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Yearly Archives: 2017

PAC Women’s Basketball 2017-18 Preview: Talent Abounds Even Beyond Thomas More’s Dominance

By Justin Zackal

PAC Player of the Year, Abby Owings, and the Thomas More Saints hope to continue their run of dominance in the PAC.

It’s easy to overlook Presidents’ Athletic Conference women’s basketball when no team has looked down on Thomas More from the league standings since 2006. Because of the Saints’ dominance, especially from their top two or three players, other players on their roster and the top players on teams throughout the league can be taken for granted.

Just ask someone who viewed the league with a fresh set of eyes last year.

“In the PAC, some of the players are underappreciated,” said second-year Bethany head coach Brian Sansom. “Not so much from our local area, but outside we’ve got some good kids in this conference that may not get to be seen on the national spotlight. Each team has somebody who is capable of any night of being the best player in the conference.”

Sansom’s evaluation of the PAC entering the 2017-18 season is not much different from what everyone else in the league knows: “Thomas More’s entire roster is going to a ‘Player to Watch,’” he quipped. But while he thinks Saint Vincent, Washington & Jefferson and Waynesburg are going to be back up there in the top four, Sansom sees growth from the bottom six teams, including his own.

“We’ve got some really good coaches and teams who aren’t typically in the top four who are building their programs up,” Sansom said. “Yeah, I’ve only been here one year, but I can see the improvement (in the league).”

Here’s a preview of each team in order of predicted finish in the preseason coaches’ poll with last year’s overall record and PAC record in parentheses:

THOMAS MORE (28-1, 18-0)
The Saints haven’t lost to a PAC team since 2012 or in a PAC tournament game since 2006 and they outscored conference teams by an average of 92.4 to 50 last year. Expect more of the same this year as senior guard Abby Owings (16.0 ppg), the reigning PAC Player of the Year, is back, alng with two returning first-team all-PAC selections: senior forward Nikki Kiernan (14.7 ppg) and junior guard Madison Temple (15.8 ppg).

WASHINGTON & JEFFERSON (16-10, 13-5)
Senior guard Amirah Moore (14.0 ppg) and junior forward Danielle Parker (14.5 ppg) are back after they both were named second-team all-PAC last year. The Presidents have won at least 13 PAC games in each of the last five years. W&J has gone 126-54 (.700) in PAC games since it last won the league in 2006.

SAINT VINCENT (18-10, 13-5)
The Bearcats lost to Thomas More in the PAC championship game in 2011, 2012, 2015 and with last year’s 66-53 loss. They don’t return any all-PAC players, although guard Mara Benvenuti (11.8 ppg, 7.1 rpg) was an honorable mention. Benvenuti didn’t make it through the fall semester before her senior year was shortened by injury. She’s back for another year of eligibility as a graduate student.

WAYNESBURG (19-12, 11-7)
Other than Thomas More, Waynesburg is the only PAC team to post winning conference records in each of the last seven seasons. A big reason for their success in the last three years has been senior forward Addy Knetzer (16.2 ppg, 11.4 rpg), who led the PAC in rebounding and ranked fourth in scoring last year to earn first-team all-PAC honors.

GROVE CITY (14-13, 10-8)
The Wolverines have posted winning PAC records in three straight years after going 13 years without back-to-back winning conference seasons. Senior guard Lexie Arkwright (20.8 ppg), a first-team all-PAC selection last year, was the league’s leading scorer. “She just has a way about her game that is tough to defend,” said Sansom, whose Bethany team surrendered 26 and 35 points by Arkwright in two meetings.

