PACSN Blog

Brandon Domenick Giving Titans A Big Boost

By John D’Abruzzo

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Photo courtesy of Gannon University Athletics.

Brandon Domenick just wanted to play basketball.

As a redshirt freshman earlier this year at Division II Gannon University in Erie, Domenick realized he might not have too much time left as a player and decided to make a move in order to fulfill his goal of competing at the college level.

“Last summer, I got a concussion,” the 5-foot-9 guard said. “Right before this season, I got another one and it was my third one I had since I was at Gannon. Every one of them happened while practicing.”

After sitting out two months this winter, doctors gave Domenick the green light to return to court. He, though, believed he would need to go elsewhere in order to receive playing time, so he headed home to Lawrence County and transferred to Westminster College.

“I knew at Gannon I would have to split time with two other guys,” said Domenick, who transferred during Christmas break. “I also knew Westminster needed a point guard.”

“I figured I might not play forever, so I might as well play while I still can.”

After working his way into the Titans’ lineup, Domenick quickly became a key acquisition for Westminster. Through nine games, he averaged 6.2 points and 4.9 assists while logging in 29.4 minutes a game.

“The best part of Brandon coming here is that he really reminds me of myself,” Westminster head coach Kevin Siroki said. “He’s a hard-nosed guy who doesn’t take anything from anyone. He’s a leader and we’re already seeing that from him.”

“Coming in during the second semester, he got to know the guys and they know he’s a leader who will give everything he has every day. What I really love about him is that he’s only going to get better.”

A 2013 graduate of nearby New Castle High School, Domenick scored 840 career points as a four-year starter for the Red Hurricanes. During his senior year, he helped New Castle set a school record with 29 consecutive wins.

“They have a great program at New Castle,” Siroki said. “He knows about winning. The guys see him and see how he carries himself on and off the court.”

Domenick finished his high school career as New Castle’s all-time leader in assists (541) and 3-pointers (207).

“As a high school player, Brandon is everything you look for in a point guard,” New Castle coach Ralph Blundo said. “He’s just about perfect in every regard; he has a great handle of the ball, he’s an excellent passer and he can shoot.”

“His commitment to the game and ability to keep learning is off the charts. His work ethic is outstanding. He has experienced winning because he is a winner. He’s a great get for Westminster.”

Blundo, a former college player, transferred from Division I Monmouth University and finished his final two years at Westminster. For Domenick, it only made sense to contact his former coach and ask for advice.

“He told me it was the best decision he ever made,” Domenick said. “He knew how much I wanted to play and wanted to play as much as I could now.”

Blundo graduated from Westminster in 1995 and returned a decade later for a three-year stint as an assistant coach.

“I’m a Westminster guy and I have a strong allegiance to my alma mater,” Blundo said. “Kevin and Brandon are a match made in heaven. Brandon is a great student of the game and he’s only going to continue to learn and get better.”

Siroki also hopes the addition of Domenick may help in recruiting local talent. Domenick along with sophomore guard Tre Major, a Union High graduate, remain the only two Lawrence County products on Westminster’s roster.

“We want to start winning here and it’s only a matter of time,” Siroki said. “It’s a rebuilding process. We have guys who believe, and we’ll get there.

“We’re happy to have Brandon and we know New Castle basketball has a great following and they now have a chance to see him play closer to home.”

Against Washington & Jefferson College on Jan. 21, Domenick poured in four 3-pointers and finished with 12 points and seven assists to help Westminster earn a 92-50 Presidents’ Athletic Conference victory. The Titans improved to 5-12 overall and 2-6 against PAC opponents.

“We’re doing all the right things, but we need to stay on course to keep seeing the right results,” Domenick said. “In a lot of our games, we’ve been better than our opponents but didn’t see the right result.

“Hopefully, once we get on a roll, we’ll go from there.”

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Dillon Stith, Isaac Turner Look To Slam It Down Under

By John D’Abruzzo

It was about five years ago when Isaac Turner and Dillon Stith first met on the campus of Saint Vincent College. At the time, Latrobe might as well been a world away from home for Turner, who was from Winter Park, Fla., and Stith, who is a native of Bedford, Va.

Dillon Stith

Dillon Stith won the 2014 PAC Player of the Year Award.

“It was like yesterday,” Stith said. “We became friends, started playing video games and hanging out in our dorm rooms. Then we once we got onto the court and started playing basketball together, we became great friends on the court.”

The St. Vincent’s men’s basketball teammates played together for four years and helped guide the Bearcats to two Presidents’ Athletic Conference championships and a pair of NCAA Division III tournament appearances. Although their college careers ended last year, they are now about to embark on an entirely new journey. This time, it’s literally going to take them on the other side of the world.

Turner and Stith will leave for Australia at the end of January and hope to begin their respective professional careers. Following a tryout in Indianapolis, the pair was among a dozen players selected to work out for teams from both the South East Australian Basketball League and Big V professional league.

“They both have the willingness and want to play overseas,” St. Vincent’s men’s basketball coach D.P. Harris said. “They’re hoping this is an entry door to fulfill that dream.”

Stith, a 6-foot-5 forward, was the PAC’s Player of the Year last season and the only player in the conference to average a double-double (19.5 points/10.2 rebounds).

“Obviously, this is a great situation and I am blessed to be going anywhere,” Stith said. “I was not fortunate enough to get looks from any other league in the world, and that was a little disheartening.”

“It’s been hard not playing and seeing basketball on TV and knowing St. Vincent is taking the court without me.”

