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).

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.