Milligan soccer teams going for more than AAC tourney titles

from staff reports

   As November is quickly fading, the Milligan soccer season should be coming to a close, but not if the two teams can help it.
   The road has been long for both the women and men, but they have a chance to redeem the losses and upsets with the upcoming conference, regional, and possibly national tournaments.
   Lady Buffs coach David Dixon said, "Our season high has not happened yet because the playoff wins are going to be our greatest."
   The women's team experienced several lows this season, but Dixon stated: "They had to learn how hard they are capable of working and how well they are able to play together."
   Their schedule was ranked the toughest in the country and they were bringing in an unusual amount of new players, which does not add up to an easy start. They started their season off against top ranked Lee and suffered a 3-1 loss followed by another tough loss at home to Bethel.
   "Learning how to play consistently and as a team is what hurt us in the beginning," said Dixon.
   They were on the road a lot, playing four top 25 ranked teams. The Lady Buffs experienced only three-game winning streaks during the course of the season.
   "Our biggest winning streak is yet to come, we want to win six more games to make it to nationals," said Dixon. Their post season was led off by a win against Montreat, who they also beat in the regular season.
   The key to these last games will be the same as it has been all season long. "Bianca Spoto has had a lot of pressure on her this season and has responded well," said Dixon.
   Spoto, a senior striker, was named the national player of the week and just recently awarded first team all-conference. She has scored 23 of Milligan's 36 goals and also contributed 3 assists.
   Milligan's other first team all-conference player was junior sweeper Kim Morris who has played every minute of the Lady Buffs games.
   Morris had one goal and one assist and "her experience in the back helped with the team's overall shape and organization," said Dixon.
   The other recognized players were Jackie Goncalves and Laurie Selman on second team and Katie Caughell and Megan Elrod on third team. Conference opponents Union and Virginia Intermont also had six players each given this award. The buffs also sought help from players coming off the bench.
   "Players who have gotten less playing time than they would have liked stepped up with a great attitude and gave it their all in every minute they played," said Dixon.
   But coming away from the tough season with a record of 9-7 doesn't put the Lady Buffs out of a chance for nationals.
   "Even though we would like to go back and done enough to get an automatic bid to nationals, we did just enough to have a chance to win regionals and still have a chance for nationals," said Dixon. He concluded, "We have a lot of talented players and if we are consistent, I believe we can beat any team in the region."
   The men also had their share of troubles this year but are looking for revenge in the playoffs. They face Virginia Intermont today, who beat the Buffaloes in the regular season 3-2 on a controversial penalty kick.
   "The early losses showed that we weren't ready yet. It exposed our weaknesses and proved that we needed to work harder and be more disciplined," said Coach Shirley.
   The men went 12-7-1 in the regular season, suffering some tough losses when they were assured victory.
   "The lack of defense has been the story of our season. We didn't get the defense we wanted and it's hurt," said Shirley.
   The inexperience showed in the tie to Union, a team that hadn't won a game all season, and loss to Bryan 2-1.
   "All the losses hurt our points but the biggest one was to King. It really hurt our seat in conference, we have to beat the number one team now to continue conference play" explained Shirley. "When you score three or four goals a game that should be enough to win."
   But the Buffs seemed to pull it together towards the end of the season, ending with three big wins against tough opponents.
   "We definitely have gotten better at supporting and balancing each other on the field," said Shirley.
   The men were also hurt this season by injury but had several players step up in place. Junior Gabe Hillman tore his ACL early on in the regular season.
   "He played seven games and scored eight goals, we really missed his attacking ability," said Shirley.
   In place of Hillman Coach Shirley tried different combinations up top.
   "Junior Steven Townley stepped up to forward and scored six goals in three games," said Shirley. "We always look to Ali Mohamed to lead the team on the field."
   Mohamed was named first team all-conference along with Bryan Okumu and Steven Townley.
   "That's more than any other team in the conference," said Shirley, "which could be a positive thing or looked at negatively that we didn't step up and take advantage of the talent we had."
   The Milligan Buffs seem to be on a roll now, playing their best game in their regular-season finale against Tennessee Wesleyan and beating Covenant in the first round of playoffs.
   The men face Virginia Intermont on Friday and hope to continue playing well.
   Coach Shirley said, "Even with all the highs and lows, out of the seven years of coaching this has been the best group yet."