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Monthly Archives: January 2016

McKenzie Twins Will Finish Close in Bethany Volleyball History

By Justin Zackal

Dylana_McKenzie_Action_WJ_2015

Bethany’s Dylana McKenzie.

Twin sisters Dakota and Dylana McKenzie have always been really close to each other. As volleyball teammates since the third grade, the former wombmates were roommates during their first two years at Bethany College.

Now, there’s slight separation during their junior years.

Dakota is rooming with teammate Allie Powell in the Zeta Tau Alpha sorority house, yeah, but Dylana is living right across the hall. Dylana ranks fourth in Bethany history with 1,192 career kills, yeah, but Dakota is right there with 1,093 and she averages more kills per set.

“I always tell her that’s only because I hurt my shoulder freshman year and she knows that it’s not because she’s so much better than me,” said Dakota, reciting the rebuttal that fuels their sibling rivalry.

Dakota averages 3.02 kills per set in her career, compared to Dylana’s 2.90. If it weren’t for the nine matches Dakota missed because of a partially torn bicep, they’d be within 10 kills of each other. They will enter their senior years in 2016 approaching Lauren Spegal’s easily reachable school record of 1,289 kills from 2004-07.

“We’ve always had a rivalry,” Dylana said. “Even in high school, I broke our aunt’s record and Dakota was really close to being right there with me. It’s definitely a big joke, I’m like ‘Oh, I had more kills this season,’ and Dakota’s like ‘Oh, I had a better hitting percentage.’ We definitely get at each other with that stats stuff.”

The McKenzie twins are more agreeable when making their college choice, although Dakota liked Bethany first and did more of the talking.

Bethany's Dakota McKenzie

Bethany’s Dakota McKenzie

“I’m more outgoing than her, so I’m easier to talk to in some sense,” Dakota said. “The choice was easy; we both agreed that we both liked it here, we both liked the program and we both liked the coaches. I never thought I was going to college and playing volleyball without her.”

“We are a package deal,” Dylana said. “It would’ve been horrible to go somewhere else and play without her. As long as we were playing volleyball together I was going to be happy.”

Both 6-foot-3 outside hitters from Hopewell, Ohio, the McKenzies have built impressive resumes. Dylana was first-team all-PAC each of the last three seasons, while Dakota, a second-team all-PAC pick in 2015, was first team in 2014 and received an honorable mention for the all-region team. The Bison are 87-34 (.719) since their arrival and they were PAC finalists in 2013 and 2015.

Their “rivalry” has made each other better. They reciprocate advice with everything from volleyball technique to the technicalities of college life.

“We are really critical about each other,” Dylana said. “(On the court) it’s really serious. We want to help each other as much as possible.”

“(Off the court) it definitely makes everything a lot easier having somebody there for you the whole time,” Dakota said. “We do almost everything together.”

That will last one more year. In addition to differences in personalities, the twins have different career goals and majors, Dylana in social work/psychology and Dakota in accounting.

“I would say outside of volleyball interest, we are totally opposites,” Dylana said. “But we complement each other very well.”

Dakota and Dylana have played volleyball together for 15 years and no matter what happens in their final year in 2016, or no matter who finishes with the most kills or better hitting percentage, one thing is certain: they’ll be close.

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Photo Gallery: Geneva at Chatham (by Kristen Gore)

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Two Bowl Wins Propel PAC Football Teams Into Offseason

By Justin Zackal

Last week concluded the second season in which all divisions of college football held tournaments to decide champions, but that doesn’t mean bowl games are becoming obsolete.

There were 38 bowl games featuring Division I teams not part of the College Football Playoff. Division III schools in the northeast affiliated with the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC), including eight from the PAC, also have the opportunity to play in one of six bowl games each year.

The 2015 season marked the first time that the ECAC hosted all of its bowl games at one location, at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, Conn., Nov. 20-22. It was also the first year PAC teams won two bowl games.

Carnegie Mellon (8-3) defeated Bridgewater State, 48-13, in the Legacy Bowl on Nov. 21, and Westminster (9-2) beat St. John Fisher, 42-21, in the James Lynah Bowl. Last year, PAC teams Waynesburg and Bethany lost in ECAC bowl games held on host team’s campuses. Previous ECAC bowl winners from the PAC included Waynesburg in 2012 and Washington & Jefferson in 2010.

Carnegie Mellon celebrates its Legacy Bowl win.

