Defying The Odds, Lauren Hill An Inspiration To The PAC

By John D’Abruzzo

There hasn’t been a bigger story this season in college basketball than the one surrounding Lauren Hill.

A 19-year-old freshman member of Mount Saint Joseph’s women’s basketball team, Hill was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer – Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG) – last year. Doctors discovered an inoperable brain tumor and gave her only months to live.

They didn’t expect her to make it past December.

Lauren Hill

Lauren Hill scores against Hiram on Nov. 2. (Photo courtesy of the NCAA)

Nevertheless, Hill decided she wanted to fulfill her dream of playing college basketball and was able to accomplish that goal on Nov. 2. Against fellow NCAA Division III member Hiram College, Hill took the court for the first time at Xavier University’s Cintas Center. She scored her first collegiate basket when she sank an uncontested layup in front of more than 10,000 fans.

“The look on her face was priceless,” Hiram coach Emily Hays told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “She had that big smile. I’m like, ‘That’s why we’re here.’”

A graduate of Washington & Jefferson College, Hays was the 2009 Presidents’ Athletic Conference Player of the Year and is in her first season as Hiram’s head coach.

“It’s more emotional now than it was even at the game,” Hays said. “It kind of hits you even more when you’re looking back at it.”

Hill went on to face Presidents’ Athletic Conference member Bethany College during her second game on Nov. 21 in the Baldwin Wallace University Invitational. She also scored a basket against the Bison.

“Obviously, we were all very excited to have the opportunity to be part of such an amazing story, even on this very small level,” Bethany head women’s coach Rebecca Upton said. “When we found out that Lauren would be making the trip, the girls were so excited about the prospect of meeting someone who has had such an inspirational impact on the sport of basketball.”

More players, coaches and fans from throughout the PAC have been captivated by Hill’s story.

“When Lauren was first brought to my attention by one of my players, I wanted to know more,” Waynesburg University head women’s basketball coach Sam Jones said. “Considering I work with young ladies like Lauren, her story hit home.

“It was almost impossible not to cry when she was interviewed on TV.”

Lauren Hill vs. Bethany

Lauren Hill scores against Bethany College on Nov. 21. (photo courtesy of the Cleveland Plain Dealer)

Waynesburg as well as women’s basketball programs from Bethany, Chatham University, Grove City College, Saint Vincent College, Thomas More College and Thiel College have all helped raise money and awareness in Hill’s honor.

Those PAC teams, as well as more than 300 college, high school and professional basketball teams all donated No. 22 jerseys – the same number Hill wears – to her charity,

“When the story first broke national news, our team decided we wanted to support her,” Chatham head coach Sandra Rectenwald said. “Since we didn’t have a No. 22, we sent in a No. 22 soccer jersey. We also sent her 30 to 40 good luck cards from members of our basketball teams, soccer players, coaches and a few others from around the school who wanted to participate.”

All those jerseys donated were sent to Hill to be autographed and then put up on an online auction. The two-week long charity event raised $64,040. A second auction began Dec. 11 and will last until Dec. 21.

“It was important for our girls to participate and it was something they wanted to do,” said Jones, whose team sent Hill a set of Waynesburg home and away jerseys for the auction. “It’s such a great story. With Lauren’s perseverance, it just reminds you to enjoy life because it really is so special and fragile.”

On Dec. 3, every women’s basketball team across the PAC wore warm-up tee-shirts with a No. 22 and the hashtag, #Layup4Lauren, on the back to help raise money in honor of Hill.

“The conference wanted to show solidarity for Lauren so we bought the Layup4Lauren shirts and backed her 100 percent,” Rectenwald said. “Lauren’s situation is so severe and random. It could happen to any of us at any time. We were all moved by the story.

“My team wanted to encourage her because it really hit close to them. This was athletes supporting another athlete.”

Hill’s story has helped to raise more than $600,000 for cancer research and treatment.

“It says so much about her character,” Rectenwald said. “She is an inspiration to all of us not to complain so much, and to enjoy playing sports because we love it and because it can be taken away at any moment.”

In the past few weeks, Hill has moved back home near Cincinnati and began living under hospice care. She, however, suited up for Mount Saint Joseph’s first home game Dec. 13 against Franklin College.

“Our team is so inspired by Lauren’s journey,” Upton said. “It is amazing the courage she has displayed and the positive energy she exudes.

“I can’t imagine being in her shoes and am so happy that she has gotten to have so many of her dreams come true over the last few months. We wish her all the best and our thoughts and prayers will always be with her and her family.”

