PACSN Blog

ORLC Women’s Lacrosse Championship Preview

By Justin Zackal

ORLC LogoIn the two-year history of the Ohio River Lacrosse Conference (ORLC), the women’s tournament will be hosted by a Presidents’ Athletic Conference (PAC) school. Last year, in the league’s inaugural season as a joint venture between PAC and Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference (HCAC) schools, Saint Vincent earned hosting rights and won the league’s first crown.

Now it’s Washington & Jefferson’s turn. Well, at least the Presidents’ turn hosting the tournament, which they earned by going undefeated in ORLC this season. And unless Transylvania, Saint Vincent and Mount St. Joseph have anything to say about it, this could be the Presidents’ turn to win the conference title as well.

Find out by following the PAC Sports Network on Saturday which will have all the action with live video streaming of the championship game at http://www.pacstream.net.

In semifinal action, Transylvania will face Saint Vincent Friday at 1 p.m., followed by W&J vs. Mount St. Joseph at 4 p.m. The two winners will meet for the championship Saturday at 5 p.m.

Here’s a look at each team:

#1 WASHINGTON & JEFFERSON (11-4, 8-0 ORLC)The Skinny: After losing four of their first five games, the Presidents enter the tournament winning 10 straight, including victories over each of the tournament teams in succession to end the regular season. W&J snapped Transylvania’s 13-match win streak with a 10-8 triumph in Lexington, Ky., Sunday behind five goals from senior Ashley Bulger. W&J bowed out in the semifinals last year as the third seed.
 Player to Watch: Sophomore Caroline Kallos, who had six points (3 goals, 3 assists) Sunday, posted 52 points in her last six matches to break the W&J record for points in a season with 73.

 #2 TRANSYLVANIA (13-3, 7-1 ORLC)The Skinny: Transylvania is easily the highest scoring team in the ORLC with nearly 14 goals per game, while limiting opponents to 7.5, but the Pioneers have outscored the three other teams in tournament by a narrower margin, 10 to 9.7. Against the five other ORLC teams the average score is 18.2 to 5.6. Transy lost to Saint Vincent in last year’s semifinals, 17-9.
 Player to Watch:  Senior Rachel Harrison is the league’s leading goal-scorer with 64, including no fewer than four goals in her last eight matches. She logged five goals in the 10-8 loss to W&J on Sunday.

#3 SAINT VINCENT (7-9, 6-2 ORLC)The Skinny: The defending champs lost six straight nonconference games to start the season, but the Bearcats fared well in the ORLC despite losses to Transy, 14-12, and W&J, 14-6. 
 Player to Watch: Sophomore Maggie Nelson led the ORLC with 83 points, but Transy and W&J limited her to four and three points, respectively.

#4 MOUNT ST. JOSEPH (7-8, 5-3 ORLC)The Skinny: The Lions return to Washington after losing to W&J in their regular-season finale on Saturday, 10-9, despite leading 7-6 in the second half. MSJ surrendered just 6.37 goals per game in conference action, second only to W&J’s 5.63.
 Player to Watch: Junior Erica Walsh shoots more than anyone else in the league (153) and she ranks fourth with 44 goals. She scored three goals vs. W&J and five in an 8-7 loss to Transy on March 30.

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PAC’s Two Newest Athletic Directors Discuss the Division III Experience

By Justin Zackal

The two newest athletic directors in the PAC are entering their third full month on the job after being named to their roles in December 2015. With the sports seasons changing, this is a great time to get to know these leaders and their views of Division III athletics.

TODD GIBSON

Director of Athletics at … Grove City College

Hired … December 18, 2015

Other duties include … head coach of the men’s and women’s track and field teams.

Before becoming AD … he was Grove City’s interim AD after Dr. Don Lyle retired earlier in 2015.

Joined the department … in July 2010 as full-time assistant professor of physical education and exercise science when he was promoted to head track and field coach. Other previous roles included … assistant track and field coach for two seasons and assistant football coach for 10 years.

College degrees are … in political science at Grove City and integrated social studies/secondary education at Youngstown State, as well as a master’s in exercise science at California University of Pennsylvania.

As a student-athlete … he was a split end on the Grove City football team from 1998-2001, including two years as a starter and the team’s leading receiver as a senior.

 

AMY SCHAFER

Schafer, AmyDirector of Athletics at … Thiel College

Hired … January 1, 2016

Other duties include … senior woman administrator (SWA), a role she’s held since 2009, and she’s in her fourth year as the chair of the Health & Physical Education Department.

Before becoming AD … she was Thiel’s associate director of athletics, starting in 2014, and compliance and eligibility director, beginning in 2012.

