PACSN Blog

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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Thomas More at Saint Vincent – Jan. 14, 2012

by Randy Gore

The Thomas More women’s basketball team has been so dominant over the years, including an undefeated national championship last year, that some folks may have forgotten when the Saints last lost a game to a PAC opponent. I was digging through the PAC Sports Network archives this weekend and came across our broadcast of the Thomas More vs. Saint Vincent game on January 14, 2012, which happened to be the last time the Saints lost a conference game. The Bearcats, led by the 2012 PAC Player of the Year, Brittany Sedlock, defeated the Saints 68-65. Below is the broadcast of that contest.

It’s fun to look back at this game for several reasons. First off, there were so many great players that participated in this contest, including four All-PAC first team selections. For Saint Vincent, Sedlock and Devin McGrath were later named to the All-Conference team. For Thomas More, Katie Kitchen and Allison Long were tabbed as First-Team selections. Secondly, check out the Saint Vincent logo at midcourt. The Bearcats transitioned to a new look and logo since then. Finally, this broadcast was from the PAC Sports Network’s very first season broadcasting PAC basketball. Since then, the PAC Sports Network has added a scoreboard bug with a game clock and now broadcasts in HD, among other improvements. Just an example of how far we’ve come as a network and how long it’s been since Thomas More last sustained defeat to a PAC foe.

Catching Up with PAC’s Postseason Football Games

By Justin Zackal

The Division III football postseason concludes Saturday, and even though weeks have passed since PAC teams played a down, two of the league’s four postseason teams are still catching their breaths.

PAC champion Thomas More overcame a 17-0 deficit at home to Wittenberg in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Nov. 19. However, the Saints wound up losing in four overtimes, 33-30, in the longest game in Division III playoff history.

Three PAC teams played in ECAC bowl games in Philadelphia, including Washington & Jefferson coming back after trailing Brockport, 31-16 in the fourth quarter, for an exhilarating 38-31 win in the aptly named Presidents Bowl on Nov. 18.

Westminster won its second straight James Lynah Bowl with a 33-6 win over Utica Nov. 19, and Carnegie Mellon lost, 52-20, to Salisbury in the Legacy Bowl Nov. 20.

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Thomas More celebrates the 2016 PAC title.

The sting from Thomas More’s loss is still felt.

“Eh, it’s one we could’ve, should’ve,” said Saints head coach Regis Scafe. “One play here, one play there makes a huge difference. You look back at everything and just kinda shake your head. Wittenberg, you give them credit; they were tough. They have a solid program. It’s one of those games that no one should’ve lost; it was so closely played.”

The Saints scored 24 straight points to take a 24-17 lead, but Wittenberg sent the game to overtime with a touchdown with 1:39 left in regulation. Then the game turned into a field-goal kicking contest in overtime: matching made field goals in the first OT, blocked fields goals in the second, Saints freshman Cole Mathias hitting a 47-yard equalizer in the third but missing a 40-yarder in the fourth.

“It was a crazy situation,” said Scafe, who compared it to a tied soccer game decided on penalty kicks. “I’ve never seen anything like it. Both kickers were really good under pressure.”

Scafe seemed to have mixed emotions looking back on the game.

“We had chances,” Scafe said. “Looking at it, we could’ve folded because we were way down and we didn’t. Then we fought back and played really well, and then we could’ve iced it, but we didn’t.”

Thomas More instead heads into an offseason in which all five of its first-team, all-PAC players graduate. However, next year the Saints will welcome back starting quarterback Brenan Kuntz, two of their top three running backs (Hjavier Pitts and Luke Zajac) and their top two receivers (Daylin Garland and Logan Winkler).

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W&J senior quarterback Pete Coughlin.

W&J’s quarterback will not return, but what a way for senior Pete Coughlin to end his career. Coughlin earned Presidents Bowl MVP honors after passing for 473 yards including a 35-yard touchdown to Anthony Keriotis with 13 seconds to complete the comeback.

The game marked the first time W&J played at University of Pennsylvania’s historic Franklin Field since 1897 when the Presidents lost 18-4 to an undefeated Penn team that won the national championship.

In a postgame interview with ECAC Sports, W&J head coach Mike Sirianni raved about his team’s resiliency as well as the ECAC bowl experience at Franklin Field.

“To come back here and play where they’ve played before with all the great games that have been played on this field,” Sirianni said, “you get chills.”

Westminster’s quarterback, junior Paul Columbo, was also named MVP of his team’s bowl win, as he rushed 17 times for a game-high 121 yards and two touchdowns. The Titans successfully defended their James Lynah Bowl title.

Last year was the first time PAC teams won two of the six ECAC bowl games with Westminster and Carnegie Mellon winning (click here). The league matched the feat again this season.

Even though Thomas More is not part of the ECAC, Scafe sees the bowl games as an opportunity to advance the conference.

“We had some really good teams in our league this season,” Scafe added. “For them to get another game and succeed on a regional scene, it shows the strength of the conference.”

For a coach looking to catch his breath from a wild playoff game, seeing how challenging it will be to defend conference championship will not making him breathe easier.

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

By Justin Zackal

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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.

WASHINGTON & JEFFERSON (1-25, 1-17)
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.

WASHINGTON & JEFFERSON (24-6, 16-2)
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.”