the country, Sean Dale.

Ironically it was in another final round, this time in the 2012 NCAA Championship.

In 2012 the Ospreys posted the program's best ever Division I finish, carding a final round 297 and finishing with a three-day total of 878. UNF finished tied with Florida and was just three strokes shy of reaching the top eight and advancing to match play in the championship event.

Fellow junior Kevin Phelan closed that solid week of work leading the Ospreys with a final day 73 (+2). Phelan tallied a 54-hole score of 216 (+3) en route to finishing tied for 21st in the individual standings.

There was also a pair of freshmen that contributed and undoubtedly put a little smile on Head Coach Scott Schroeder's face by giving him a glimpse into the future. Freshman MJ Maguire also shot a 74 in that final round to finish tied for 69th at 223. Classmate Joey Petronio finished tied for 89th at 225 following a final round 76 while Dale rounded out the Osprey lineup with a score of 230 (T-123rd).

In Dale's absence in the fall, Maguire recorded a pair of Top-10 finishes then added two more in the top five and another Top-10 in the spring once Dale returned. Petronio, the 2012 A-Sun Freshman of the Year, added a pairof Top-25 finishes.

But today, just like last year, the team didn't rely solely on its celebrated senior to do all of the heavy lifting. While Dale was going seven-over-par on the front nine and Kennesaw State was making a run at the defending champions, Maguire posted a solid front nine of two-under-par and Petronio also stayed under par on his first nine with a one-under-par.

Maguire kept it up on the back nine to solidify the team's effort, finding out on 16 that the individual title could be his for the taking. He proceeded to birdie 16 and carded two pars to fire a 68, the low round of the tournament, just one stroke shy of his teammate Kevin Alywin's low last season at The Legends Club.

"Coach asked me if I wanted to know where I stood and I said, 'sure, why not.' I am pretty laid back on  the golf course, so it wasn't really going to affect my strategy. I knew that the course was playing tough, so knew that if I could post four-under then I would be tough to catch."

Fellow sophomore Petronio was solid for the Ospreys, carding a pair of birdies and a bogey on hif front nine to make the turn at one-under-par. Two bogeys on holes 11 and 13 and a birdie on 14 brought Petronio's score to even par.

Unlike Phelan, his day did not go as expected. After beginning round one tied for the lead at -1, he shot two-over-par on the front nine and a one-over-par on the back that included a double-bogey on 14. But that is golf.

For the day, UNF's youngsters posted a cobined score of -5, while the team's decorated seniors both experienced off days with a combined total of +11.

"It took a total team effort for us to defend our conference title," said Schroeder. "Our two youngers guys really carried us today. It was really impressive to see our underclassmen step up and take the lead for us especially in the final round.

"I am so excited for MJ to earn his first collegiate title at the conference championship. It is definitely another bright spot on his strong play this season."

"This is definitely something special, bringing home the conference championship," said Maguire. "And I am definitely looking forward to regionals. The top five make it to nationals and that is definitely the goal."

Certainly Schroeder knows that for his team to achieve that goal, it will once again take a complete team effort and more than likely the Ospreys will want to count the score from their decorated senior. However, he is now armed with the A-Sun Championship medalist and now realizes the contribution that his two sophomores are prepared to make.

"We have a lot of experience with Sean and Kevin having been around the block and Joey and MJ went through it with us all the way to finish 12th in the NCAAs," said Schroeder. That put them (Petronio and Maguire) in a good place and it was a chance to get valuable experience.

"If we get sent to a good place and we get off to a good start then we will just see what happens."

Monday, April 22, 2013

Success Is Business as Usual for UNF's Pair of Seniors

As teams began their pre-tournament routines on the putting green and the driving range Monday morning, UNF Head Coach Scott Schroeder and his assistant coach Jacob Davidson were in the clubhouse focused on the Golf Channel.

The pair wasn’t catching up on highlights, they were intently watching as two of their best players – and seniors – were being selected to the rosters of the American and European Palmer Cup teams.

Sean Dale and Kevin Phelan have meant a great deal to Schroeder and the North Florida men’s golf program. The accolades for the two are numerous. Dale is currently the No. 2 player in the country as ranked by Golfstat, and Phalen himself has been in the Top-20 and is currently still in the Top 100.

