By DON McCORMACK - firstname.lastname@example.org
Taking the shutters off the variety store windows for a day...
Wherever Tom Church’s path takes him along the tournament trail, success seems to follow.
Still the top assistant and the man in charge of recruiting at Florida Southern College, Church and head coach Linc Darner will lead the top-seeded Moccasins into the Division II men’s South Regional Tournament, which tips off Saturday.
Florida Southern (24-5), champions of the Sunshine State Conference, are the top-seeded squad in the tournament, which will be held on its home hardwood.
Church, a 1998 Conneaut High School graduate and the son of Tom and Jan Church of Conneaut, joined on at Florida Southern in mid-September 2010.
At FSC, he rejoined Darner, who was an assistant coach at Ashland University during Church’s playing days there. Church earned four letters at Ashland, serving as team captain in 2003, a season in which he earned Intercollegiate Athletic Conference recognition. At Ashland, where Darner was an assistant from 1998-2002, Church made 104 3-pointers, shooting 38 percent beyond the arc.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in education in 2003 and later earned his MBA from the school in 2006.
Church returned to Conneaut and served as varsity basketball coach at his alma mater in 2004-05 and 2005-06.
As a Spartan, he was first-team All-Ohio as a senior in 1997-98, leading coach Kent Houston’s squad to a 19-1 regular season and a Northeastern Conference championship, earning first-team All-Ohio recognition.
He departed Conneaut and headed to St. Joseph’s College in Indiana (the collegiate alma mater of Jefferson football coach Jimmy Henson), where he spent three seasons as an assistant coach. During that span, the Pumas went 53-37, playing in the NCAA Tournament in 2007-08 and 2009-10, pulling three consecutive upsets of higher-seeded squads in 2010 to reach the Division II Elite Eight as a No. 8 seed.
Since hanging his hat at Florida Southern, the Moccasins have posted a record of 67-24 (.736).
This season marks the second SSC championship for FSC in his three seasons where, having now made the NCAA Division II Tournament in all three campaigns, advancing to the second round in 2010-11.
As the top-seeded squad in the South Regional, bigger things are expected of the Moccasins this time around.
They will begin play Saturday against No. 8 seed North Alabama (19-8) at 6 p.m. A win in that matchup will send FSC into the semifinals Sunday at 7:30 p.m. against the winner of a first-round clash between No. 4 seed Saint Leo (21-7) and No. 5 seed Rollins (19-10), both of which are members of the SSC. Saint Leo handed the Moccasins two of their five losses this season, sweeping the regular-season series, 71-63 on Jan. 9 at Saint Leo and 79-75 in the rematch Feb. 13 at FSC.
The regional championship game will be played Tuesday at 7 p.m.
The 10th-ranked Moccasins, who are making its sixth consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament, were also awarded the right to host the eight-team South Regional at Jenkins Fieldhouse. It will mark 10th time in school history and the first time since 2009 that Florida Southern has hosted an NCAA Division II Regional Tournament. In 2009, the Mocs advanced to the championship game where they fell to Christian Brothers, 82-72.
Church and his wife, Jennifer, reside in Lakeland, Fla.
Area spring sports coaches and athletic directors are reminded that your respective preseason information sheets are due back here in our office no later than one week from Friday — on March 22.
McCormack is the sports editor of the Star Beacon. Reach him at email@example.com.