Friday, February 14, 2014

A-Sun Commissioner Ted Gumbart Takes Five to Share Thoughts On............

As A-Sun basketball eagerly marches toward its newly formatted championships, men's and women's basketball aren't the only sports seemingly positioned to bring success and recognition to the conference during the winter and spring seasons.
Anticipating that success along with taking a moment to enjoy what the A-Sun has already achieved in 2013-14, the A-Sun Insider sat down with Commissioner Ted Gumbart to get his thoughts on the following topics. Below are Commissioner Gumbart's thoughts on.......

......ESPN3 Video Initiative

TG: This whole project has been awesome. The schools have totally embraced it – our CEO’s strongly supported the investment in equipment to launch, the AD’s supported the expanded teamwork to add the productions, the coaches and players love the ESPN coverage, and the production teams are creating live ESPN programming! The quality and sophistication of the content our campus teams are outputting boggles my mind. To know our schools serve as production units for ESPN, that’s a great position for everyone in the A-Sun. 

We jumped in head first last year, before we even knew some of the answers to how we’d transmit and what equipment was needed to meet television standards. Now we’re well ahead of the curve; we’ve set standards that many others will be following – hopefully while we’re still moving forward ahead of them on the front end of the creative and technical wave! Matt Wilson has been the driving force from our office, and the campus producers need to get maximum credit here – Chad Pothoff at USC Upstate, Trevor Garrett at Lipscomb, Lisa Cherry at Kennesaw State, and Jeff Mayer at FGCU are carrying the load here – in championship fashion.

By year’s end we will have provided regular season and championship action to ESPN at a level quadrupling what we did before this initiative; including ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN3, ESPN Fullcourt and the WatchESPN app, we’re getting coverage that would have been impossible just a few years ago. This year we’ll reach record levels of television quality game distribution in volleyball, basketball, baseball and softball – all standards that we’ll smash next year as we provide unprecedented exposure for our student-athletes, teams, and the A-Sun member schools. As I said – awesome.

......Men’s and Women’s Basketball

TG: Conference play and following the races towards tournament time is the most exciting time of year for us. And with changes made to our tournament format, regular season play carries added importance. There’s no doubt that our “Bringing the Madness to You” approach has increased interest around the league, and that it will also bring record-setting attendance for the A-Sun basketball championships.

First-round games will all be played at the home site of the higher seeded teams. Fans will be rewarded for helping their teams succeed, and we’ll have the greatest level of fan involvement for every tournament game. The women’s semifinals and finals will be at one site – the highest seed remaining after quarterfinal play; on the men’s side we’ll play at the highest seeded home site through all rounds. That will guarantee maximum interest and attendance and coverage – and it rewards the teams that do well throughout the season. We’re approaching tournament time and the A-Sun is going to have a great two weeks of “madness.”

......Indoor Track and Field

TG: Indoor is our next A-Sun Championship, set for next week, and we are really excited about running at the JDL Fast Track, a state-of-the-art facility in Winston-Salem. We’ll see if a change in venue does anything to affect the juggernaut of the JU Dolphin women’s team. Coach Ron Grigg leads the most dominant dynasty in the history of the A-Sun – they’ve won eight straight championships. We’ve never given the Indoor Trophy to anyone else!

On the men’s side we’ll have a great competition and I think the setting will lead to conference records in many events. We have a number of student-athletes who we expect to compete in nationals, including Lipscomb's Tucker Peabody in track and Andre Dorsey from Kennesaw State in field. For the women, Jacksonville has 11 of the top performances out of the 17 events, along with North Florida (4), ETSU (1) and Lipscomb (1). Our championship is a great showcase for these and all of our talented track and field performers.


TG: A-Sun golf teams continue to make their mark nationally. We’re extremely proud of our recent success.  Last year was an historic season, including North Florida’s men claiming the NCAA Regional title in Tallahassee, Fla. This season A-Sun teams have already claimed eight different team titles and six teams – Mercer, Kennesaw State, ETSU, North Florida, FGCU and USC Upstate – rank in Golfweek’s current Top 100. Austin Padova (UNF), Edward Figueroa (FGCU) and Mercer's Emmanuel Kountakis and Hans Reimers have also won individual medalist honors this season.

Women’s teams have claimed four team titles and five standouts (Sami Khan and Miriam Parker – Lipscomb; Katy Harris and Mary Alice Murphy – Mercer; Briana Carlson - FGCU)  recorded first-place finishes in the fall of 2013. The most exciting shot in golf is no doubt the hole-in-one, and here, the A-Sun is tops. Freshman Allea Hawkins got it started in the fall, opening her collegiate career with aces in her first two tournaments. Reigning A-Sun Player and Scholar-Athlete of the Year Ines Lescudier (KSU) added one along with Jacksonville's Carlie Gelhausen. ETSU, Mercer and Stetson currently rank in the Top 100.