To donate to Hill’s charity or to find out more about her story, visit and


Domonique Hayden Hoping To Win Gagliardi Trophy

By John D’Abruzzo

Following another stellar football season, Domonique Hayden began to earn his share of postseason accolades.

The Thomas More College senior, however, has a chance to collect one more.

hayden_wjA 5-foot-8, 212-pound star running back, Hayden was recently named one of 10 finalists for the prestigious Gagliardi Trophy. The annual award is presented to the nation’s top all-around NCAA Division III football player.

Nicknamed “D-Train,” Hayden was the engine in the Saints’ offense and pretty much streamrolled past opposing defenses this past season. He earned the Presidents’ Athletic Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year award for the third time in his career this season and ranked No. 1 at the Division III level with 25 rushing touchdowns. Hayden also averaged 158.4 yards a game and gathered a total 1,421 yards on 209 attempts.

“Domonique is an explosive runner and the most explosive I’ve ever seen,” Thomas More head coach Jim Hilvert said. “He continued to get faster and quicker. He also can catch a football very well.”

Hayden, who is from Lexington, Ky., rewrote the record books during his time in Crestview Hills. He finished his career as the program’s all-time leading rusher with 5,461 yards and averaged 6.6 yards per carry. Hayden scored a total of 89 touchdowns and gathered 6,293 all-purpose yards.

“Just with his overall career, from the first day he set foot on campus, Domonique had a huge impact on our football program and with our school,” Hilvert said. “He’s a great person and very humble. He’s broken just about every touchdown and rushing record here at Thomas More and none of those ever went to his head.”

Hayden also set career records in 100-yard rushing games (24) and points (534). He set the single-game record in rushing yards (336) and rushing touchdowns (5).

“I know it’s not all about me, but if my team’s going to put the ball in my hands I’m going to make the most of it,” Hayden told Cincinnati’s Fox 19 earlier this year. “But it’s not all about me. Without my teammates, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing.

“The main thing while playing football is to play for my teammates and my brothers beside me.”

Off the field, Hayden majors in Communications and has maintained a 3.1 grade-point average. He also volunteers with Thomas More’s mentoring program, has been a member of the college’s leadership council and volunteers with the Northern Kentucky Special Olympics.

“He’s been such a great leader for us and he led by example,” Hilvert said. “He worked to get better every single year. What impressed me the most about Domonique was the fact that he never cared about stats. He just wanted to get better.

“He certainly left his mark at Thomas More and with the entire Presidents’ Athletic Conference. He’s probably one of the best running backs the conference has seen.”

The Gagliardi Trophy was first presented in 1993 and recognizes excellence in athletics, academics and community service. The award also is named after John Gagliardi, who was Saint John’s legendary Hall of Fame head coach who retired in 2012 with 489 career victories, the most in college football history.

The 22nd annual Gagliardi Trophy will be presented Dec. 17 in Salem, Va., at a banquet kicking off the Division III Championship weekend.  Online voting for the Gagliardi Trophy concludes today (Dec. 8) at noon CST. If you’d like to cast your vote for Domonique Hayden before the deadline, click here.

Thomas More Eyes Ninth-Straight PAC Crown

By John D’Abruzzo

The coaches have spoken.

With nine of 10 first-place votes, Thomas More College’s women’s basketball team was selected as the preseason favorite in the Presidents’ Athletic Conference. Voted on by the conference’s head coaches, the PAC released its annual poll Nov. 13, and the eight-time defending Saints once again headlined the picks.

“Being picked No. 1 in the preseason poll by our fellow coaches is a great honor for our team and our program,” said Thomas More head coach Jeff Hans, who is back for his fourth season. “But it’s not any indication of where we’ll stand at the end of the year.”

Thomas More is ranked No. 2 in the USA Today’s Division III Top 25 Coaches’ Poll as well as listed No. 3 on the current Women’s Top 25.

Thomas More is coming off a pretty impressive season. Last year, the Saints posted a most-impressive and program-best 31-1 overall record as well as made its first appearance in the sectional finals of the NCAA Division III Championship.

“We have a growling schedule every night with a lot of good players in our league,” Hans said. “We’re looking forward to the challenge.

“Our goals are to get better every day and work together to develop our chemistry that’s needed to finish on top of the Presidents’ Athletic Conference.”


