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Monthly Archives: January 2017

‘Cousin Effect’: Bethany Teammates Discover They’re Related

By Justin Zackal

Bethany junior guard Andrew Williams.

Teammates saying they are “like family” is a trope heard often around college sports. Two upperclassmen on the Bethany College men’s basketball team have said that until someone told them they actually are family.

“It’s kinda crazy,” said senior guard Antonio Rudolph. “One day my mom called me she said, ‘You know you and Andrew are cousins, right?’ I said, ‘How? … And what are you talking about?’”

Rudolph’s mom, Courtney Hudson, explained to him that he’s related to junior guard Andrew Williams even though the two shared a backcourt for two seasons.

It all started last summer when someone posted a photo on social media of Williams and another Bethany teammate, Calique Jones. According to Rudolph, one if his cousins saw the photo and thought Williams looked familiar.

“It just went off of that,” Rudolph said.

Rudolph’s grandfather, Fletcher Hudson of New Castle, Pa., and originally from Alabama, is Williams’ uncle, making the two Bison teammates second cousins.

Williams remembers Rudolph as a good player in high school for New Castle High. Williams attended Oil City High School, about 50 miles from New Castle.

When Williams arrived at Bethany a year after Rudolph, they became friends.

“We were already close at first, but now we’re extremely close,” Williams said. “We hang out all the time and play 2K (video game) together and play basketball together.”

So when they found out they were related it wasn’t exactly like the scene from the movie Step Brothers: “Did we just become best friends? / Yep!”

“Before it was like ‘What’s up?,’ now it’s like ‘What’s up, little cuz?’ or ‘What’s up, big cuz?,’” Rudolph said. “Now it feels like we knew each other for so much longer for some reason.”

Bethany senior guard Antonio Rudolph.

On the score sheet they were pretty close last year, 326-271, with Rudolph averaging 12.1 points per game and Williams 11.3. But this year they are even closer. Again they are ranked second and third on the team in scoring, but only eight points (234-226) separate them through games played Jan. 28. Rudolph averages 12.3 per game, 13th in the PAC, while Williams is 19th in the league with a 11.9 scoring average.

Bethany is 12-7 this year and 7-5 for fourth place in the PAC. Last year, the Bison finished third but were upset in the semifinals of the PAC tournament.

Both players talked about how much they’ve improved, but that doesn’t mean the there’s more competition among the newfound family members.

“It’s all competition (with everyone on the team),” Rudolph said. “But with me and Drew it’s who can play defense better. That’s a similarity with us two.”

If Bethany’s able to make a run at the PAC title this year, the reasons could point to the familial bond and improved play of two teammates.

Rather than a cause and effect, you can call it a “cousin effect.”

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Lori Wynn Makes Inspirational Return To Geneva Bench

On Saturday, the Geneva Golden Tornadoes hosted the Saint Vincent Bearcats for a women’s basketball game in Beaver Falls, PA. However, this game transcended into something more important than a simple win or a loss. Geneva head coach Lori Wynn, who has been away from her team this season battling ovarian cancer, made a triumphant return to the bench. The PAC Sports Network’s Amanda Sloan was there to capture the moment with this video production that can be seen below.

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Geneva Reuniting with its Coach to ‘Wynn the Battle’

By Justin Zackal

Geneva head coach Lori Wynn.

Many coaches don’t have to be up in players’ faces to influence their teams. Some don’t have to constantly shout instructions from the bench. The head coach for the Geneva women’s basketball team doesn’t even have to be in the same state. She’s been in her players’ heads, in their hearts and even on their feet.

“Even though I can’t audibly hear her, I hear her,” said senior forward Rachel Larson. “She’s in my head. There are a lot of times when I’m doing something and I can hear her like, ‘Oh, Larson, don’t make that pass!’”

They’ve needed reminders, though. Like the time their assistant-turned-interim head coach demanded they look at their socks to find inspiration to overcome a quarter-long lapse.

That will change Saturday.

Lori Wynn will be there, in real life.

The Geneva head coach’s real-life battle against ovarian cancer has prevented her from joining her team at games so far during her sixth season as coach, rendering her to working remotely from North Carolina since her diagnosis seven months ago. Finally having the strength to travel, and adequate time between chemotherapy treatments, Wynn plans to be with her team for three games, beginning Saturday when Geneva hosts Saint Vincent. The game will be streamed live on the PAC Sports Network beginning at 4 p.m.

“I’ll be excited to be back, sad that I had to miss so much, but grateful for where I am in the journey and how things are looking,” said Wynn, who indicated by phone Sunday that her blood cell counts “are looking pretty good right now,” enough that Feb. 9 will be her final chemo treatment.

Rachel Larson’s teal socks the team has been wearing in support of Coach Lori Wynn.

“I’ve been counting down the days for some time,” said Larson, wearing the teal socks with teal ribbons that the team has been wearing to not only raise awareness for ovarian cancer but as a talisman. “She inspires us even in her absence, so I can’t imagine playing in front of her again.”

After her diagnosis in June, Wynn decided to live with her parents, Bob and Judy, in North Carolina so they can help her through treatments, which included surgery in early November. Her doctor in Pittsburgh also highly recommended cancer specialists at Duke Raleigh Hospital near her parents’ home.

Despite being able to run Geneva’s preseason practices for two weeks in October before her surgery, Wynn handed the whistle to her assistants, Patience Baker and Kendall Hunter, to pilot the Golden Tornadoes through the season.

“I knew Coach Wynn’s program and what she wanted,” said Baker, who was with the team last year before being elevated to interim associate head coach this season. “She made sure to tell me to bring your own personality. That’s what I’ve done. But our program has a foundation that we stand on from when Coach Wynn stepped in the door (six years ago). That doesn’t change.”