Dale did not play in any events for the Ospreys in the fall while attempting to qualify for PGA Tour at Qualifying School, but he did capture the medalist honor at the prestigious amateur event, the Jones Cup.

Upon his return in the spring, Dale finished in the Top-5 of four of his five tournaments and did no worse than 15th. He is tied for eighth and six strokes out of the lead heading into the final round of the A-Sun Championship.

Among his many honors include membership to the All-Freshman team while at Ole Miss before transferring to North Florida. He is a two-time Atlantic Sun Player of the Year, a repeat first-team all-conference performer and a regular recipient of PING All-American honors (second and third team).

Last season Dale helped guide UNF to Atlantic Sun title and appearances in an NCAA Regional and NCAA Championship and was shown respect by his peers by being named UNF’s Male Co-Athlete of the Year.

As a junior and an amateur Dale highlights included qualifiying for 2011 U.S. Amateur and captured the 2010 Florida State Amateur title during the summer while also qualifying for the 2010 U.S. Amateur Championship.

The other member of the Ospreys’ version of the “Odd Couple,” Kevin Phelan has received his share of honors as well. He was the 2010 A-Sun Freshman of the Year, is a three-time All-Conference selection and is a regular recipient of A-Sun All-Academic honors.

Phelan has qualified for the Irish Open and represented Ireland in the 2010 World Amateur Team Championships held in October in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He was the team’s top finisher at the NCAA Championships in 2012 with a 21st-place finish and he has been honored as an All-Ping selection.

As an amateur Phelan qualified for 2011 Irish Open and represented Ireland at World Amateur Team Championships. He enjoyed a highly successful 2010 summer campaign that included qualifying for the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, reaching the semifinals of the U.S. Public Links and participating in the prestigious U.S. Amateur Championship.

Beginning tomorrow’s final round of the A-Sun Championship, Phelan and Dale are within striking distance of the program’s first individual title. Phelan begins in second, just three strokes out at +2, and Dale is +5. They join two other teammates in the championship’s Top-10 and look to protect their 2012 title after letting a sizable lead slip away on Monday.

So what does Schroeder have to say about his two valuable seniors? A brief Q&A with the coach lets you in on the players and his expectation of them.

Talk about Sean and Kevin and how they have developed and helped your program.

Both graduated high school living less than 20 minutes from our campus.  One is more outgoing (Dale), while the other one is quieter (Phelan). As golfers they have really developed into really good players. Sean is a little more dynamic, Kevin is a plodder, so you have two kids that even play the game differently and show that there is more than one way to be successful.

Both have wonderful short games, Kevin plays percentages and Sean has gotten better because he has done more of that. As a freshman and sophomore Sean played more aggressively, and now he takes fewer chances and plays smarter golf.

What do you know that you will get from them day in and day out?

The one thing that I know that I will get from them is that they are going to try to win. Winners compete very hard and I know that when they tee off, 18 holes later they have given it all they have. At the end of the day that is all that you can ask for as a coach.

How do they impact this team off the course?

They don’t make excuses for anything. They hold themselves accountable and when you are off the golf course with them they are never talking about negative things. It is always positive conversation, so they provide a good environment for the younger guys to grow in. That is a very important aspect, to remain positive, because there are a lot more negative things that can happen to you on the golf course than positive.

They have garnered numerous accolades and certainly receive more attention than their other teammates. How do they handle that?

They are very gracious, you don’t really ever hear them talk about themselves, which makes them very fun to coach. It is a really neat deal that both of them know how to handle success the right way.

What will you miss most about them?

Certainly their golf, but I will also miss their competitive spirit.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

North Florida Sand Volleyball Enjoys Its Place in History

Rarely does one receive the opportunity to make history even once.

For North Florida sand volleyball, that opportunity has presented itself twice, and the Ospreys don't seem to be finished just yet.

North Florida has repeated as A-Sun Sand Volleyball Champion, joining the A-Sun as a leader in the sport of sand volleyball as the NCAA's newest emerging sports continues to grow in its popularity and support among institutions and athletic departments.
In 2012 the Ospreys made history by winning the first ever collegiate conference sand volleyball championship. The Ospreys further took advantage of that success by claiming other awards including Coach of the Year for Steve Loeswick and Pair of the Year for Annda Budinska and Dagnija Medina.