TG: When we talk lacrosse – it has to be about the continued growth. We debut men’s lacrosse this year, adding to the launch of women’s lacrosse last year. Both compete for NCAA automatic bids. We’ve formed a partnership with the Southern Conference for the future growth of the sport, and we continue to add new teams to the mix. Eventually we expect that both the SoCon and the A-Sun will sponsor both men’s and women’s lacrosse.

Jacksonville’s women claimed the inaugural title last year and started this year as  preseason favorites. The Dolphins have earned well-deserved recognition by receiving votes in the first Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association poll of the season. Additionally, Inside Lacrosse Magazine has named the Dolphins as one of the “sleeper teams” for the 2014 season.

An upcoming highlight in our debut men’s season also involves the JU Dolphins. Jacksonville hosts the upcoming Moe’s Southwest Grill Classic and faces No. 5 Notre Dame at 7 p.m. on Sunday on NBCSN.


TG: We couldn’t have asked for or scripted a much better beginning to the 2014 season. Through the first weekend of play were 32-12-1 (.722), posted an undefeated mark of 10-0-1 last Sunday, knocked off an NCAA participant and got a perfect game from USC Upstate’s Hannah Alexander. Four teams are still undefeated and nine of the 10 are .500 or better, that is a great start. 

Last year I thought we could have gotten two teams in, and with this type of success early, particularly against this level of non-conference opponents, I’m confident we can make this year a breakthrough season with multiple bids into the NCAA Championship. I am also excited about the inclusion of eight softball games into our ever-expanding ESPN3 schedule. We are rightfully proud of A-Sun softball, and it exciting to bring our top level teams more deserved attention and exposure.


TG: We get started tonight with six games and all 10 teams will begin play this weekend. Of course our openers will include ranked or NCAA Tournament teams. The A-Sun has a rich tradition of success in baseball and this season should bring more of the same national achievement. In fact, that achievement extends into professional play, as at the conclusion of the 2013 Major League Baseball season, 12 former student-athletes from Atlantic Sun teams saw playing time on a MLB roster with four reaching postseason play. 

Over the past 10 years we have had seven different champions. Plus we have had at least two teams in the NCAA Championship twice in the last three years, including three in 2011. Several of our players received Preseason All-America recognition, and our coaches are nationally recognized. In fact, Stetson Head Coach Pete Dunn was recently inducted into the ABCA Hall of Fame. I am eager to see how baseball wraps up the success that the A-Sun has already enjoyed this year and what is yet to come.


TG: Perennially we have teams and individuals that face many of the top teams and players in the nation. We have already seen that early in this season as well, with some of our own earning national rankings. ETSU's men’s squad holds steady in the national ranks at No. 67 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) rankings. The Bucs have claimed seven straight A-Sun Championships dating back to 2007.
Individually, FGCU's Jordi Vives is currently ranked 93rd in singles play and North Florida's doubles team of Yannick Zuern and Caio Gomes are 43rd according to the ITA.

......Sand Volleyball

The A-Sun continues to be a pioneer in the sport, as in 2012 the A-Sun was the first Division I conference to award a conference championship in the sport. The A-Sun was also the first conference to receive an automatic bid to the AVCA National Championship. North Florida has back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013, but the competition is getting stronger as along with champ UNF, the A-Sun also placed two pairs in the AVCA National Championship.

......Outdoor Track and Field

TG: We are just a couple of weeks away from the beginning of the outdoor season, and just as with outdoor, discussions are dominated by the Kennesaw State men and the Jacksonville women. The Owls have won four of the last men’s titles, and of course Jacksonville’s women have been phenomenal in their eight-year run. Again we are fortunate to host the championship at the first-class Hodges Stadium on the North Florida campus, a facility that truly showcases the A-Sun and its very talented student-athletes.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Stetson's Freshman Kutz Aims High for the Hatters

A total of four top-15 finishes – including three top 10s – in five tournaments would be a good beginning to the 2013-14 season for most golfers. 

It becomes an ever better inauguration to what could become an impressive season considering those results came in the first collegiate action for a true freshman. Now with a taste of success in her first few months of collegiate golf, Stetson’s Alessandra Kutz is ready for more. 

“I thought my first collegiate semester went really well,” said Kutz. “There were a couple of rounds that could have been better, but I really played well and developed a lot of confidence. In my first tournament particularly I played well and throughout the fall I realized that I could play college golf. 

“When we finished the fall schedule I didn’t want it to end. I am ready for the spring to begin. I think the biggest thing for me that came out of the fall is that I was able to develop some momentum. Importantly, I also realized that I am maturing mentally as well.” 

Kutz opened the season finishing tied for ninth in the 60-player field of the Golfweek Program Challenge, carding rounds of 73-77-70/220. She proceeded to record three more top-15 finishes, highlighted by her second-place finish in the Hatter Classic, also with a three-round total of 220. Her rounds of 72-76-72 helped Stetson claim its seventh consecutive title in the event. Her worst performance of the fall, a tie for 21st in the UNCG Starmount Fall Classic, was one in which she played while trying to overcome a case of food poisoning. She shot 224 (80-70-74) in the event. 