Baker is singing from the same hymnal, focusing on several of the program’s core values, just in a different tone.

“I tend to be pretty high-energy and intense and she’s a lot more soft-spoken that I am,” Wynn said. “She’s just done such a fantastic job. For me, it was never a question of who can fill that role.”

Baker, 28, previously a graduate assistant at PAC-school Waynesburg University, brings much-needed fresh ideas to the team, according to Wynn, who has been coaching for 23 years.

With Geneva now accustomed to Baker’s voice in the huddle, Wynn will sit on the bench in the role of an assistant coach when she returns Saturday.

“My desire to come back is to not disrupt what we’ve been doing but to add to it,” Wynn said. “Honestly, I don’t know if I’ll have the stamina to be that involved and active in a first game back.”

Recognizing Wynn’s influence, Baker is more than willing to abdicate the clipboard.

“You’re going to see me on the sideline, I’m going to be looking at her, because at the end of the day she’s still our head coach,” Baker said. “She’s still the top of our program. She’s still my mentor, my support system. I think Saturday is going to be very exciting. Just having her back.”

Geneva players and coaches won’t have to completely reacquaint themselves with their head coach. Players frequently talk on the phone, text message and use video conferencing through FaceTime to connect with their coach including a “thought of the day” that Wynn has contributed at least weekly. Interactions vary among individual players but Larson said they’ll communicate with Wynn about every other day when Wynn is feeling well. Wynn also watches game film and provides input for practice- and game-planning through Baker and Hunter.

“When you’re away from your team it’s super hard,” said Wynn, who also plans to return to the team for possibly two more games in February after her final chemo treatment. “I miss the day-to-day, I miss being in the gym with them, I just miss being around them and being able to connect with them.”

That lament should seem insignificant compared to cancer treatments, but for a coach who loves her job it can’t be understated. Throughout, Wynn has kept high spirits despite her struggle.

“It’s been a process that’s grown my faith,” Wynn said. “From the beginning, this was God’s plan and I didn’t understand it — I wasn’t thrilled about it — but I was never mad or asking ‘Why me?’ I learned a lot about God’s grace and the way He works.”

Her players also have the proper perspective. Geneva entered the week in last place in the PAC with a record of 1-9 and 4-13 overall. The players aren’t dwelling on games lost, but rather what they haven’t lost in Wynn’s absence.

“A big lesson that we’ve learned is working to maintain the culture that we’ve had under Coach Wynn and not lose that,” Larson said.

Although the players’ opponent is not cancer, every game brings a challenge that requires the fighting spirit of their coach.

“We’re battling as she battles,” Larson added.

On Saturday, they’ll battle together.

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Siroki Making Believers of First-Place Titans

By Justin Zackal

Westminster junior guard Brandon Domenick.(Photo courtesy of Westminster Athletics.) 

There are three teams tied atop the PAC standings a third of the way into the men’s basketball season with identical 5-1 records (9-4 overall):

Saint Vincent, the four-time reigning champion.

Thomas More, a finalist last year and the 2016-17 preseason favorite.

Then there’s Westminster. Well, what do we make of the Titans and do they belong in the upper echelon of the league?

“I think so,” said Westminster head coach Kevin Siroki. “We haven’t been up there in a long time. But as you see through the parity of the conference already, anyone can beat anyone. We’re happy to be where we’re at, but it’s not the end of the season and we have to keep battling.”

He’s right about the parity. Just look at what the Titans did against two 3-3 teams. Westminster’s one PAC loss was at home to Thiel, 101-68, on Nov. 30, then the Titans won big at Bethany, 83-58, on Dec. 19. (By the way, Bethany won by three at home to Thiel last Saturday.)

According to Westminster junior forward Deontay Scott, in his interview with the PAC Sports Network’s Donny Chedrick, Siroki told his players that the Titans’ home game vs. Thomas More last Thursday was a “statement” game. Westminster won 74-72 behind Scott’s 20 points on 10-of-11 shooting from the field.

Scott averages 14 points per game and leads the PAC with a .689 shooting percentage. Five other Titans are averaging between 7.3 and 11.7 points per game.

“The guys are just playing together,” Siroki said. “They’re getting the ball to the right guys at the right spots, and more than anything we’re playing strong defense.”

Westminster held off Waynesburg, 58-52, at home Saturday, the third time the Titans limited a PAC team to fewer than 60 points this season. (Westminster allows 70.4 points per game.)

Siroki is gaining the momentum to propel the Westminster program forward in his fifth season. He spent the previous decade coaching at two universities in Belize, Central America, as well as the Belize National Team. He guided Belize to a second-place finish at the 2009 COCABA Championships, a pre-Olympic qualifying tournament, which was the furthest a Belize team advanced before its was eliminated from Olympic consideration at the 2010 Centrobasket tournament, two steps away from the 2012 London Olympics.

After the COCABA tournament, his team was greeted by thousands of fans at the Belize airport and there was a victory parade through the capital city.

Siroki is fond of his time coaching the Belize Nationals, which included two former NBA players (Milton Palacio and Marlon Garnett), but the former Westminster player and Ohio native wanted to come home.

“I love it here. I bleed Blue,” said Siroki, a former Titan point guard who graduated in 1993. “This is the biggest reason I came home because I wanted to get the program going back where we belong. We’re getting back to where we should be.”

Westminster hasn’t won anything yet, but the Titans are starting to believe in why Siroki left Belize.

“We’re still midway through the season,” he added. “There’s a lot of season left, but I’m happy with our guys; they believe in each other.”

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