BETHANY (12-14, 10-8)
Senior forward Kelsea Daugherty (18.2 ppg, 11.3 rpg) ranked second in the PAC in both scoring and rebounding to earn second-team all-PAC honors last year. Considered by Sansom to be scrappy, yet crafty, especially when it comes to reading defenses, Daugherty will be heavily relied on with Hayley Holenka (17.3 ppg) graduating and junior Ashley Duthie (7.0 ppg) sliding from point guard to the two-guard. Although a freshman will be handling the point, Daugherty and junior guard Sammie Weiss (16.4 ppg), a midseason transfer from California (Pa.) last year, will take some of the scoring burden from the younger players, which includes 13 freshmen in all.

WESTMINSTER (11-16, 5-13)
Of the teams in the bottom half of the conference, Sansom considers Westminster to be the most dangerous. “Westminster might shock some people because they were so young last year” he said. “Don’t be surprised if you see them sneaking up around four or five this year.” The Titans return four starters, including last year’s PAC Freshman of the Year, sophomore forward Emily Fromknecht (11.1 ppg, 7.6 rpg), but that doesn’t include senior forward Kristine Fromknecht, Emily’s older sister who was the team’s leading scorer two years ago but missed half of last season with an injury.

CHATHAM (13-13, 7-11)
Chatham’s 13 overall wins last year were the most in program history and the Cougars qualified for the last two PAC tournaments, capturing a first round win in each of those trips to the postseason. Junior guard Katie Sieg (15.9 ppg) ranked sixth in the league in scoring last year and she was named second team all-PAC.

THIEL (5-20, 2-16)
The Tomcats won a combined 19 games the last four seasons, but the Tomcats return four starters including their top scorers: junior guard Jess Vormelker (14.9 ppg) and senior forward Taylor Duchon (13.6 ppg).

GENEVA (4-21, 1-17)
Geneva returns three starters but the focus last year and this offseason was on someone else who is returning and what horrible thing is now gone. Sixth-year head coach Lori Wynn, who was away from the team last year after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer in June 2016, is back with a clean bill of health. Doctors detected no evidence of cancer in January and again in July, according to the Beaver County Times. The Golden Tornadoes hope that battle won will foreshadow more victories ahead.

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PAC Men’s Basketball 2017-18 Preview: Stars are Aligned for a Competitive Year

By Justin Zackal

Reigning PAC Player of the Year, Tyreik Burton, and the Thiel Tomcats are hoping this is their season to win the PAC.

Every year coaches are going to boast about how tough it is to play in their conference that it can also be tough to take such platitudes seriously. But when Thiel College men’s basketball coach Tim Loomis said that the Presidents’ Athletic Conference this year is “the best it’s ever been” and “from top to bottom, anyone can win this league,” he was not exaggerating.

There are three reasons for this, according to Loomis, two of which are the raised standards in recruiting and coaching, but the other is more coincidental: the stars are aligned for the 2017-18 PAC men’s basketball season, meaning all the stars are coming back.

Twenty-one of the highest 22 scoring averages last year are returning, including the league’s top 15 scorers and each team’s leading scorer. All 10 teams are returning at least three starters, including three with four and three with five. Eight of the 10 players named all-PAC last year are back as well.

“Recruiting efforts have amped up the last two years, good players are returning on all the teams and there’s better coaching,” Loomis said. “It’s going to make it very competitive this year.”

Loomis welcomes back the reigning PAC Player of the Year in senior guard Tyreik Burton, who led the league with a 18.0 scoring average a year ago. According to Loomis, Burton has Division-I quickness and because it’s rare to see a defensive equivalent at the Division III level, Burton’s presence alone can open up shots for teammates.

One teammate who Loomis considers just as much of a player of the year candidate as Burton is senior forward Josh Lumbus, who averaged 12 points and 5.6 rebounds last year. Both Burton and Lumbus did not finish the season, nor did they play in the conference tournament because of knee injuries.

Coaching experience is also a prevailing theme. Loomis is entering his 12th season and he’s only the fourth longest tenured coach, while the remaining six coaches are entering at least their third season at their school.