Thomas More junior Sydney Moss

Sydney Moss (St. Albans, W.Va.), a 5-foot-10 guard/forward, returns for her junior year. Moss is the reigning PAC Player of the Year and earned three Division III National Player of the Year awards last season after averaging close to 30 points a game as a sophomore. She also was named the 2014-15 DIII News Preseason National Player of the Year. Sydni Wainscott (Erlanger, Ky.), a 5-5 senior guard, also returns to Hans’ starting lineup.

Following Thomas More in the coaches’ poll was Saint Vincent College, Washington & Jefferson College, Waynesburg University, Westminster College, Bethany College, Grove City College, Thiel College, Chatham University and Geneva College, respectively.

Saint Vincent welcomes back sophomore Mara Benvenuti (Franklin, Pa.), a 5-9 guard, as well as 6-2 senior forward Taylor Mathers (Uniontown, Pa.) and 5-2 sophomore guard Jasmine Weems (Prince Frederick, Md.). Mathers averaged 14.8 points last season to help the Bearcats finish 19-10 overall and 14-4 against the conference.

Despite graduating its leading scorer Chelsea Apke, Washington & Jefferson brings back 5-9 junior guard/forward Beka Bellhy (McDonald, Pa.) and 6-3 senior center Valerie Dunlap (Hostetter, Pa.). Bellhy averaged 14.2 points as a sophomore and played a role in the Presidents’ 21-9 record and 13-5 run in the PAC.

Waynesburg went 15-12 last return 5-4 junior guard Lauren Blair (Granville, Ohio), 5-7 senior guard Hayden Giuliani (Morgantown, W.Va.) and 5-9 senior guard Becca Kerr (New Castle, Pa.). Giuliani led Waynesburg in scoring last year by averaging 10.9 points a game.

After graduating three top scorers from last year’s roster, Rachel Durbin (Lowellville, Ohio), a 5-8 sophomore guard, and Andrea Marsh (Panama, N.Y.), a 5-8 junior forward, headline Westminster’s top returnees. The Titans went 15-11 overall last season and 12-6 against the conference.

Bethany welcomes back 5-6 sophomore guard Hayley Holenka (Shadyside, Ohio) and 5-9 junior forward Sami Schott (Caldwell, Ohio). The Bison finished 7-19 overall and 6-12 in the PAC. Schott averaged 10.7 points and 7.1 rebounds a game as a sophomore.

Kathryn Erbelding (Rochester, N.Y.), a 5-10 junior forward, and 5-7 senior guard Kelsey Shirey (Macedonia, Ohio) are Grove City’s top two returning players. Shirey averaged 12 points a game last year and helped the Wolverines finish 8-18 overall and 6-12 against the conference.

Thiel looks to rebound from last year’s 5-21 overall record and 4-14 campaign in the PAC. The Tomcats return 6-0 junior forward Jaclyn Watkins (Aliquippa, Pa.) and 5-3 junior guard Kayla Welty (Portville, N.Y.). Watkins averaged 14.9 points and 8.1 rebounds a game last year as a sophomore.


Chatham junior Rachel McClain

Rachel McClain (Hollidaysburg, Pa.), a 5-3 junior guard, as well as 5-9 sophomore forward Jesse Hinkl (Jefferson Hills, Pa.) and 5-6 sophomore guard Nikki Ingel look to help Chatham rebuild following a 3-22 overall showing and 2-16 PAC record last season.

Geneva also looks to improve from last year’s 4-20 overall record and 3-15 mark in the conference. Nicole Hyland (Trafford, Pa.), a 5-8 sophomore guard and 5-7 junior guard Heidi Mann (Colorado Springs, Colo.) are back for the Golden Tornadoes.

“Every Wednesday and Saturday are big games,” Hans said. “Just going through the schedule, in February we’re on the road five out of our last seven [games]. That’s going to be a challenge for our program to be ready to go, especially at that time of the year and against those teams.”

The PAC Sports Network will tipoff its coverage this season Dec. 3 when Westminster travels to Chatham. Fans can follow most games live at or check out archived broadcasts on the site. Click here for our 2014-2015 broadcast schedule.

Saint Vincent The Favorite In A Deep PAC Field

By John D’Abruzzo

Expect the St. Vincent College men’s basketball team to be a frontrunner in the Presidents’ Athletic Conference this season. The two-time defending champion Bearcats were voted as the preseason favorite when the conference released its coaches’ poll on Nov. 14.

“With what we’ve been able to accomplish in the PAC the past few seasons, we always have high expectations,” said longtime St. Vincent head coach D.P. Harris, who is back for his 12th season. “Our goal every year is to win the conference, win 20 games and go to the NCAA tournament.