“Anytime you earn an opportunity for postseason play, I think it’s a big morale booster for your program,” said Carnegie Mellon head coach Rick Lackner, whose school remains affiliated with University Athletic Association after joining the PAC two years ago as a football-only member. “The whole atmosphere of being selected to what was available to a large number of teams, you feel honored to be selected and the represent the UAA, the PAC and certainly Carnegie Mellon University in a postseason game.”

Granted, it’s a consolation for teams not part of the 32-team NCAA Division III Championship tournament, but the ECAC bowls give 12 teams a chance to end the season on a positive note and build momentum for future inclusion in the NCAA field.

“It’s a steppingstone,” said Lackner, who in 29 seasons as head coach led the Tartans to six postseasons berths, including four ECAC bowls and a two NCAA playoff berths. “It’s also a positive thing in terms of recruiting and it’s a positive thing in terms of going into the offseason (training).”

CMU travels more than most teams, scheduling UAA schools in Chicago and St. Louis, but the Tartans rarely play in New England, which happens to be where sophomore running back Sam Benger is from (Hingham, Mass.). Benger was named Most Outstanding Player of the Legacy Bowl after rushing for 190 yards and four touchdowns on 34 carries. Benger became the 21st player in Division III history to rush for 2,000 yards in a season (2,092).

Bowl games don’t just lift the perception of the program in the eyes of current players and recruits.

Westminster after its James Lynah Bowl victory.

Westminster after its James Lynah Bowl victory.

“The benefit was the alumni, to give the football alumni something,” said Westminster second-year head coach Scott Benzel. “There’s so much tradition, so much history here. It gave (our team) an opportunity to say, ‘Hey, look, we won something.’ That was the biggest benefit of playing in a postseason game, to make sure that that alumni knows that we are on the right track.”

Westminster won six national championships as an NAIA school from 1970-1994, but this year’s team went 9-2 for the Titans’ most wins, and third winning record, since they joined the NCAA in 1998.

The future looks bright for the Titans. A pair of sophomores, quarterback Paul Columbo and running back Dominique McKinley, helped the Titans rack up 431 total yards in their bowl win. Columbo threw for 203 yards and two touchdowns and McKinley rushed for 114 yards and a score.

Tournament play may mean there’s only one winner and every other team enters the offseason disappointed, but for Carnegie Mellon and Westminster, their success in bowl games will lead to many wins during the offseason. You can call them “morale victories.”

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Car Accident, Several Injuries Haven’t Stopped Thiel’s Hannah Stoneman

By Justin Zackal

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Thiel senior forward Hannah Stoneman.

At 8 o’clock in the morning on November 25, 2011, Hannah Stoneman was sound asleep after spending the predawn hours finding Black Friday shopping deals. She just happened to be in her green Honda Civic, in the driver’s seat, crossing the centerline of a busy highway near her home in Berlin, Ohio, and in the direction of a large utility van.

“It was the worst way to wake up ever,” Stoneman said. “I hit him head-on and kind of just spun my car around. My car was facing the other direction and my dash was like on top of me.”

Not known to have lapses of consciousness, Stoneman was scheduled to have her wisdom teeth extracted later that afternoon and was without food or water for 12 hours to prepare for the procedure, attributing to the accident.

“I just remember waking up and first thinking I can move my toes, so thank the Lord I’m not paralyzed,” said Stoneman, who had to be removed from the car by emergency responders with the Jaws of Life. “That was one of the first thoughts I had. It was really scary.”

Stoneman’s injuries were not life threatening. However, instead of having dental surgery that afternoon, Stoneman underwent emergency knee surgery on her patella tendon.

She was already sitting out that basketball season, her senior year at Hiland High School, because of chronic back spasms and two bulging discs. With six months to recover from the knee surgery, Stoneman’s basketball career would most certainly be over.

Four years, another knee injury and a fractured ankle later, Stoneman is currently a senior forward on the Thiel College basketball team, averaging 7.6 points and 5.2 rebounds and, most importantly, playing in all 13 of the Tomcats’ games this year.

Stoneman averages 7.6 ppg and leads Thiel with 67 rebounds.

Stoneman averages 7.6 ppg and leads Thiel with 67 rebounds.

“My main goal is to not get hurt, so that would be really awesome to go a whole season without getting a serious injury,” said Stoneman, who missed parts of her freshman year with a knee bone bruise and last year with a chip fracture in her ankle. “It was just really neat that I could come back and help the team and contribute, because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to contribute in the first place.”