Thomas More broke up Saint Vincent’s four-year run as PAC champion by winning its first league title since 2009. But, as Loomis indicated, anyone can win it this year. Here are the teams listed in their predicted order of finish in this year’s coaches’ poll with last year’s overall and PAC records in parentheses:

SAINT VINCENT (21-7, 15-3)
For the first time since 2012, the Bearcats are not entering the season as defending champs, but head coach D.P. Harris is returning four of five starters, including senior guard Matt D’Amico (12.6 ppg), but that’s not including senior forward Tom Kromka, who was named first-team all-PAC despite coming off the bench and averaging 11.9 points and 7.6 rebounds.

THOMAS MORE (22-7, 15-3)
The Saints return all five starters from last year’s PAC championship team, including four juniors who averaged at least 7.3 points per game, led by guard Damion King and his team-best 14.1 average. Fifth-year head coach Drew Cooper’s team led the league in scoring (78.0), average scoring margin (+8.7) and average rebound margin (+4.7) last year. They also enter the year having played Kentucky and Xavier in preseason exhibition games.

WESTMINSTER (17-12, 11-7)
The Titans return three of five starters for sixth-year head coach Kevin Siroki. Senior forward/guard Deontay Scott averaged 13.7 points and a PAC-best 9.4 rebounds last year, and he will be joined again in the frontcourt by Jarret Vrabel (13.4 ppg, 8.0 rpg).

THIEL (16-9, 11-7)
Loomis said his Tomcats will be deeper this year and they’ll be able to play at a faster pace, especially at guard with sophomores Terrance Holloway and Nyric Gosley getting up to speed as freshman last year, especially after Burton went down with his injury. Thiel hasn’t won the PAC title since 2000. This could be the year.

BETHANY (17-13, 9-9)
The Bison lost Antonio Rudolph, the only first-team all-PAC player and the league’s only top-22 scorer not to come back. But this year’s team will be more about who is returning, as in three starters and their top two scorers from last year: senior guards Calique Jones (14.8 ppg) and Andrew Williams (12.8 ppg).

GROVE CITY (12-14, 8-10)
Steve Lamie enters his 20th season as head coach of the Wolverines seeking the team’s first PAC title since 2010. If they do it this year it’ll be because of their 6-foot-6 big men, Andrew Beckman (13.6 ppg, 7.4 rpg) and Cory Huff (14.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg), who account for two of the team’s four returning starters.

CHATHAM (10-16, 6-12)
All five starters are back for Chatham’s third year of varsity basketball, including junior guard/forward Alex Schoppen, who averaged 12.0 points per game last year. Isaiah Brown (11.5 ppg) and Anthony Bomar (7.2 ppg, 5.9 rpg) are also back.

GENEVA (10-16, 7-11)
The PAC’s longest tenured coach, Geneva’s Jeff Santarsiero, welcomes back three of five starters for his 21st season. The Golden Tornadoes typically rely on one or two players to do most of their scoring and last year was no different. Sophomore guard Ethan Moose (16.2 ppg) and senior forward Jimmy Leichliter (15.5 ppg) ranked second and fourth in the league in scoring, but as a team the GTs were sixth (70.6 ppg).

WAYNESBURG (6-19, 4-14)
The Yellow Jackets return three starters, including senior forward Jon Knab, who ranked third in the league in scoring last year with 16.0 points per game. Waynesburg hasn’t won the PAC since 1996, which would be the longest drought if not for …

WASHINGTON & JEFFERSON (4-21, 4-14)
… Washington & Jefferson, which has not won the PAC since 1995, the last of four straight years the Presidents won the league. The Presidents return all five starters from last year, including two senior Brians, Lindquist (13.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg) at forward and Graytok (11.4 ppg, 3.4 apg) at guard.

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NCAA Baseball Mideast Regional Preview: Veteran W&J Team Returns as Host

By Justin Zackal

W&J celebrates the 2017 PAC title win over Grove City.

