Monthly Archives: November 2016

PAC Men’s Basketball Preview: More Competitive League Aims to Dethrone Saint Vincent

By Justin Zackal


Saint Vincent celebrating its 4th consecutive PAC title last season.

Saint Vincent won the PAC men’s basketball title the last four years, so when it came time for the league’s coaches to pick a favorite in the 2016-17 preseason poll, it was last year’s runner up, Thomas More, that was anointed. Even though the Saints return a girth a talent, they are still a young team with just one senior.

Is it a bad thing to have such lofty expectations so soon for a young team?

“It’s a good thing in terms of a cumulative effect,” said Drew Cooper, Thomas More’s fourth-year head coach. “If it were a more immature, naive group, I would be more concerned about it than I am.”

Cooper said his team is approaching the season the same way as every other team in the league. Well, that is, except one.

“Saint Vincent is the defending champion, the four-time defending champion,” Cooper said. “To look at it any other way would be a mistake because champions need to be dethroned. Our goal for the season is the same goal as the other nine teams, that is try to dethrone a four-time champion.”

Still, each team has its own set of circumstances. So here’s a look at the cards dealt for the 10 PAC teams in order of predicted finish in the coaches’ poll, followed by a parting shot from Cooper about why the PAC will be a much better conference this year.

THOMAS MORE (17-11, 12-6 PAC in 2015-16)
Injuries last year allowed several returning players to gain valuable experience. Thomas More returns nine of its top 10 scorers and seven players who started at least 13 games, led by junior forward/center Simon Clifford (14.2 ppg) and junior guard Daniel Williams (13.7), a pair of all-PAC selections. Cooper will likely rotate starting lineups, but look for Clifford at post, sophomore Damion King (8.3) at point guard and junior Austin Young (6.2) at forward, Williams or sophomore Ryne Callahan (8.4) at guard and senior Sawyer Pauly (6.5) or Brandon Horne (9.5) at shooting forward.

“I feel more prepared coming into this year because I have young men coming in with experience that they wouldn’t have otherwise had,” Cooper added.

SAINT VINCENT (22-7, 15-3)
The Bearcats lost their top five scorers from last year but they return a pair of starters, both named Austin and both forwards, senior Austin Ford (5.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg) and junior Austin Dedert (5.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg).

“Austin Ford from Saint Vincent is a man-child and someone that each opponents’ interior defense is going to have to really battle to contain,” Cooper said.

BETHANY (17-10, 12-6)
Bethany advanced to the PAC semifinals last year, despite first-year head coach Nick Hager not inheriting many scorers from the previous season. There will be greater expectations this year as all five starters are back, led by senior guard Antonio Rudolph (12.1 ppg, PAC-best 82. rpg), a first-team all-PAC selection, junior guard Calique Jones (13.3 ppg) and junior forward Andrew Williams (11.3 ppg).

Noting how Bethany developed into a team that can score in many different ways, Cooper said that Bethany “can turn a 10-point deficit into a four-point lead in a click of a button.”

WESTMINSTER (10-18, 8-10)
Last year, the Titans improved by five PAC wins, including a win over Thomas More, and they upset second-seeded Grove City to advance to the PAC semifinals. They return four starters including their top two scorers, junior guard Brandon Domenick (11.3 ppg) and junior forward Jarret Vrabel (10.0).

“Our three main focuses this year is defense, not turning the ball over, and free throws,” said Westminster head coach Kevin Siroki.

THIEL (12-14, 10-8)
Thiel graduated two of the PAC’s top six scorers (and 45 percent of its team’s points) in Luke Kochka and Khari Bess. The Tomcats return two starters, led by junior forward Clandell Cetoute (8.9 ppg, 6.9 rpg), as they look to improve on a 10-win PAC season, the most since going 13-3 in 2011-12.

GROVE CITY (18-9, 13-5)
Head coach Steve Lamie turned a 13-loss PAC team in 2014-15 into a school-record 13 conference wins last year. The Wolverines, who also won 18 games overall for the most regular season wins since 1988-89, return two starters this year, junior forwards Cory Huff and Andrew Beckman, who both averaged 10.3 points per game last year.

WAYNESBURG (10-16, 10-8)
Two years removed from a runner-up finish in the PAC, the Yellow Jackets placed fifth and lost to last year’s finalist, Thomas More, in the quarterfinals. Waynesburg returns just one starter this year, junior forward Jon Knab (8.7 ppg).

GENEVA (5-21, 5-13)
Geneva had two of the league’s top three scorers last year in Ethan Adamczyk (18.3 ppg) and Chaese Vaudrin (17.3), but the Golden Tornadoes were just eighth in the PAC in team scoring (66.8). Adamczyk graduated but Vaudrin is back for his senior year along with junior Jimmy Leichliter (13.0).

“This season was a season that had games of runs,” said Geneva head coach Jeff Santarsiero after the GTs lost to Chatham in the PAC tournament. “All teams in America go through these kinds of years.”

CHATHAM (5-22, 4-14)
After beating Geneva in the first round, the Cougars lost to Saint Vincent in the quarterfinals to end Chatham’s inaugural season of men’s basketball. All five starters are back, led by sophomore Alex Schoppen (11.3). The other four had scoring averages between 9.0 and 9.9.

W&J’s leading scorer, junior guard Brian Graytok (15.7 ppg), is back as the Presidents’ rebuild continues under second-year head coach Ethan Stewart-Smith.

