College of Coastal Georgia’s first season in The Sun Conference was a productive one on the field and courts. Mariner squads made their presence known in league tournaments, and the men’s and women’s conference tournament was held at Coastal’s Martha B. Torrey Tennis Complex.

The change was just as beneficial off the field. Sun Conference schools are geographically closer to Coastal than schools in the Southern States Athletic Conference. That meant less time on the bus and more time in class for the athletes.

“It was a relief, not just for me but for the kids that have been through it before,” said Coastal women’s basketball coach Roger Hodge on not having to take long bus rides to Louisiana and Mississippi like the Mariner squads had to do in the SSAC.

“The biggest thing is the classroom time that you don’t miss by being able to take those shorter trips. Our team GPA has improved by a point and that’s not the only factor, but I think it is a factor.”

CCGA softball coach Mike Minick also appreciated the shorter trips during the season.

“None of our trips were that long compared to what we were used to in the Southern States,” Minick said. “It made things a lot easier. We didn’t have to miss as much class time, (and) we weren’t on the road as much.”

For Hodge, the lack of long trips was also an advantage on the court. A shorter ride meant a shorter time his players were just sitting on the bus before playing.

“It obviously takes a little bit of an edge off when you don’t have to travel quite that far,” Hodge said. “The best comparison is anytime you take a long trip, you get out exhausted and you want to go in and sit down or go to bed. These kids have to get off their butts and go play. It’s a challenge, but it’s worth the opportunity to play college basketball.”

Both coaches praised the level of competition in The Sun Conference.

For Hodge, the switch meant facing against one of the best women’s hoops teams in the entire NAIA in Southeastern University. The Fire advanced the quarterfinals

“We had the team that was basically No. 1 all year in the whole country in our conference,” Hodge said. “They were a tremendous basketball team along with some of the others.”

“The Southern States was maybe a little deeper, but the top end of our league was definitely comparable to the top end of the Southern States. Southeastern’s obviously as good as anyone in any league. All leagues are different in that nature.”

Having played a lot of Sun Conference teams in the past, Minick new the competition would be up to par with what the Mariners were used to facing.

“It’s a very competitive conference,” Minick said. “We knew it was as good a conference as (the SSAC). We knew it would be tough and it was. We had played most of those teams in non-conference games so we knew most of the teams.

“The competition is great and the travel is less, and the kids like playing in Florida. The weather is usually really nice so it’s been great all-around softball size.”

The 2018-19 athletic year will be arriving soon for Coastal. The Mariner volleyball team begins its season Aug. 17 when it hosts the Mariner Invitational.

With Year 2 in The Sun around the corner, Minick is hoping his squad will put last year’s tough losses behind them.

“We were as good as the team that won a lot more games the year before, but we lost 12 one-run games this year,” Minick said. “We just got to get a little better in a lot of different things.

For Hodge, who’s team reached The Sun Tournament semifinals, he’s hoping to build off the success of last season.

“It was a good year for our program specifically,” Hodge said. “Our kids have done a tremendous job. The new kids are starting to move us forward. It was an exciting year for us. We did a lot of good things, and it was a building block for the future.”

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