UNF's No. 1 pair of Budinska and Medina was perfect through the Ospreys' run in the inaugural 2012 A-Sun Championship, claiming the Pair of the Year honor and representing North Florida and the A-Sun in the pairs competition of the AVCA Collegiate Sand Volleyball National Championship.

This season North Florida became a participant in another first, as the Ospreys claimed the inaugural A-Sun regular season title with a perfect 8-0 record in A-Sun play. Entering the A-Sun Championship, North Florida boasted a 66-30 mark overall and a 31-9 mark in A-Sun matches.

Head Coach Steve Loeswick claimed his second Coach of the Year title and the 2012 Pair of the Year, Budinska and Medina, earned 2013 Pair of the Tournament honors as they again posted an undefeated record in the championship. 

Budinska and Medina also earned A-Sun All-Conference honors and both were selected to the Academic All-Conference Team with teammates Britt Claessens and Julie Trembley. As a pair of their own, Claessens and Trembley posted a perfect 8-0 mark in A-Sun matches and a 16-1 record overall during the regular season.

“I am extremely proud of the effort and determination shown by our team,” said Loeswick. “We were the hunted team in the conference this season and all year long the girls just stayed focused and committed to our plan. Today we played some very exciting matches and were able to make the plays down the stretch to earn this championship. We are really excited and looking forward to participating in the AVCA National Championship.”

With their second A-Sun Championship title in as many years and third overall, the Ospreys now prepare to take advantage of their third such history making opportunity as they received and accepted the A-Sun's automatic bid to the AVCA Collegiate Sand Volleyball National Championship. The A-Sun is the first conference to receive the automatic bid to the AVCA's event, and who knows? The Ospreys' journey into history may not be ready to end just yet.

Singles Trio Locks Up Ospreys' Third Title

Only six programs have won back-to-back titles in the 28 years of the Atlantic Sun Women’s Tennis Championship. On Sunday, North Florida joined that club as the Ospreys dispatched ETSU, 4-2, for the second-straight season on the Buccaneers’ turf.

Led by three All-Tournament honorees (Lorena Aviles, Melanie Aguirre and Simona Weymar), UNF won three singles points to clinch its spot in history, but it wasn’t easy as several matches saw tiebreakers, battles on the court and monumental comebacks.

Tournament MVP and A-Sun Player of the Year, Lorena Aviles lost to ETSU’s No. 1 singles player Antonia Kolovou in the regular season, but reveled in the opportunity to face the Bucs’ top player again as she captured a 6-3, 6-3 victory. Her point at No. 1 tied the match up at two as she handed the keys to Weymar and Aguirre to lock up the match.

UNF Head Coach Audra Cohen knows one of the keys to this year’s championship run was the will and attitude from her top player.

“Aviles has just really stepped it up since our loss to ETSU in the regular season and it has permeated down the lineup and helped us get to this point.”

Weymar utilized a win in the first set tiebreaker against the Bucs’ Lyn Yee Choo to propel herself to a straight-set win at No. 2 singles. Her win pushed the Ospreys into the lead at 3-2 and only one step away from the team’s second-straight A-Sun title. Since taking over as the UNF head coach in the fall of 2011 Cohen has preached to her team the necessity of being able to handle difficult situations.

“The number one thing I try to teach our team is to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations and dealing with pressure and how to deal with big moments. To see our team fulfill all of those items that we have worked on is fantastic.

The match-clinching point came from the Ospreys’ Melanie Aguirre vs. Sofia Espana (6-7, 6-4, 6-4). Aguirre and Espana needed a first-set tiebreaker that went to Espana. After Espana raced out to a four-game advantage in set three, Aguirre stormed back to win six-straight games and clinch the title for the Ospreys.

The comeback was anything but shocking for North Florida Head Coach Audra Cohen as her team thrives in high-pressure situations.

“We didn’t have any strong spots or any weak spots. We were just a team that was willing to work hard and come together to get the job done today.”

Aguirre, the team’s weathered senior, has been a member of the three of the Ospreys’ four title teams. She welcomes the pressure of the match-clinching points. As a freshman in 2010, Aguirre delivered the final point vs. ETSU to earn the Tournament MVP honors to give UNF the first of its three A-Sun titles in the past four seasons.

“It is a testament to how tough these girls are and how tough this program is,” Cohen added of her team’s fighting will. “We are a working-class program and are willing to put in the work in order to get the job done.”