“Our players are on board with that goal and want to follow the tradition of the program.”

As voted on by the league’s head coaches, St. Vincent College earned four of nine first-place votes to headline this year’s annual preseason poll. The Bearcats went 22-7 last season and finished 12-4 in the PAC to capture their second straight PAC championship. The program also made its second consecutive appearance in the NCAA Division III Championship Tournament.

Sean Kett

Saint Vincent senior Sean Kett

Despite graduating stars Dillon Stith, who was last year’s PAC Player of the Year, as well as Isaac Turner, Harris welcomes back a wealth of experience in 6-foot-5 senior forward Sean Kett (Miami, Fla.), 6-2 junior guard J.C. Howard (Pittsburgh, Pa.), 6-2 junior guard Dan Sinwell (Greensburg, Pa.), 5-9 junior guard Ben Klimchock (Greensburg, Pa.) and 6-3 junior guard Pat Jones (Frostburg, Md.).

“Since we began this season, I’ve been surprised by what Pat Jones has done,” Harris said. “After losing two big players in Dillon Stith and Isaac Turner, Pat has sort of come out from their shadows and has played very well early by averaging about 20 points a game. He’s certainly been a bright spot.”

Harris also is excited about the additions of transfers Jaylon Bell (Ocoee, Fla./Leo University), a 5-11 junior guard, and 6-7 sophomore forward Austin Ford (Blue Bell, Pa./Kutztown).

“Because we have some new players, this season is going to be about how these guys want to play,” Harris said. “Early into this season we began rotating players in and out of the game. Five guys in and five guys out to keep them fresh on the court.

“We’re going to put more bodies on the floor, and that’s something I believe you need to do to be successful at the Division III level.”

Waynesburg University finished second in the preseason poll, followed by Thomas More College, Bethany College, Thiel College, Washington & Jefferson College, Grove City College, Geneva College and Westminster College.

Waynesburg went 9-7 in the PAC last season and was led by Jason Propst (Brighton, Colo.), who averaged 11.2 points a game as a junior. The 6-5 senior forward as well as 6-4 senior forward Jacob Fleegle (Jennerstown, Pa.) headline the Yellow Jackets’ returning starters. Waynesburg is guided by head coach Mark Christner who won the PAC’s Coach of the Year award last season, making him the school’s first men’s basketball coach to receive the honor since Jacket legend Rudy Marisa following the 1997-98 season.

Drew Mumford (Louisville, Ky.) paced Thomas Moore with 14.7 points a game last year to help the Saints to a 15-12 finish and third straight appearance in the conference title game. The 6-2 senior forward is back this season as is 6-2 guard/forward Nate McGovey (Alexandria, Ky.).

Bethany College is coming off a 21-6 overall campaign. The Bison went 14-2 in the conference last year and were led by Delonte’ Joyce (Annapolis, Md.), who averaged 16.9 points as a junior. The 6-1 guard is back for his senior season. He as well as Antonio Rudolph (New Castle, Pa.), a 6-2 sophomore guard, are expected to be two key offensive weapons for the Bison.

Khari Bess (Waldorf, Md.) averaged 13.1 points last season to help Thiel finish 7-9 in the conference. The 6-1 guard is back for his junior year. He and 6-6 senior forward Eric Mallinger (Pittsburgh, Pa.) are the Tomcats’ top returnees this season. Mallinger garnered the first PAC Player of the Week award of the young season with an impressive performance at Westminster’s Buzz Ridl Classic.

W&J posted an 8-8 mark in the PAC last year but has been beset by injury early in the 2014-15 campaign. Players like 5-7 senior guard Doug Johnson (Greensburg, Pa.) and 6-1 senior guard Mike Resnik (White Oak, Pa.) are returning starters who will try to keep the Presidents afloat in the early portion of the schedule.


Grove City senior Mitch Marmelstein

Grove City finished 7-9 in the conference last year and were led by Mitch Marmelstein (San Juan Capistrano, Calif.), who averaged 13.3 points a game. Already looking sharp, Marmelstein reached the 1,000 point plateau for his career with a 21-point performance in a season opening win against Franciscan University. The 6-3 senior guard is complimented by Brian Giesler (Harrisville, Pa.), a 6-3 senior forward, and 5-8 senior guard J.T. Schwartz (Pittsburgh, Pa.), who are expected to guide the Wolverines this winter.