Joined the department … as the head softball coach in 2005 until she resigned to become exclusively an administrator after the 2015 season.

Other previous roles included … Thiel’s assistant director of athletics.

College degrees are … in physical education at Bethany College and a master’s in sport management at California University of Pennsylvania.

As a student-athlete … she was a catcher for the Bethany softball team, earning All-America honors in 2002 and three all-region and first-team all-PAC laurels as from 2001-03.

 

HOW THEY ARRIVED

Just because Gibson and Schafer are contemporaries –– arriving in the AD’s chair in their mid-30s with coaching backgrounds –– doesn’t mean they followed the same career progression and goals. But they both have the same appreciation for the role.

While serving as interim AD, Gibson was approached by school administration regarding the vacant job.

“If you’d ask me 24 months ago, I would’ve not at all thought that I’d be doing this,” said Gibson. “But I think sometimes when you’re put in situations you’re blessed to find your calling. Just being able to be around 400 athletes rather than (track and football) was really exciting, and more and more I’ve really enjoyed being around the coaches and the staff that work in athletics and administration as a whole at the college. It’s become really fun to me to be part of developing a vision.”

Schafer took a more deliberate path, plotting out her career as an administrator even before she left the coaching profession. In 2014, she was one of 12 individuals selected to the NCAA Pathway Program, which assists administrators who wish to become directors of athletics through education, training and mentoring.

“I sat down one day and was like, ‘I like this administration a little bit more,’” said Schafer, who increased her administrative duties in earnest upon getting her master’s degree from Cal U. “From there everything was just picking up each year, different titles and different duties. It was a good way from the education side to refine some of my skills. And from an experience side, Thiel did a great job in allowing me to develop my interest.”

Being former student-athletes in the PAC helped Gibson and Schafer as leaders charged with enhancing the student-athlete experience.

“It affects every decision that I make every day,” Gibson said. “So having been a student and an athlete at Grove City and also being a coach at Grove City, I think having worn all those hats helps me in my deliberation process and thinking things through.”

Schafer also sees a correlation between her experience as a softball catcher to her career as an administrator, saying with a bit of levity, “You tell everyone what to do, managing everything and having your hand in everything that you possibly could.”

STATE OF DIVISION III ATHLETICS

A common thread when evaluating the Division III landscape is how much Gibson and Schafer stress the heightened competition and expectations. Gibson, who remains head track and field coach, must continue to meet the demands of recruiting.

“The recruiting process is taking on more of a Division I-type model, meaning extremely competitive between schools and between coaches and a lot more high pressure with enrollment demands, at private institutions especially,” Gibson said. “There’s a lot of pressure I see on coaches to win games but also to recruit successful students for the colleges. I think that’s a change from the past.”

Managing Division I-type expectations is just one of the many challenges for athletic directors. By overseeing the coaches, who are managing the expectations of student-athletes, the tone of an entire athletic department is set from the top. For Schafer, that means adding as much value to the student-athlete experience as possible.

“(Prospective student-athletes) feel like it’s going to be like D-1; it’s not,” Schafer said. “(It’s about) finding ways to create an atmosphere for the student-athletes and make them feel like they really do matter. So it’s finding a way to create an atmosphere and add that value because they are here to get an education and not just play sports. I try to tell the coaches to get everything out of it. Make it flashy.”

Social media have heightened expectations, from both the responsiveness in communication to exposing the arms race of what schools offer their athletes. Gibson noted how he’s better off using social media or text messaging to communicate with his athletes rather than phone calls, while Schafer said that when coaches and students-athletes see other schools exhibiting some of that added value on social media, there is a prevailing ‘Why can’t we get that?’ response.

However, the desired outcomes of Division III athletics remain the same.

“I don’t know the values have changed that much,” Gibson said. “When I was participating in athletics here, we wanted to win, we wanted to have great relationships, we wanted to be good students, all of those things still hold true.

“The great advantage about Division III is, speaking for Grove City, is we have individuals who are very passionate about developing a culture that is going to cultivate more positive contributors to our society. If you’re playing Division III sports you have a passion to do it. We’re very fortunate to work with student-athletes in that capacity.”

Five Storylines as Saint Vincent Tries to End the Streaks

By Justin Zackal

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Saint Vincent defeated Thomas More for the PAC title.

Saint Vincent qualified for the NCAA Division III men’s basketball tournament in four straight years as the PAC champion. The previous three years were short-lived, losing in the first round to Bates (92-80), Wooster (76-67) and Ohio Wesleyan (84-75), respectively.

Will this year be different?

Well, this might be the Bearcats’ (22-6) toughest challenge yet, as they travel to No. 5-ranked John Carroll (25-3) Friday at 8 p.m.