Stetson's Bob Weickel Hangs Up His Many Hats After 53 Years

Known throughout campus and DeLand as "Mr. Hatter", Bob Weickel begins his 53rd year in the Stetson athletic department, and his 33rd season as the men's golf coach. To say Weickel has done it all at Stetson would be a bit of an understatement. 

Weickel has served Stetson in several different capacities, including assistant basketball coach (1960-74), assistant baseball coach (1960-64), head baseball coach (1965-68), intramural director (1962-84), professor of Sport Management (1962-2005), Physical Education Director (1973-93) and Assistant Athletic Director (1984-95).

Weickel is in the midst of his third turn as head golf coach, serving as head coach in 1971, 1973-84 and 1992-present. In his five decades with the Hatters, Weickel has coached his various teams to over 1000 victories. In his career, Weickel has had the pleasure of working with several of the top coaches in Stetson history, including basketball coach Dr. Glenn Wilkes and baseball coach Carl H. "Doc" Johnson.

"As a young man I had the pleasure and the opportunity to come into a situation where those who were preceding me had been there for 30-plus years," says Weickel. "They would share things and tell me stories, and that was a real advantage for me just getting started in my career. I think about things now that I am in the same situation they were in, and a lot of what they taught me really stuck with me."

Weickel's Hatters finished fifth in last year's men's golf championship and have finished as high as fourth under his direction. While Weickel has never had the privilege of taking his Stetson team to the NCAA Championships, he singles out as a highlight the opportunity to attend the 2012 NCAA regionals with his senior and 2012 A-Sun medalist Sam Ryder. 

As a baseball coach, Weickel became the first collegiate coach in the state of Florida to integrate his program, adding the first African-American player, Jimmy Johnson, to the Hatters' roster in 1964. Johnson is one of many players with whom Weickel has kept in touch over the years. Weickel chuckles as recalls that while Johnson was a great athlete and solid player as a catcher, he eventually had to move him to first base because of the strength and often inaccuracy of his arm. "Arm strength wasn't his problem, he had a strong arm, but he would throw it into center field," Weickel laughs.

As a coach Weickel says he has no favorite sport, because as he points out, "they are all different. They allowed me to stay with golf and so that has been the one I coached the longest, but I have special memories from all of them."

Some of those memories include success with the Hatters' basketball teams that made appearances in the NAIA and NCAA Division II basketball championships.

And while the on-court success for Weickel has been an important part of his career, he is just as proud of the fact that in his 33 years as golf coach, only two players have failed to graduate. Just from last season, Ryder was selected as a Cleveland golf/Srixon All-America Scholar and a member of the A-Sun Academic All-Conference team. To be eligible for Cleveland Golf/Srixon All-America Scholar status an individual must be a junior or senior academically, compete in at least three full years at the collegiate level, participate in 70-percent of his team’s competitive rounds or compete in the NCAA Championships, have a stroke-average under 76.0 in Division I, 78.0 in Division II, 77.0 in NAIA and 79.0 in Division III, and maintain a minimum cumulative grade-point average of 3.2. A recipient must also be of high moral character and be in good standing at his college or university.

"Academics were the biggest emphasis of the job when I first began, and is why ultimately we are here to help these young men. That continues to be a focus for our university, as it should be, and I am glad that we have been able to excel in that areas as well."
Weickel graduated from Springfield (Mass.) College in 1960 following an impressive athletic career. During his senior year at Springfield, he was captain of the basketball team and was selected to an All-New England All-Star team. He was also a standout on the baseball diamond where his pitching prowess earned him various honors.
Weickel earned his M.A. at Stetson. 

He is a native of Huntington Station, N.Y., and he has a son, Kevin, a former letterwinner on the Stetson baseball team. Kevin is now the head golf pro at Disney World Golf and the chairman of the Disney PGA Tour event.

As if Mr. Hatter needed additional feathers in his cap, Weickel's commitment to and prolonged success with Stetson earned him the honor in November 2012 of induction into the Stetson Athletics Hall of Fame.

“It does mean a lot to me,” Weickel said. “I've really spent my life here. I feel proud that I'm being recognized and going into the Hall of Fame along with a lot of other great coaches, some of whom I've worked with like Glenn Wilkes, Doc Johnson and Brady Cowell. I'm really happy to be part of that group.”

