Area colleges: Lipscomb volleyball looks to continue memorable streak

Tuesday, October 26, 2010 at 10:38pm

How things have changed for the Lipscomb volleyball program.

Eight years ago, when Brandon Rosenthal took over as head coach, he didn’t have to think long and hard about when the last time Lipscomb had lost a match. That’s because the losses were a plenty.

Now, it is not so easy for Rosenthal to remember the last time Lipscomb lost, especially in Atlantic Sun Conference play. That’s because the wins are a plenty.

“It is kind of this neat feeling that we have really come full circle,” Rosenthal said. “We were at the bottom of the conference eight years ago. I know a lot can change in eight years but to go from the bottom and really to a dominant player in our conference is fun. It is fun for me because I have been on the other side of it. I know how hard not only me and my staff have worked but all the girls who have come through here and the current girls have (worked) to get to this point.”

The Bisons have won 30 straight regular-season league matches, dating back to Oct. 28, 2008. The defending Atlantic Sun regular-season and tournament champions will try to extend that streak this weekend when they host North Florida at 6:30 p.m. Saturday and Jacksonville at 2 p.m. Sunday. Both matches will be at Allen Arena.

Led by seniors Alex Kelly and Stefine “Jake” Pease, Lipscomb (16-6, 5-0) appears to be on track to reach its second straight NCAA Tournament and third in the last four years.

Kelly, the two-time defending conference player of the year, leads the league with 315 kills and 5.01 points per set. The middle blocker is tops on the team in digs (264) and blocks (55). Pease, the 2010 preseason conference player of the year, leads the Atlantic Sun with 845 assists.

“It is a luxury I am a lucky to have and lucky to be a part of right now,” Rosenthal said of his senior duo. “It would be hard to say which one of them is the best (on the team). I think they really work so well off of each other.”

• MTSU still in Sun Belt chase: The first six weeks of the 2010 football season for Middle Tennessee State was less than ideal.

The Blue Raiders were without starting quarterback Dwight Dasher for the first four games as he served an NCAA suspension for accepting a $1,500 loan. They were thumped 42-13 by Sun Belt powerhouse Troy and they lost four of their first six games.

But after a 38-10 victory against Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday, MTSU is not down and out. Quite the contrary -- with that win, the Blue Raiders are now 2-1 in Sun Belt play and still very much alive in the league championship race.

Troy sits atop the standings with a 3-0 mark in league play, Florida Atlantic is right behind at 2-0 and Middle Tennessee is in third. Every other team in the conference has at least two league losses.

“We are not in the driver’s seat. We got to get some help. Somebody has to knock off Troy,” MTSU coach Rick Stockstill said. “But we have a chance to still be in the thick of things as this season progresses."

Stockstill and the Blue Raiders (3-4) took some positives out of Saturday’s win. After giving up 42 points in two straight games, the defense didn’t allow a touchdown until the fourth quarter and held Louisiana-Monroe to minus-four rushing yards.

Dasher was 11-for-19 for 219 yards and two touchdowns. He also had 66 yards on the ground, putting him at 2,004 career rushing yards. He is just the 19th player in the FBS to have thrown for over 4,000 yards and run for more than 2,000 yards in his career.

It was his third game of the season and arguably the best of 2010 for the preseason conference player of the year. He got injured and wasn’t really a factor against Troy and he turned the ball over five times (four interceptions and a fumble) in a loss against Georgia Tech.

“He played better than he did the first two weeks. I think he is getting closer but he is not there yet,” Stockstill said. “He will be critical for us down the stretch. We have some good players around him. He just has to do a better job at protecting the football and become more consistent in everything he is doing.”

MTSU doesn’t play again until next Tuesday when it travels to Arkansas State for a 6 p.m. contest on ESPN2.

• Blue Raiders’ Adams earns volleyball honor: MTSU sophomore Ashley Adams earned her first Sun Belt Player of the Week award.

The outside hitter from San Luis Obispo, Calif. recorded 27 kills in two matches on Friday and Saturday. During a three-game win against Louisiana-Monroe she had 16 kills and four blocks. The next day she delivered 11 kills in a three-game victory over Louisiana-Lafayette.

The 6-foot-2 Adams and the Blue Raiders were 20-5 with n 11-1 conference mark – tops in the Sun Belt – as they entered Tuesday’s non-conference match at Georgia Tech.

• Trevecca’s France tabbed preseason player of the year: TranSouth Conference basketball coaches picked Trevecca Nazarene junior Michael France as the preseason player of the year.

The Shelbyville Central graduate averaged 17.1 points and 5.2 rebounds a game last year. The 6-foot-1, 170-pound wing player leads a Trojans team that was picked to finish third in the conference.

On the women’s side, two Trevecca Nazarene players earned all-conference recognition – London Elie and K.C. Van Atta. Ellie was named last year’s TranSouth Freshman of the Year and averaged nearly 10 points and six rebounds a game. Van Atta, a Mt. Juliet alum, was an NAIA All-American Honorable Mention selection last year. As a junior she averaged a team-high 12.8 points per game.

Trevecca was picked to finish third and Cumberland was picked to finish sixth. Union was projected to win the league title again.

• TSU squads picked to finish seventh, eighth in OVC: The Tennessee State men’s basketball team was picked to finish seventh in the Ohio Valley Conference by league coaches and sports information directors. The Tigers went 9-23 last season and return just four lettermen from last year.

Murray State, which reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament before losing to eventual national champion runner-up Butler, were picked to win the conference.

On the women’s side, Tennessee State was picked to finish eighth. The Tigers were 10-18 last year and lost four players from last year’s team. Eastern Illinois was picked to finish first in the OVC.