“I think Alessandra performed beyond expectation in the fall,” said Stetson Women's Golf Head Coach Floyd Kerr. “Her competitive background was good for her because she had a lot of success in junior golf and it helped her in the transition to the college game. You see that clearly, because as a freshman she leads the team in stroke average.” 

Along with leading her team, Kutz emerges from the fall 2013 season fifth in the A-Sun in stroke average at 74.21, checking in as one of only two freshmen in the top 10 of the conference.

Given Kutz’s success in high school and junior golf, she could have chosen a number of places to play collegiately. She was a four-time winner of the Florida Women's State Golf Association (FWSGA) Junior Girls Championship, taking the title in 2004, 2007, 2009 and 2010. Kutz also captured four Florida Junior Tour events in her career and qualified for the US Girls Junior championship in 2010 as well as the US Women's Amateur in 2012. Yet Stetson was a fit for several reasons. 

“I love the small campus, as I consider myself to be very shy and I like having that close-knit community,” said Kutz. “I also like the fact that Coach Kerr is always there for us, but yet he makes us be independent and puts it on us to get it done. He is very positive, which is good for me because I can get down on myself quickly because of my high expectations. He is not critical, and he helps us understand our games and what it takes to improve them. Then he puts it on us to do that. 

“Then of course Stetson is close to home (30 minutes from Sanford, Fla.) and it gives me a good balance that while I am not at home, I am close enough to be there when I want to be.” 

Kutz’s ability and the intangibles that she possesses often make for memorable players, and she embraces the inevitable comparisons to a former Hatter and one of the A-Sun’s most decorated women’s golfers, Alexandra Buelow. 

“I was most familiar with the A-Sun because of Alex Buelow, who was a great player in the A-Sun and here at Stetson,” Kutz recalls. “In fact, she has been a real inspiration to me."

Buelow was the 2010 A-Sun Freshman of the Year, the 2012 Scholar-Athlete of the Year, and was a three-time A-Sun Player of the Year (2010, 2011, 2012) and three-time A-Sun All-Conference selection.

“I have known about her since I was about nine or 10, as I would play in tournaments a few of years behind her. I would see all of the trophies from those events with her name on them, and since then I have wanted to achieve her caliber of play and win as much as she did. Now that I have been through a semester I understand what she was able to accomplish, because there are some really good golfers and teams in this league. And, like her,I want to be the A-Sun Freshman of the Year.” 

Kerr says that while it is a bit early to begin the comparisons to one of his star pupils, he does acknowledge Kutz’s potential to reach Buelow’s status before concluding her career. 

“Alessandra has a lot of confidence, she has clearly defined goals and is one who is good about finding the course for practice,” said Kerr. “She wants to be good, and she has the intangibles to be good. I believe that she has the ability and the ethic to be as good or better than Alexandra Buelow by the end of her career here.”

Kutz's other intangibles such as her ability in the classroom, her character, and her communication skills also led Kerr to award the freshman the Babs Steffens Endowed Scholarship. Kutz keeps in regular communication with Steffens, a former player and longtime supporter of Stetson Women's Golf, who now also has her name associated with the program's fundraising tournament on February 24 at Victoria Hills Golf Club. For at least the next three years, the event will be known as the Babs Steffens Hatter Cup, named in honor of one of the pioneers in women’s collegiate golf at Stetson University.

So after five events where does the freshman see her game in comparison to her peers? 

“I feel like I don’t really do one thing better than another, but rather I do everything well enough,” she said. “I guess I am best off the tee, because I do not like missing fairways. I feel like if you begin the hole well, then you can finish well.” 

Kerr also knows that she could have played better in the fall, but appreciates Kutz’s ability and her willingness to do what it takes to make her and her team better. 

“She is a hard worker, probably one of the top three hardest working players I have ever had here in my eight years at Stetson,” Kerr continued. "And just as importantly, she is all-in for Stetson, and she believes in good team goals as well as her own. 

“Individually, good players find a way around the course when they are not playing particularly well, and she has that knack. It is an ability that separates players at this level.” 

Part of a team seemingly blessed with experience and undiscovered talent, Kutz would like to make her freshman season even more memorable by helping the Hatters return to the top of the conference. 

“I definitely think the A-Sun title is a legitimate goal for us,” said Kutz. “We have a team of five experienced seniors with a couple of freshmen who expect to make an impact. We have not yet peaked as a team together, and I think each one of us knows what it would mean is we were able to accomplish that at the right time.” 

Kerr, guardedly at this point in the season, echoes much of the Kutz’s sentiment. “As a team we had good rounds in the fall and played solid golf, but not as good as we can put together. We have the ability to have a better spring and the potential is there for us to be one of the better teams in the conference. 

“Our team chemistry is pretty good, because they sort of feed off one another. Things are very competitive right now, as we have experience back with five seniors along with a pair of talented freshmen. I think they are beginning to realize we could have something special here.”