It will seem like a tale of two season’s for the Milligan College volleyball program.
Milligan announced their 2015 slate of games with a stretch of 11 straight road games followed by 12 straight home games. The program’s eighth annual Mountain Madness on Aug. 28 and 29 will kick off the fall season for the Lady Buffs.
The opening tournament looks to be a very competitive field of teams that will allow the Buffaloes to get where they need to be heading into the start of conference play only two days later against Tennessee Wesleyan College. Additionally, the Mountain Madness tournament will be one of four tournament-style settings the Buffaloes will play in this year.
With conference action taking up a bulk of the available dates, the Buffs were limited to the number of games they could play out of conference, but will still manage to take on strong opponents such as Dalton State University, University of the Cumberlands, Cumberlands University and King University.
Head Coach Doneva Bays said, “We are back to playing home and away in the conference, while last year we did a divisional schedule. We are back to 20 conference matches, which definitely puts a strain on our nonconference schedule, and adds a lot more travel.”
The bulk of this travel will be Sept. 5-29 as Milligan will play on the road in 11 straight matches before getting to play nine of the next 12 opponents at the Steve Lacy Fieldhouse on their home court.
Coach Bays added, “I think your goal is always to win at home, then win half of your games on the road. I feel like if we get those road games out of the way early, we will be in a better position for the final stretch when we need to be playing well going into the conference tournament.”
This year’s squad is hoping to finish in the top two of the Appalachian Athletic Conference. Coach Bays said, “We finished last year in third and only lost two seniors with six returning starters, so we feel like our foundation is probably the strongest it has been. This is probably the most veteran-experienced team that I have had in my time at Milligan. With the addition of our three new players, we feel like a conference championship is an achievable goal.”
Key returners to the 2015 unit will be senior setter and three-time All-Conference/All-Freshman selection Jessica Davenport (Cleveland, Tenn./Cleveland HS), All-Conference middle blocker Emilee Linkous (Morristown, Tenn./Morristown HS), All-Conference outside hitter Marissa Langford (Cleveland, Tenn./Cleveland HS) and Samantha Bruinius (Tinley Park, Ill./Chicago Christian HS).
Coach Bays also stressed the importance of defense on her squad this year. “I think a huge key for us will be in our defense. We will have Grace Ann Moorhouse and Jadin Foster returning to lead the defensive end. That puts us in a really strong position,” said Bays.
The newcomers on this year’s roster are Kylee Hardy (Sacramento City College), and freshmen Alyssa Rupert (Kingsport, Tenn./Sullivan Central HS) and Alora Ricker (Greeneville, Tenn./South Greene HS).
“Kylee will be one of our most impactful kids coming in, and will give us much needed depth in our setting position. She is capable of running a fast offense as well as being a great defender,” coach Bays said. “Next, Alyssa is a true defensive specialist whose effort and competiveness is hard to find these days. Lastly, Alora comes to us from UT-Chattanooga after taking a year off from volleyball, and I have been very impressed with her progress and feel she will contribute to our success this season.”
The Buffs will have 11 total returners this year to go with the three newcomers.
Milligan finished the 2014 season 19-17 overall, 10-4 in the AAC, and fell to eventual tournament champion Union College in the tournament semifinals. Milligan will get two chances to avenge the loss to Union this season on Sept. 8 as they travel to Barbourville, Kentucky, and on Nov. 3 as the host team.