The NCAA Division III Baseball Mideast Regional is making its third straight appearance at Washington & Jefferson, but this year the host team is returning for the first time since 2015. That doesn’t mean W&J won’t know what to expect: eight Presidents played in three regional games two years ago, including the starting pitchers in both losses and a player who hit a home run.

Additionally, W&J’s top eight position players and top three pitchers, according to games started, are either juniors or seniors.

“With a veteran group, we’ve started juniors and seniors all year,” said W&J head coach Jeff Mountain, a veteran himself in his 15th season. “They’ve been through a lot. You just never know how guys are going to respond, but I think experience pays this time of year.”

W&J will host all the Mideast Regional games at Ross Memorial Park, Thursday to Monday, May 18-22. The PAC Sports Network will broadcast all the games, beginning Thursday when W&J plays Misericordia at 10 a.m. The winner of the eight-team, double-elimination tournament —along with seven other regional winners — will advance to the NCAA Division III World Series, May 26-31 in Appleton, Wisconsin.

Three of the eight teams at the Mideast Regional were national semifinalists last year, including SUNY Cortland, 2016 Mideast Regional Champion La Roche and 2016 national runner-up Keystone.

Here’s a look at the field:

#1 WOOSTER (35-8). The 17-time champion of the North Coast Athletic Conference is ranked eighth in the nation. Wooster is one of two teams that played in last year’s Mideast Regional at Ross Memorial Park, going 3-2 before losing to both teams that played in the final game, Randolph-Macon, 2-1, in the second round, and eventual champion La Roche, 13-0, in the semifinal game.

#2 SUNY CORTLAND (33-7). Cortland is making its 25th straight NCAA tournament appearance. The Red Dragons, ranked fourth in the nation, qualified as an at-large, Pool C berth after finishing second in the State University of New York Athletic Conference (SUNYAC) regular season. Oswego won the SUNYAC after the conference tournament was rained out.

#3 LA ROCHE (34-8). The Redhawks have made Ross Memorial Park their postseason home more than W&J. The champion of the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference, La Roche is making its fifth Mideast Regional appearance, including three straight at W&J. The Redhawks, ranked 12th in the nation this year, won last year’s regional before advancing to the Division III World Series where they went 2-2 as a semifinalist. Both losses came against Keystone (6-1, 5-4).

#4 WASHINGTON & JEFFERSON (34-10). The 11-time PAC champions are making their sixth appearance at regionals. The 16th-ranked Presidents’ 34 wins are tied for the third-most in team history, including a pair of 8-1 wins over Grove City to earn the automatic berth in the regional. Senior right-hander Riley Groves (8-2, 1.94 ERA) and junior righty Bryce Schnatterly (7-0, 2.75 ERA) started regional games two years ago, losing to Frostburg State, 7-1, and La Roche, 4-1, respectively. Groves was the PAC Pitcher of the Year.

Senior catcher Derek Helbing was the PAC Player of the Year after batting .342 with a PAC-best 11 homer runs and 25 walks, while senior outfielder Nick Vento led the league with 67 hits to go with his .414 batting average. Vento hit a two-run homer in W&J’s 9-3 win over Adrian in the 2015 regional.

#5 MISERICORDIA (30-12). The Cougars won their seventh straight MAC Freedom championship. They lost to Keystone, 9-7, on May 1, and split with La Roche, winning 6-3 and losing 9-5, in games played in Florida back in March. Misericordia lost both of its games at the Mid-Atlantic Regional last year.

#6 KEYSTONE (31-13). The Giants lost to Trinity twice, 14-6 and 10-7, in the final rounds of last year’s Division III College World Series, their second appearance at nationals. Keystone won the Colonial State Athletic Conference for the 13th straight year. Last year, Keystone won the Mid-Atlantic Regional.

#7 DEPAUW (31-11). The Tigers lost to Wooster in the NCAC tournament in two games by a combined score of 43-9. Still, DePauw earned an at-large, Pool C team, as the Tigers made their seventh all-time appearance in the NCAA postseason and their first since 2014.