Weickel's Hatters are in seventh place after the first round of the 2013 Men's Golf Championship, with Michael Primavera and Andrew Peterson leading the team in a tie for 15th.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Familiar Foes, New Faces Highlight A-Sun Championship Finale

After Saturday sweeps of Stetson and USC Upstate, ETSU and North Florida earned the right to face off for the fourth-straight year in the Atlantic Sun Women’s Tennis Championship Final.

The Ospreys and Buccaneers are two familiar names for A-Sun women’s tennis fans with UNF capturing two of the last three A-Sun titles (2010, 2012) and the Bucs appearing in eight-straight A-Sun finals with three championships during that span (2006, 2009 and 2011).

Last season’s championship final lasted over five hours as the top-seeded Ospreys bested the No. 2 seed, ETSU, by a score of 4-2 at the Bristol Raquet Club. Four  members from last year’s singles line-up  returned this season for the Ospreys including A-Sun Player of the Year, Lorena Aviles, and fellow first team all-conference member Simona Weymar.

However, the Buccaneers saw a mass exodus from last year’s singles starting line-up with the departure of four seniors; Paula Jaime, Karina Kedzo, Marine Wieliczko and Diana Navrostska. Jaime, Wieliczko and Navrostska all captured all-conference honors in their final year with the Bucs.

With a hole left in the lineup, ETSU Head Coach Yaser Zaatini reloaded with several key players to this year’s team. Lyn Yee Choo, who redshirted last season, filled right in as she was tabbed the A-Sun Freshman of the Year and First Team All-Conference following a perfect conference record. Fellow freshman and doubles partner, Ana Gerbasi, landed second team honors.

An influx of transfers to Johnson City completed the ETSU line-up with Antonia Kolovou (Stephen F. Austin), Sofia Espana (Ohio Dominican) and Salma Dahbi (Georgia Perimeter) guiding the Bucs to an undefeated conference record (8-0) and a 14-5 overall record.

North Florida’s starting line-up saw little change from last year with four starters returning; however, the loss of Aline Berkenbrock – the 2010 and 2012 A-Sun Player of the Year – left a glaring absence at No. 1 singles coupled with first team all-conference member, Danielle Day, completing her eligibility with the Ospreys.

Luckily for the Ospreys, the return of seniors Aguirre, Aviles, and Weymar coupled with the emergence of sophomores Taylor Hollander and Marina Cunningham in the middle of the lineup steadied UNF to a 7-1 league record and a 15-4 overall tally.

The annual championship rivals have squared off seven times over the past four seasons with North Florida holding the 4-3 advantage; however, both teams have won exactly 20 points in the seven matches as the Bucs own two 4-0 sweeps.

With an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament on the line, A-Sun tennis fans should prepare for top performances from both teams as each team have been building for this title game since last year’s final.

Kaley Melville Counting on Big-Time Experience Making an Impact


Stetson junior Kaley Melville is excited about the direction that sand volleyball is heading in the Atlantic Sun Conference. Playing in the no. 1 pair for the Hatters, Melville has been is some of the more exciting matches in the conference this season. Melville and partner Julie Bassett are 10-8 overall, but 2-3 in the A-Sun, and Melville attributes that in part to the ongoing improvement in the A-Sun’s talent and level of play.

Melville herself is a better player herself than a year ago, due to some degree by an experience she enjoyed last summer. Melville tried out and was hand-selected by USA Volleyball as one of just a few local athletes to travel to the West Coast for elite training at the USA Beach High Performance camp. For about six weeks, she spent eight hours a day practicing and competing on the beautiful California beaches with and against some of the top sand players in the country.

"It started with a tryout, similar to a combine in other sports when you have chance to show your skill set, they get a look at your height, your speed, and then you sit around and wait to get a call,” said Melville. “Then once you get there, each practice is a competition to choose one pair to play internationally. So you just keep training and competing. 

"I was out there for a month and a half basically sleeping on someone’s couch, so it was definitely the beach volleyball life," Melville said. "It was just a blast."

In addition to training on courts adjacent to Misty-May Treanor, Melville said one of the most exciting moments was competing in a qualifier for the Jose Cuervo Pro Tour. Despite being one of the youngest pairings, Melville and her partner advanced past the first round against a team that had international experience.