Here are five storylines to follow as the Bearcats look to break through.

SAINT VINCENT’S EXPERIENCE. Saint Vincent head coach D.P. Harris acknowledges there’s a different feeling this year as his senior-laden team includes six players who are punching their fourth ticket to nationals and 10 total with tournament experience.

“We’re a lot more calm,” Harris said. “We’re excited, but we’ve been here. It’s just all about experience. You just can’t teach that. Saying that we are calm, I don’t know how we’ll be at 8 o’clock on Friday night, but I know right now our guys are business as usual.”

John Carroll made the NCAA tournament last year, losing to Virginia Wesleyan, 101-86, but none of the Blue Streaks’ 12 other postseason appearances occurred in the last four years.

SAINT VINCENT’S ADAPTABILITY. The last week of February was a whirlwind for Saint Vincent. The Bearcats already had the top seed locked up for the PAC tournament when they traveled to Kentucky to face Thomas More, so they rested their top four scorers and won 63-62 anyway.

After winning their first two PAC tournament games, they beat Thomas More again the following Saturday, this time at home, at full strength and for their fourth straight PAC title. But it was the win at Thomas More that Harris thought was most impressive because it gave the team’s bench players an opportunity to shine.

“It was a demanding week,” Harris said. “Our league is very good. You’re also going to be prepared to play against a diverse style of play.”

JOHN CARROLL’S PACE. Which brings us to John Carroll. The one thing that struck Harris the most while evaluated the Blue Streaks on film is their fast pace.

“They want to get up and down the court and their shot selection is quick,” Harris said. “They want to get the first available shot. They don’t worry about the shot clock. Defensively, they play very hard and they play a lot of guys. They sub five guys at a time. For us, that’s different. We haven’t face that all year.”

To combat that frantic pace, Saint Vincent will have to switch up defenses on the fly when JCU substitutes. Harris also said his team will have no problem playing as many as 10 or 11 players.

The Blue Streaks have 10 players who averaged 15 or more minutes per game and only three who average double-figure points, led by junior guard David Linane’s 15.0 points and 22.1 minutes per game.

“We want to make the most out of every possession and we play fast,” Harris said. “It could be a sprint up there because we like to play fast and we like to press you. We can put some athletes on the court too.”

Bell, Jaylon

Senior Jaylon Bell is the PAC Player of the Year.

SENIORS AT THEIR BEST. Saint Vincent is led by its senior backcourt of PAC Player of the Year Jaylon Bell (16.6 ppg, 4.4 apg), all-PAC first-teamer Pat Jones (14.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg) and JC Howard (10.2 ppg).

This trio is playing at a high level entering the tournament. Their best game could be their next game. They’ll need their best to prevent Friday from being their last game.

“A lot of times seniors don’t get better,” Harris said. “Those guys, even today at practice, you see them getting better and we’re in the fourth year in the last couple weeks of a season, of a guy’s career, which tells me the potential that these guys have had. We’re very lucky that we keep working toward their untapped potential.”

Harris also said senior forward Bobby Swartwout (8.5 ppg) had a “tremendous PAC tournament.”

WHAT A WIN WOULD MEAN. Knocking off John Carroll would not just mean Saint Vincent advances to Saturday night’s second round to play the winner of Friday’s Denison-Alma game. No PAC men’s team has won an NCAA tournament since Bethany’s first-round win over Pitt-Bradford in 2002.

Westminster nearly won in the first round of the 2007 NCAA tournament at John Carroll’s DeCarlo Varsity Center, losing 87-83 to the Blue Streaks team that advanced to the Sweet Sixteen.

“It would be tremendous, just because I know how good the coaches and the players are in this league,” Harris said. “And certainly for ourselves. It would mean a lot to them and a lot to our college too.”

Five Storylines to Follow as Thomas More Looks to Defends its Crown

By Justin Zackal

pacbanner

Thomas More won its 10th consecutive PAC Championship on Saturday.

When Thomas More finished last season undefeated, the Saints became the sixth team in NCAA Division III women’s basketball history to finish with a perfect record. The Saints have a chance to do it again as the reigning national champions enter the NCAA tournament ranked No. 1 with a 27-0 record.

Thomas More hosts the first and second round games this weekend at the Connor Convocation Center, beginning with a 7 p.m. encounter with La Roche on Friday, which follows the Mount Union-Guilford game. Both winners play Saturday at 6:30 p.m.

Here are five storylines to follow as the Saints make their 10th straight NCAA tournament appearance.