All the programs in the PAC should see improvement this year, making the league more competitive.

“It helps our conference that there was no coaching turnover,” Cooper added. “It wouldn’t surprise me to see four or five losses win the thing. It’s going to be an evenly played conference season.”


PAC Women’s Basketball Preview: Narrowing the Gulf

By Justin Zackal

Thomas More celebrating the 2015-16 National Championship.

Thomas More celebrating the 2015-16 National Championship.

There’s a gulf between the Thomas More women’s basketball team and the rest of the Presidents’ Athletic Conference. The reigning national champion Saints rolled to another conference crown last year, while outscoring PAC opponents by an average of nearly 50 points per game in the process.

Somewhere between Thomas More and the shoreline of the PAC field is Washington & Jefferson, which tied a school record with 24 wins last year after three straight 21-win seasons. Is the gap between W&J and Thomas More or W&J and the rest of the PAC narrowing entering the 2016-17 season?

Well, both W&J and Thomas More lost its best players from last year, all-PAC first-teamers Beka Bellhy and Sydney Moss, respectively. Moss was a three-time Division III National Player of the Year who averaged 22.1 points per game last year.

“You go into those games with Sydney Moss and you’re thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s nothing we can do,’” said W&J head coach Jina DeRubbo. “At least that 20-point intimidation factor may be gone right off the bat. I’m sure Thomas More is going into the season with everything to prove that they are more than just Sydney Moss, which I always thought that to be true anyway. But I think some of that wow-factor in terms of players’ perceptions will be diminished a little bit.”

Let’s raise the periscope from the gulf of the PAC for a peek at each team’s outlook.


THOMAS MORE (33-0, 18-0 PAC in 2015-16)
Yes, there will still be an intimidation factor, but instead of 20 points from one player it will be at least 40 points spread across Thomas More’s three returning starters in juniors Nikki Kiernan (13.4 ppg) and Abby Owings (15.0) and sophomore Madison Temple (11.4).

“We’re trying to figure out some holes we’ve got to fill (with the players we lost) and where our new pieces fit in and how we can replace the scoring, the rebounding and the leadership,” said Thomas More head coach Jeff Hans.

There was still more than a 30-point average gap between W&J and Thomas More in three meetings last year, including a 93-74 Saints win in the PAC championship game.

However, W&J returns four starters, including juniors Amirah Moore (10.2 ppg) and Rachel Bellhy (9.3), Beka’s sister who scored in double figures 13 times after becoming a starter midseason. The Presidents also focused on a specific area to win more games this year.

“We set some goals this year to be a better defensive team,” DeRubbo said. “That’s something we spent an enormous amount of time on in the preseason.”

SAINT VINCENT (15-13, 8-10)
The Bearcats were PAC runners up two years ago with a 22-5 record, but they’ll easily rebound from last year with all five starters returning, including four senior starters led by Mara Benvenuti (13.3 ppg) and Susie Ellis (12.1).

“Saint Vincent should have a really good year,” DeRubbo said. “They have most of their people back.”

WAYNESBURG (15-14, 11-7)
DeRubbo mentioned Waynesburg as a tough matchup because the Yellow Jackets shoot a lot of threes (24.3 attempts per game, making 31 percent) and they have second-team All-PAC forward Addy Knetzer (14.4 ppg, 9.1 rpg) who can dominate a game.

GROVE CITY (13-13, 11-7)
The Wolverines improved by one PAC win last year, but it marked their first back-to-back winning conference seasons in 13 years. Junior forward Lexie Arkwright (13.3 ppg) is back to try to make it three straight.

CHATHAM (11-16, 6-12)
The Cougars’ overall record last year tied for their best mark since 2009-10 and they doubled their PAC win total from the previous year. Sophomore guard Katelyn Sieg (11.0 ppg) returns.

BETHANY (8-18, 6-12)
Bethany has a new coach in Brian Sansom, who inherits four players who started at least 10 games last year, including senior guard Hayley Holenka (14.1 ppg) and junior forward Kelsea Dougherty (13.4). Six-foot-three senior forward Dakota McKenzie joins the team after starring for the PAC-champion Bison volleyball team.

GENEVA (9-17, 6-12)
The Golden Tornadoes won five more games last year than they did the previous season, but that kind of overcoming adversity is nothing compared to head coach Lori Wynn’s battle with cancer following an offseason diagnosis. Geneva will look to rally around its coach as the team returns four of its top five scorers, led by sophomore guard Callie Ford (10.4 ppg).

WESTMINSTER (4-21, 4-14)
Opposing coaches, including DeRubbo, typically identify Westminster as a team that “always plays really hard” and that “they are tough and scrappy and defensively they get after it.” But the Titans just haven’t been able to score many points, ranking last in the PAC in scoring average the last two years with 55.3 and 52.7, respectively. Junior forward Kristine Fromknecht is the top returner (10.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg).

THIEL (4-21, 4-14)
The Tomcats won a combined 14 games the last three seasons, but there’s hope with a young backcourt that will consist of sophomore Jess Vormelker (11.7 ppg) and freshmen Sadie Buchser, who was a 1,000-point scorer at Riverview High School.

“I think this conference is getting better. It will continue to get better,” DeRubbo added. “I think we had some teams last year that will build on their successful seasons. Thomas More is a national power and they’re going to continue to be so, but we’re looking forward to the year. I think it’ll be a good battle.”