"In the next round, it was kind of funny, it was a close game but we got beat out by two moms in their 30s," Melville said. "The competition is very different between the West Coast compared to the East Coast. In the tournaments we play in, Florida State cleans up a lot of the time. On the West Coast it is crazy to see how they play at such a higher level. 

“You are killing yourself every day to make the squad, and it definitely gives you an idea of the level of competition out there. Getting the chance to play against the Pepperdines and to play with and against some phenomenal players really prepared me for what I want to accomplish in life."

Not bad for someone who just started playing sand volleyball a year ago. Sand competition came new to Kaley as the A-Sun became a leader in the NCAA’s newest emerging sport. The conference was the first in the NCAA to host a conference championship in sand volleyball, and this season the A-Sun will become the first to receive an automatic bid to the AVCA Collegiate Sand Volleyball National Championship.

“I started playing last year when the A-Sun added sand, and I had never played competitively in sand before,” said Melville. “It is quite a challenge to make the transition between indoor and sand. I had always been trained with indoor technique, but I love outdoor because each player has more responsibility. It is either on your or your partner to make a play or not. It is about throwing your body around, getting your hand on the ball to keep it up and make a play.

“Plus, I am usually one of the taller girls when we play over here, but in California I am one of the smallest girls out there. I had to learn to play more defense really quickly, and it prepared me to play better defense and that experience has really benefited me this season.”

Melville hopes her summer experience pays dividends this weekend as she and the Hatters compete for the 2013 Atlantic Sun Conference Sand Volleyball Championship in Jacksonville, Fla. The second-seeded Hatters opened the double elimination tournament against host Jacksonville at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Dolphin Beach Volleyball Courts.
Playing the first complete A-Sun regular season schedule, Melville has played with Julie Bassett in the No. 1 pairing all season…until two weeks ago. That is when Head Coach Tim Loesch made significant changes to the lineups, and Melville is interested to see the new chemistry develop. 

“I think he did that as a way to motivate us, and I like why he did that,” said Melville. “I think at first it freaked a lot of girls out, but we have had two weeks to adjust and I think it will be a good learning experience for all of us.”

One player in particular whose performance Melville is eager to watch this weekend is that of sophomore Savannah Byl. Paired with Katie DiGirolamo, Byl has a 2-0 record this season in dual match play and 5-1 in tournament pool play. 

“Savannah was a five last year who never saw the spotlight and c didn’t really get a chance to show her ability,” said Melville. “This season she came from nowhere and has been battling for a chance to play in the No. 1 pairing. She proves herself every match and I am anxious to see what she can do this weekend.”

Playing in the No. 1 pairing in every match, Melville sees the best the A-Sun has to offer, and has enjoyed tremendous competition with the 2012 A-Sun Pair of the Year Budinska and Medina from North Florida and this season’s pair, Strausbaugh and Nyquist from Jacksonville.

“I have enjoyed playing in the No. 1 spot all season, because the competition has been excellent. North Florida’s Anna and Dagnija play really well together and we always have great matches. Now Jacksonville’s pair has come up and is destroying people, so there could really be some blood matches this weekend now that the automatic bid is on the line.”

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Is A-Sun Final-Round Drama On the Horizon?

There has been quite a bit of action and excitement at the 2013 Atlantic Sun Women's Golf Championship, and it doesn't quite seem to be over.

On Monday, two players fired rounds of 67 to tie the championship record for a single round low, showing the field that they indeed can go low. Jessica Welch set a Jacksonville program record with her score, and ETSU's Sian Evans answered with one of her own, making her the second Buccaneer in as many years to open the A-Sun Championship with a 67.

ETSU's opening round of 287 also set the championship low for an opening round total. Then on Tuesday, FGCU shot a program best of 291 to move into second position, 11 strokes behind the championship-leading Bucs. While ETSU would seem to be in control with its double-digit lead, it was just three years ago that Stetson rallied from 12 strokes down to win its second consecutive A-Sun Championship.

Five strokes separate the championship's top 10 golfers, and the list is littered with players who can certainly put a round together to claim a title. ETSU and FGCU have ample representation, as three from each team have settled in among the conference's best for the final round. 