FAMILIARITY: Thomas More has played 16 NCAA tournament games at home (11-5) since 2008, including 4-0 last year and 2-0 in 2014. The Saints are 5-3 away from home in the NCAAs.

“Being able to put ourselves in a situation to play here at home is big,” said fifth-year head coach Jeff Hans. “To have people come here with the fans we’re able to get, I think that they’ll give us a little bit of a comfort level that we like to have.”

The Saints are also familiar with their first-round opponent, La Roche (24-3), who they beat 97-46 at home last season, but they also were able to watch film on the Redhawks this year against several of the Saints’ PAC opponents. La Roche went 3-1 against PAC teams this year, splitting with PAC runner-up Washington & Jefferson (losing 90-82 on Nov. 28 and winning 72-61 on Dec. 20) and easily defeating Westminster (66-48) and Waynesburg (76-53). La Roche also played at Thomas More in last year’s NCAA first round, but it did not play the Saints, instead losing to Eastern Mennonite, 77-76.

La Roche may be right behind Thomas More in field goal percentage, ranked third in the nation with 47 percent to the Saints’ top percentage of 48.3. However, in average scoring margin the Redhawks may be fifth in the country at 21.7 points per game, but the Saints’ 40.3 average margin is nearly 13 points better than any other team.

IT’S MARCH MADNESS. It may be easy for the defending national champions to overlook their early round opponents. But, according to Hans, you can’t look ahead to potential opponents.

“We want to approach it this weekend one game at a time and don’t worry about what’s ahead because you just never know,” Hans said. “When you start worrying about the other teams in our bracket, you just have no idea what’s going to happen and who’s going to come out. It’s March Madness.”

Last year, the Saints defeated the eighth-ranked (Washington-St. Louis), second-ranked (St. Thomas), fifth-ranked (Tufts) and third-ranked (George Fox) teams to win the title. They could face fifth-ranked Hope in the quarterfinal and the fourth-ranked Amherst in the semifinal.

temple_drivecentre

Madison Temple is the PAC Freshman of the Year.

PLAYING TOGETHER. With such a collection of talent, a key development this year for Thomas More has been team chemistry on the court.

The starting five is led by senior Sydney Moss, the two-time Division III Player of the Year, who averages 22.0 points per game. Sophomores Abby Owings and Nikki Kiernan, both first-team all-PAC standouts, average 15.0 and 13.1 points, respectively. PAC Freshman of the Year Madison Temple averages 11.9 and senior Alexa Santamaria 5.0.

“The biggest improvement (this year) was just getting them all to play together and understand that it’s not going to be the same person every night,” Hans said.

SUBSTITUTION PATTERNS. One aspect of the NCAA tournament that favors a team with a star-studded lineup is media timeouts. There are more stoppages, one every five minutes when you include quarter breaks, compared to most regular season games.

“It hurts the deeper teams because they’re used to wearing teams out in the second half and that’s not the case because you have those breaks,” Hans said. “Then also it allows you to keep your starting five or your top seven or eight on the floor together more often.”

What’s more encouraging for Thomas More is it has depth if needed. The Saints’ bench has more experience with all those cushioned leads throughout the year. And, according to Hans, two seniors off the bench are playing their best late in the season.

“Samantha Cady had a great conference tournament for us,” Hans added. “She scored when she was supposed to, but just her defensive effort and her rebounding that she was able to provide. Her and Olivia Huber, what they give us off the bench, giving us solid minutes, has been great.”

SENSE OF URGENCY. As indicated by the scoring margin above, the Saints haven’t met much resistance this year. Their 93-74 win over W&J in the PAC championship was the only sub-20 winning margin since Thomas More won a pair of 14-point games to open the season, and those were without Moss.

Now the games mean something.

“The only difference is the sense of urgency, because you are fighting for your life,” Hans added. “You are trying to survive and advance. That’s the mentality that you have because it’s more of a grind. One possession can make the difference at the end.”

 

 

PAC Men’s Basketball Tournament Preview: Saint Vincent Still the Favorite, But it Could Get “Messy”

By Justin Zackal

Jaylon Bell and the Bearcats are looking for a 4th straight title.

Jaylon Bell and the Bearcats are looking for a fourth straight PAC title.

Saint Vincent is looking to become the first school to win the PAC men’s basketball championship in four straight years in more than two decades. The Bearcats will have home court advantage for the PAC Men’s Basketball Championship Tournament February 22-27, which will be held on the campuses of the higher seeds of each game and involve all 10 of the league’s teams. Here is a look at the storylines to follow this week:

THE SET PLAY: The four lowest seeds play each other on Monday for the right to play in Tuesday’s quarterfinal round against the top two teams. Thursday is the semifinals and Saturday is the finals. All games start at 7 p.m. except Saturday night’s 7:30 tip-off.