#8 EARLHAM (29-12). The only new kids on the block in the Mideast Regional, Earlham is making its debut in the NCAA postseason after the Quakers won their first Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference title.

 

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PAC Baseball Championship Preview: Host W&J is the Favorite, But ‘Anything Can Happen’

By Justin Zackal

Nick Vento and the W&J Presidents matched a PAC record with 21 regular season wins.

Reaching exactly 21 may get you blackjack in a casino, but it won’t win a championship in the Presidents’ Athletic Conference. Washington & Jefferson set the PAC record of 21 conference wins in 2012 and matched it in 2014, but the Presidents didn’t win as hosts of the PAC Baseball Championship Tournament.

After tying the record again this year, W&J (30-9, 21-3 PAC) is hosting the tournament at Ross Memorial Park, May 11-13, for the first time since 2014. But 15th-year head coach Jeff Mountain isn’t cashing in his chips.

“I just think in a conference tournament, especially with these four teams, anything can happen,” Mountain said. “It wouldn’t be an upset for any of these four teams to win.”

The other three teams are second-seeded and defending champion Thomas More (26-10, 15-7 PAC), third-seeded Grove City (17-17, 14-10 PAC) and fourth-seeded Thiel (21-17, 13-11 PAC).

W&J and Thomas More have alternated winning PAC titles since 2013, so it’s the Presidents’ turn this year to win, which would be their 11th PAC title. Thomas More, meanwhile, seeks its fifth crown. Grove City hasn’t won the PAC since 2008 and Thiel, 2003.

The Presidents will play Thiel in the first game of the double-elimination tournament, Thursday at noon, as the two teams will play for the fourth time in six days. They split a doubleheader Saturday at W&J and the Presidents won the rubber match Sunday at Thiel.

Mountain doesn’t think the recent familiarity will matter.

“They’ll be a little more fresh in our mind, but we’ll be fresh in their mind,” Mountain said. “It just comes down to the execution of the teams and how the pitchers throw.”

He paused and added, “I don’t want to see Thiel’s pitcher.”

That pitcher is sophomore right-hander Nick Bucci, who led the PAC in wins (9-2) and strikeouts (54) while posting a 2.85 ERA. Bucci pitched a complete-game seven innings with six strikeouts, no walks, nine hits, five runs (2 earned) in a 6-5 win over W&J on Saturday. Either Bucci or Kevin Forrester, who also struck out 54 this year, will oppose W&J ace Riley Groves (7-2) and his league-leading 1.61 ERA in the first game.

According to Mountain, the margin for error in the early games of the tournament will be small; therefore, pitching and defense will be key.

“Everybody has a good arm or two that can limit the other team,” Mountain said. “You’ve got to take advantage of the limited scoring opportunities you have in those early days because the more the tournament goes on the style of the game changes.”

As teams use up their pitchers, the games gives way to higher scoring. But that doesn’t mean W&J won’t be able to outhit opponents. The Presidents lead the league in batting average (.356), on-base percentage (.437) and slugging percentage (.551). Their 41 homers tied Thomas More for the most in the PAC.

In addition to its offense and playing at home, other advantages for W&J include its experience playing a nonconference schedule against teams that finished .500 or above, and the composition of its lineup: W&J’s top eight position players and top three pitchers, according to games started, are either juniors or seniors.

Bailey Abbatiello and the Thomas More Saints hope to defend their PAC title.

“We haven’t had too many peaks and valleys, which is what you expect out of a veteran team,” Mountain said. “But all bets are off in the postseason. Sometimes the younger team is the looser team when they get things going early and they just relax. You just never know how guys are going to respond, but I think experience pays off this time of year.”

Grove City is “quietly” playing its best ball of the year, according to Mountain. The Wolverines have won six out their last seven games, including one at Thomas More, a place where W&J lost twice this year.