Defending medalist Gabriella Wahl from ETSU has been steady, shooting rounds of 71 and 70 to move into a tie for first place with teammate Evans and JU's Welch. Buc freshman Vivienne Chin has provided depth in the ETSU roster that could propel them to an A-Sun championship and well into the NCAA Regionals. Chin has six Top-25 finishes and is among the top 10 in the conference in stroke average. She also posted an under-par round of 71 on Tuesday.

Then there is the A-Sun's highest ranked individual golfer, Kennesaw State's Ines Lescudier, who has posted three of the four lowest scores in the A-Sun this season, including a 67 of her own and a pair of 69s. Lescudier finished fifth individually last season and fired one of the two lowest scores in the final round of last year's championship as her Owls claimed the team title. She has been there and done that.

Like Lescudier, FGCU's Georgia Price has quietly made her way around Pine Lakes to the tune of even par (71-73) and into a tie for fourth. Price may not be in the top 10 of low rounds and stroke average, but she gets it done, as she did in her win the JU Courtyard Classic this season. Teammate Kristin Swindell has a pair of Top-25 finishes this season, and fellow Eagle Briana Carlson posted one of only five below-par rounds in Tuesday's windy conditions at Jekyll Island.

Mercer's Lacey Fears lost to Wahl in a two-hole playoff last year, but shot a personal best and school record of 213 in the championship. She fired a 71 in Tuesday's challenging conditions. Fears has a win and four Top-10 finishes this season, as well as owning the top stroke average in the A-Sun (74.65).

You don't have to look far, however, to see other threats lurking just outside of -2. At +3, KSU senior Ket Preamchuen is the only player in the field to have finished in the Top-10 of the A-Sun Championship at least twice. Stetson's Sammi Smith tallied a two-under-par 70 on Tuesday to sit at +5. She also has a win to her credit this season. Also at +5, Mercer's Mary Alice Murphy has six Top-25 finishes along with posting two of the lowest scores in the A-Sun this season.

For some the final round of the A-Sun Championship will be a chance to improve. For others, it will be a time to shine. Will experience win out? Or will it be someone who is coming into their own? 

It is still hard to say, but it will be fun to watch.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Excellent First Day Exhibits How A-Sun Women's Golf Is Marching Forward

For some time now the talk has begun to grow louder as to how the A-Sun and its golf is getting better and better. Last year the record for the final team score in the A-Sun Women's Golf Championship was broken, not once but three times, as each of the top three finishers bested the previous high mark. This year ETSU’s first-round score of 287 is three strokes better than its first round score in last year’s championship, which was the best team round posted during the entire tournament.

Individually, 18 of the top 25 scorers from last year’s championship also return to battle again, including Jacksonville’s Jessica Welch and ETSU’s Sian Evans. Today the duo both fired a 67 to match the championship’s low round. And let’s not forget defending champ Gabriella Wahl (ETSU), who also shot a first-round 67 last season and claimed the individual title as a freshman, scoring a birdie on the third hole of a playoff with Mercer’s Lacey Fears. She has continued her solid play for ETSU this season, as have many from last year’s championship.

Fifteen of Monday’s Top-20 played in last year’s championship, and this year’s Top-5 is comprised of players who also finished from first to 20th last year.

So what list of accomplishments does this experienced group of 18 golfers bring into the upcoming championship? To name a few:

• Two individual tournament titles (Lacey Fears, Sammi Smith)
• 17 Top-10 finishes
• 47 Top-25 finishes
• 20 of the 27 low scores of 2012-13
• 19 under-par rounds, including a pair of 67s, the season low
• The six lowest stroke averages
• 11 Golfer of the Week accolades

Outside of the championship, A-Sun women’s golf has also begun to attract attention. Three teams (ETSU, Kennesaw State, Mercer) have been ranked in the Top 100 by GolfWeek and Golfstat all season. Plus, the conference has four team wins (ETSU, Mercer -2 and Stetson) and three individual wins (Georgia Price – FGCU, Lacey Fears – Mercer, and Sammi smith – Stetson) to its credit as well. And

Compare last year’s results to the championship history, compare last year’s first round action to this year’s and you can see that the A-Sun is growing and excelling in the sports of women’s golf. With very few seniors on this year’s field, a younger but experienced field is sure to bring more excitement as the 2013 A-Sun championship moves into round two on Tuesday.

Which of the following recorded the most notable performance in the A-Sun during the month of March?

 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.