Geneva College struggled through a 1-15 run in the conference last year. The Golden Tornadoes welcome back 6-4 junior guard/forward Ethan Adamcyz (Uniontown, Ohio), 6-3 senior guard/forward Tyler Damazo (Beaver Falls, Pa.) and 6-3 sophomore guard Chaese Vaudrin (Uniontown, Ohio).

Westminster is expected to go through another rebuilding season after winning just two conference games last year. The Titans, though, do return 6-3 junior guard/forward Paul Carswell (Painesville, Ohio) and 6-4 junior guard/forward Charlie Wallander (Pittsburgh, Pa.).

“This is the most competitive and most talented I’ve seen this conference,” Harris said. “From top to bottom, every team is well coached.

“The PAC has a history of being known as a football conference, now we’re seeing basketball improve greatly. We’re getting closer to where more than one team will be making the NCAA tournament.”

We’ll take a look at PAC women’s basketball next week. The PAC Sports Network will be broadcasting 12 doubleheaders and 27 total basketball games this winter.  Click here for our 2014-2015 broadcast schedule.

W&J To Face Wittenberg In NCAA First Round

by Randy Gore

NCAA logoWhen it comes to winning football programs at the Division III level, two of the most successful are Washington & Jefferson College (9-1) and Wittenburg University (9-1). In the opening round of the NCAA playoffs, the Presidents and Tigers will go head to head on Saturday at noon from Edwards-Maurer Field in Springfield, Ohio. While these teams have been regulars in the NCAA D-III playoffs, 41 appearances combined, this is only the third meeting all time between the two schools with the last coming back in 1930.

An overtime loss to Waynesburg University in the regular season finale prevented the Presidents from hosting a playoff game and instead has W&J traveling three hours west to face Wittenburg.  However, W&J still enters the postseason as champions of the Presidents’ Athletic Conference for the third consecutive season. The Presidents are looking for their first NCAA playoff win since 2008 when they reached the quarterfinals with victories over Christopher Newport, 35-29, and Millsaps College, 35-20, before bowing out to Mary Hardin-Baylor.

Wittenberg completed an undefeated run through conference play with a 52-21 win over Allegheny on Saturday, capturing its fifth North Coast Athletic Conference crown in the last six seasons. Like W&J, this is the third consecutive trip to the NCAA playoffs for the Tigers.  In the past two playoff appearances, the Tigers earned first round victories before being upended in the second round.  Last season Wittenberg posted a 59-17 opening round win and then fell to the eventual national runner-up Mount Union, 56-21, in the second round.  The Purple Raiders also cut short the President’s 2013 campaign with a 34-20 win in the NCAA first round.


W&J junior Ryan Ruffing

A quick glance at Saturday’s meeting reveals an intriguing matchup between one of the best offenses in the nation against one of the most opportunistic defenses in the country.  W&J has imposed its will on opponents this season with the third best offense in D-III, racking up 548 yards per game.  A well-balanced offense, head coach Mike Sirianni compliments the passing of sophomore quarterback Pete Coughlin with the legs of running back Ryan Ruffing.  The junior from Thomas Jefferson high school has toted the football for 1,565 yards and has scored 24 touchdowns, ranking him second in the nation.  Thomas More’s Dominique Hayden leads D-III with 25 rushing scores. Ruffing ranks No. 1 in scoring with an average of 16.8 points per game.

The Presidents will face a ball-hawking Wittenberg team that ranks sixth in the nation in turnover margin with a plus 17. The Tigers defense has recovered 16 fumbles and has 14 interceptions this season.  Of the thieves in the secondary, junior Winston Thomas has pirated four enemy passes and senior Victor Banjo has three picks.


Wittenberg senior Zach Culvahouse

Some notables on the Wittenberg offense: junior receiver Zach Culvahouse has 1,010 yards and a school single-season record 71 receptions this season.  Culvahouse started the year in a big way, reeling in a school single-game record 14 passes in the season opener against Butler on September 6. The passing game is certainly a strength for this Tigers team and quarterback Zack Jenkins has thrown for 2,499 yards and 23 touchdowns with only four interceptions.  Junior running back Sean Gary is the team’s leading rusher with 549 yards and five scores. Gary averages only 3.3 yards per carry and 54.9 yards per game.

Kickoff for Saturday’s NCAA first round game between W&J and Wittenberg is set for noon.  The winner will face the winner between Mount Union (10-0) and Adrian (8-2) in the NCAA second round. For a look at the entire NCAA playoff bracket, click here.