“Thomas More is just really good,” Mountain added. “It wasn’t an upset or they played out of their minds (when Thomas More shut out W&J twice in a doubleheader April 14); they are just a really good team and a really good program … and so is ours.”

The PAC Sports Network (PACSN) will deliver live broadcasts of all of this year’s championship tournament games at pacstream.net. After Thursday’s W&J-Thiel game at noon, Grove City and Thomas More will play at 3 p.m. Friday’s game times are noon, 3 p.m., and 6 p.m. and Saturday at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. (if necessary).

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PAC Softball Championship Preview: Thomas More Looks to Break Host-Team Hex

By Justin Zackal

Dallis Knotts and the Thomas More Saints look to break the “home-team hex” at this year’s PAC softball championships.

Thomas More clinched home field in this weekend’s PAC Softball Championship Tournament last Friday by sweeping a doubleheader at Westminster, the site of last year’s tournament.

Sure, it was meaningful for the Saints (32-8, 18-0 PAC) to beat the second-place Titans (26-10, 14-4 PAC) and finish the conference schedule unbeaten. But Thomas More head coach Lindsay Egan could only think about two things that will happen off the field this week.

“We get to sleep in our own beds and it we get to take our finals when we need to take them,” Eagan said.

Like many schools, Thomas More will take final exams for the spring semester this week, but unlike any other team in the PAC, traveling as anything but the top seed would mean a hotel stay and more than a four-hour drive to Pennsylvania or West Virginia from Kentucky.

Thomas More will take home field over any hocus-pocus about how the top-seeded host team has not won the PAC tournament since 2011. Thomas More won five of the last 10 PAC championships but only the 2009 Saints won on their home field. The other time Thomas More hosted the tournament was in 2014, but third-seeded Washington & Jefferson won the title that year.

“It’s the game of softball,” said Eagan, attempting to explain what has plagued home teams. “Anybody can win on any given day.”

In last year’s PAC tournament at Westminster, third-seeded Saint Vincent beat fourth-seeded Bethany, 1-0, in the final game, after the Bearcats handed Thomas More both of its losses in the double-elimination tournament, 1-0 and 4-3.

Eagan points to players peaking at the right time as making a difference. Saint Vincent pitcher Samantha Emert won four games to earn Most Outstanding Player honors. Emert is back as a senior this year, ranking in the top four in the PAC in ERA (1.60, third), strikeouts (94, fourth) and wins (15-6, fourth), while leading Saint Vincent (18-14, 11-7 PAC) again as the third-seeded team.

Westminster’s Jazmyn Rohrer could be this year’s peak performer. The junior pitcher leads the PAC with an 0.98 ERA, 16-3 record, six shutouts and her 121 strikeouts rank second, this despite Thomas More blemishing her marks with eight runs (six earned) off 11 hits in last Friday’s 8-0 win that clinched the Saints home-field advantage.

Standout junior 1B Shelby Noel hopes to lead Saint Vincent to back-to-back PAC crowns.

Saint Vincent junior first baseman Shelby Noel is the top hitter in the PAC with a .465 batting averaging and 25 extra-base hits, including eight homers. However, Thomas More has four of the top seven hitters in the league, led by freshman infielder Andrea Gahan (.441).

“Our squad, anybody can have a good day,” Eagan said. “It’s somebody new every day. That helps the team win.”

Thomas More is out to win its sixth PAC title and first since 2015, while both Saint Vincent (2016) and Westminster (2005) are seeking their second PAC titles. Fourth-seeded Thiel (16-18, 11-7 PAC) has never won the league crown.

The PAC Sports Network (www.pacstream.net) will broadcast all the games at Thomas More starting Friday with Saint Vincent vs. Westminster at 10 a.m., followed by Thiel vs. Thomas More at noon, the two losers from the first two games at 2 p.m. and the two winners at 4 p.m. Saturday’s games are at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. (if necessary).

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