FGCU Men’s Basketball
In just its second year of postseason eligibility and second year under head coach Andy Enfield, FGCU’s historic run in the month of March started by posting three straight double-digit wins at the Atlantic Sun Tournament as the No. 2 seed. That culminated with an 88-75 win over No. 1 seed and host Mercer in the championship game to earn the league’s automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament. 

Just being at the tournament for the first time wasn’t good enough for the Eagles, as they defeated Big East member and South Region No. 2 Georgetown in the second round in Philadelphia, snapping an 11-game NCAA Tournament losing streak for the A-Sun. 

FGCU clinched its place in NCAA history and established itself as the Cinderella of the tournament in the third round, as it became the first No. 15 seed in NCAA Tournament history to advance to the Sweet Sixteen with an 81-71 victory over No. 7 San Diego State. 

The triumph over the Aztecs stretched the Green and Blue’s win streak to seven games – a program D1 record – and improved them to 6-0 in March while becoming the first team since the 1987 Florida club to win its first two NCAA Tournament contests.

Stetson Women’s Basketball
The Stetson women's basketball team capped off their most successful season in school history with an amazing run through the Atlantic Sun Conference championship.

In the quarterfinals, Stetson's three all-conference performers combined for 53 points as the second-seeded Hatters survived a hard-fought battle with seventh-seeded ETSU 66-55.

Stetson then advanced to its third straight Atlantic Sun Conference championship game by defeating tournament host Mercer, 67-52, in the A-Sun semifinals.

In the title game, Stetson rallied from a 15-point second half deficit to shock top-seed and previously undefeated FGCU, 70-64, capturing the conference championship and the league's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

The Hatters were selected as a no. 14 seed and played third-seeded and 11th-ranked UCLA in the first round of the NCAA Championship in Columbus, Ohio. It was Stetson's third NCAA tournament appearance overall, and second in the last three years.

Stetson finished the season with a school-record 24 victories.

Britt Orashen, Jacksonville Women’s Lacrosse
Britt Orashen led the Jacksonville women’s lacrosse team to a dominating 5-1 record during the month of March. 

Behind the play of Orashen, the Dolphins outscored the opposition an average of 17.33 to 7.17 per game. The junior attack played a large role accounting for 15 goals, three assists, 24 ground balls, 20 draw controls and six caused turnovers. 

During the first ever A-Sun women’s lacrosse game on March 30 against Kennesaw State, she racked up four goals on five shot attempts while recording four ground balls and three draw controls.

Kristen Sturdivant, Lipscomb Softball
Sturdivant led the Lady Bisons in the month of March with a .419 batting average, which included five home runs and 13 runs batted in. She was pivotal in the three-game sweep of Florida Gulf Coast with her hitting and fielding.

For the month her slugging percentage was .837 and her on-base percentage was .510.

In the 7-5 win in the third game of the FGCU series, Sturdivant led all hitters with three hits, including a pair of solo home runs. She also led the Lady Bisons with three runs batted in.

Additionally, Sturdivant's nine total bases in the third game with FGCU on March 30 is the highest total base total in a conference game.

McKenzie Woody, Mercer Softball 
Woody batted .453 in the month of March with 34 hits in 22 games to lead the Bears, and currently leads the nation in hits (69). McKenzie also leads the A-Sun in hits, runs scored (42) and triples (4).

Woody has recorded 24 multi-hit games out of a possible 46 outings, and she is currently riding a six-game hitting streak.  She has also enjoyed a 13-game hitting streak.

As the Official Motivation and Apparel Brand of the Atlantic Sun Conference, Crons sponsors the monthly "Achiever Award" to recognize what A-Sun fans deem the most notable performance from each month.

The Crons Brand provides what it calls “high quality motivational apparel, merchandise, and accessories to inspire people to get better and constantly strive for their goals.” It also strives to reinforce positive messages to athletes about what it takes to be a winner and the importance of working harder than anyone else in order to reach their full potential.

Crons communicates this message through four separate product categories: Team Gear, Lifestyle Apparel, Nutritional Products, and School Programs. Crons is a national brand with its message-themed and motivational merchandise and apparel already in use by more than 500 schools and organizations in 25 states. 

Crons perpetuates its message through its Achievers Program, designed to teach students the importance of setting and achieving goals. The program focuses on fostering skills that will help young people set smart, measurable goals now and in the future – leading to academic, personal and professional success.