“Not only do the higher seeds hosts, but we reseed after each round,” said Waynesburg head coach Mark Christner, whose Yellow Jackets won two PAC tournament games at home last year before losing at Saint Vincent, 72-66, in last year’s final. “That really allows the teams that had nice regular seasons to take advantage of that.”

THE LAY-UP: Top-seeded Saint Vincent (19-6, 15-3 PAC) was picked to win the PAC in the preseason poll, but they have lost to three PAC teams in the last month of the season and barely got by fourth-seeded Thomas More (15-10, 12-6 PAC), 63-62, in the regular-season finale, albeit after they already had the No. 1-seed locked up. Still, there’s no denying the Bearcats’ tournament experience and their ability to remain atop the standings all year.

“They are the clear favorite going into the year and I don’t think anything has changed,” Christner said. “Their perimeter guys are certainly explosive and to me that’s their separation from the rest of the league.”

Beckman 1

Andrew Beckman and the Wolverines are the hottest team in the PAC with six consecutive wins.

THE GOOD LOOK: Teams that finish the regular season hot can carrying that momentum over into the tournament. Last year, Waynesburg won its last seven games and wound up in the finals. This year’s hot team: second-seeded Grove City (18-7, 13-5 PAC), winners of six straight games, including a dramatic, last-second 65-63 victory at Saint Vincent on February 13. The Wolverines’ 18 regular-season victories are the most for the program since the 1988-89 season, and their 13 conference wins are the most in program history.

THE LONG SHOT: Eighth-seeded Geneva (5-20, 5-13 PAC) opens at home against ninth-seeded Chatham (4-21, 4-14), a team that’s lost eight straight, and if seventh-seeded Westminster (8-17, 8-10 PAC) dispatches the 10-seed, Washington & Jefferson (1-24, 1-17 PAC), the Golden Tornadoes will travel to Saint Vincent instead of meeting the streaking Wolverines. Geneva played spoiler two years ago, beating top-seeded Bethany, 61-59, as the nine seed in the quarterfinals, and this year the GTs have two of the PAC’s top three scorers in Ethan Adamczyk (18.3 ppg) and Chaese Vaudrin (17.2 ppg).

If you’re looking for a milder upset from the bottom five seeded teams, go with sixth-seeded Thiel (12-13, 10-8 PAC) winning at three-seed Bethany (16-9, 12-6 PAC) in the quarterfinals. The Tomcats won their last meeting with the Bison, 84-80, on January 30.

FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH: Christner touted Saint Vincent’s perimeter players, which are led by senior G Jaylon Bell (16.8 ppg), his pick for league MVP. The Bearcats also have senior Gs Pat Jones (13.9 ppg) and JC Howard (9.8 ppg).

Fifth-seeded Waynesburg (10-15, 10-8 PAC) was able to win at Saint Vincent, 73-64, on February 3. Despite that Bearcat trio scoring 42 of the team’s 64 points, they shot 31.5 percent (12 for 38) and 34.5 percent (19-55) as a team.

“We weren’t afraid of the moment and we really defended them well,” Christner said. “That’s what it takes; you have to be able to guard the perimeter guys and keep in front of them, and you have to be able to hold your own on the boards. If you can do those things, you have a chance.”

Thiel senior Khari Bess may be playing his best basketball at the right time.

Thiel senior Khari Bess may be playing his best basketball at the right time.

Thiel senior G Khari Bess is the league’s stats-sheet stuffer, leading the nation in steals (3.7 spg) and ranking 17th in assists (5.8 apg) to go with his 15.5 scoring average.

“It’s difficult because you try to bring the ball up against him and he kind of waits a little bit and sets your man up and picks your pocket late,” Christner said. “He’s shot it better here as of late, too. He’s playing at a high level.”

How about a player who doesn’t fill up the stats sheet but is just as much of a pain for opposing teams? That’s Grove City sophomore C Andrew Beckman.

“He can get under your skin,” Christner said. “He plays really hard and makes really good plays for his team as far as blocking a guy out or setting a really good screen and just being a general, difficult guy to guard.”

THE LAST SHOT: Anything can happen in a tournament that involves every team in the conference. And while there’s parity in this year’s field, there’s still a clear favorite in Saint Vincent, a streaking upstart in Grove City and after that, who knows.

“If you look at the results in our conference it’s really been as we thought it was going to be and that’s kind of a little bit of Saint Vincent at the top and a little messy in the middle,” Christner said. “Everybody’s going to have the opportunity to go play and that’s the Division III experience; that’s what it’s all about.”