With her basketball future in serious doubt after the car accident, Stoneman said she was depressed until Angie Zeuch, Thiel’s coach at the time, expressed interest.

“She had called me and was like, ‘Would you be interested in playing?,’” Stoneman recalled. “I said, ‘I don’t think you want me, I have this huge knee brace and I’m on crutches,’ and she was like, ‘No, if you can push through that and do some therapy and recover then we would love to have you on the team.’ So once I knew someone had some kind of interest in me still, that was very motivational.”

Doing therapy takes up much of Stoneman’s time, at least an hour a day, including ice baths, heat and electrical stimulation. She fondly calls Thiel’s athletic trainers her “best friends,” including Joe Zidar, who’s worked with her since her freshman year. Stoneman is likely the student-athlete in the PAC who’s had the most treatment over a four-year span.

Is it worth it?

“It’s definitely worth it,” Stoneman said. “It’s a lot of work and my body probably hates me, but I love my team and coaches (Rob Clune and Rianne Thornton).”

To hear more about Stoneman’s story, tune in to the PAC Sports Network’s broadcast of the Thiel-Grove City game on Saturday, January 16, at 1 p.m. Stoneman will be interviewed by the PAC Sports Network’s Randy Gore at halftime. Also, find out which family member of Stoneman’s played professional basketball and who she thinks is the better player.

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New Thiel Football Coach Has Common Bond With PAC Coaches

By Justin Zackal

blumeThiel119-1Dan Blume is the newest head football coach in the PAC, hired by Thiel College last month. However, three other head coaches in the PAC already claim a few of Blume’s seemingly distinctive qualities. The 31-year-old Blume is young and he played linebacker at Division III college powerhouse Mount Union (’06) after starring at Plum High School (’02) in Pittsburgh.

In the early 1990s, Washington & Jefferson’s Mike Sirianni played for Mount Union while Westminster’s Scott Benzel was playing at Plum. Blume won’t even be the youngest head college coach in Mercer County, let alone the PAC, as Andrew DiDonato, 28, is taking over at Grove City next year.

“I’ve had conversations with (Benzel and Sirianni) already,” said Blume, who is in his fourth week on the job. “Knowing some of the guys makes it more exciting and challenging.”

Benzel reached out to Blume to congratulate him and offer advice. Benzel was once the new, young coach in the PAC just two years ago.

“I just told him to be himself,” Benzel said. “He’ll do a great job. You have to be patient, which is hard. For young guys, that’s always the hardest thing.”

“He gave me a forewarning that the first couple months are the hardest,” Blume said. “The most surprising thing (with) taking on the position is the whirlwind of the meetings and the phone calls and things you have to do that are so much more administrative. You’re never quite prepared for it or realize it as an assistant coach becoming a head coach for the first time.”

Though Westminster and Thiel won’t face each other in conference play next year, the two coaches are making arrangements (see administrative duties) to scrimmage in the preseason the next few years.

Separated by nine years at Plum, Blume remembers as a youngster watching Benzel’s teams play. Also, coincidentally, Benzel played in college at Mercyhurst University where Blume coached for four years as linebackers coach, including the last two as special teams/recruiting coordinator.

Other notable Plum alumni in the coaching ranks include Mike Miller, the former Arizona Cardinals offensive coordinator who recently held that role at Edinboro University in 2014, and John Wojciechowski, who’s in his fourth season as a college scout for the Green Bay Packers.

While there is familiarity with the rest of the conference, Blume is most comfortable with his new colleagues at Thiel.

“The best thing about the job so far is the people and that’s the main reason why I took the job,” said Blume, who hasn’t spent much time with the players because of the semester break, but he mentioned several school administrators and staff. “They’ve welcomed me and adapted well with change.”

Blume has many challenges ahead, taking over a program that went 15-55 in the last seven seasons under Kurt Reiser, including Reiser’s best record of 4-6 last year.

“The biggest challenge is going to be getting the guys to believe that we can win,” Blume said. “That’s the biggest obstacle in year one, then down the road we’ve got to do a good job of recruiting and retaining and developing our players. They just had to play so many young guys here the last few years. They haven’t had a chance to really develop guys and bring them along.”

Thiel won the PAC with a record of 11-1 in 2005. If Blume can return the Tomcats to that type of success then that will certainly be his ultimate distinction among the league’s coaches.

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