Stith finished his college career with 1,310 points and averaged of 11.7 points a game. He also averaged 6.2 rebounds after pulling down 697 career boards.

“I didn’t even start on my high school team until the second half of my senior year,” Stith said. “When I saw I had a real possibility to play college basketball, I jumped at the chance to play at St. Vincent. I never really imagined as my senior year was ticking down that I may have an opportunity to play overseas.”

“Playing basketball wasn’t as much of a dream for me until everything manifested, and now it would be silly for me not to go where the game is taking me for as long as I can.”

Isaac Turner

Isaac Turner scored 1,469 points while at St. Vincent.

Turner, a 6-2 guard, earned First Team All-PAC honors last year after he led the conference in scoring with an average of 22 points a game.

“I’m really excited about the opportunity,” Turner said. “The goal is to get signed by a team and stay over there. We’re going to be competing in tournaments and trying out for these leagues until about Feb. 20.”

Turner finished his college career with 1,469 points and averaged 17.2 points.

“Isaac and Dillon were about 65 percent of our scoring [last year],” Harris said. “Dillon has some outstanding potential at some level. He has the height and there’s a market for a guy who has his range and who can shoot the 3 [pointer]. It’s going to be a tougher road for Isaac. He comes from great pedigree and he’s hard working.”

“It’s a process and sometimes it takes a year or two to play overseas.”

Turner, though, believes having Stith by his side will benefit both on and off the court once they arrive in Melbourne.

“It’s going to be huge having someone I know with me,” Turner said. “When we were in Indianapolis, people could tell we had played together. There were a few plays where you could see we had a connection. Our chemistry is what helped us both get looked at.”

Stith agreed.

“We’re probably the only set of teammates going on this tour,” he said. “Not only am I going with someone I know, but I’m going with my best friend the last four years. We’re going to be able to have each other’s backs. When you think back to five years ago, it’s unimaginable to think we would take this journey together.”

Their trip Down Under will take a total of 24 hours. After flying out from Pittsburgh with a layover in Chicago, they will then fly to Los Angeles before heading straight to Australia. Once they arrive in Melbourne, they hope basketball will continue taking them places.

“The ultimate goal is to keep playing for as long as we can,” Turner said. “I can speak for Dillon when I say that he has the same goal I have. I’m definitely not ready to be done playing. I have a lot of basketball left in me.”

“Australia is good place to start. First, there’s no language barrier to worry about. Secondly, who knows what the future will bring for either of us. This is best the transition possible and a great was to get our feet in the door.”

Bethany Hall of Famer Jill Kamerer-Smith Honored By Recent Accolades

By John D’Abruzzo

Social media presented Jill Kamerer-Smith with a bit of a surprise.

While scrolling through her Twitter feed this past November, she was a little shocked to see her named listed on the Presidents’ Athletic Conference women’s basketball 60th anniversary team. A 2001 graduate of Bethany College and former standout player, Kamerer-Smith immediately checked in with her longtime friend and former teammate, Rosanne Scott, to verify what she just read.

Jill Kamerer-Smith

Jill Kamerer-Smith addresses the crowd during her Bethany College Hall of Fame Induction this fall.

“Someone from Westminster re-tweeted the post, so I texted Rosanne,” Kamerer-Smith said. “She explained it to me because I didn’t know anything about it. It’s a great honor and pretty cool to think that most of the girls from Bethany named on the team I had an opportunity to play with. That says a lot about the program and the teams we had.”

Getting named to the conference’s anniversary team was the second time in less than a year that Kamerer-Smith was recognized for her stellar career. In October, she was one of five new members inducted into Bethany’s Bison Hall of Fame.

“It really was an honor,” said Kamerer-Smith, who now lives in Erlanger, Ky, where she teaches physical education. “I enjoyed having my teammates there with me. It’s really cool that Stephanie [Cunningham-Roksandich] and Rosanne [Scott] were both there. We all played together and we’re now all in the hall of fame.”

Kamerer-Smith’s induction class also included Kathleen (McGowan) Wack (swimming & diving, 1998), Jodi Jackfert (softball, ’98), Nevada Smith (men’s basketball ’02) and Michael Mezerski (tennis, ’99).

“It’s a great honor for Jill and it was about time she was honored,” said Scott, who is Westminster College’s head women’s coach and also was inducted into Bethany’s Hall of Fame in 2013. “It’s great to see the players from the great teams we played on start to receive recognition.”

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Jill Kamerer-Smith and the Bison celebrate one of four PAC titles won during her tenure with the team (1998-2001).

A 1996 graduate of Buckeye Local High School in Rayland, Ohio, Kamerer-Smith, was a four-year letter winner at Bethany and helped guide the Bison to four PAC Conference championships and three NCAA Division III Tournament appearances. She is still the program’s all-time leading scorer with 1,914 points and holds the single-season record with 551 points.

“Jill was just instant offense,” said Scott, who is a 2000 graduate of Bethany. “She could post up and score with her back to the basket. She was a great shooter and the best teammate.”

“We had such great chemistry on the floor and that’s probably because we were best friends off the court. She had the greatest hands I’ve ever seen as both a player and a coach.”

During Kamerer-Smith’s junior year, she led the conference in scoring and averaged 19.7 points a game. She was named the PAC MVP during her senior year after she led the league in scoring for the second consecutive season by averaging 20.5 points.

“I believe our teams kind of started the winning tradition at Bethany,” Kamerer-Smith said. “From our freshman year, we wanted to continue winning. We wanted to put losing behind us and we were able to leave our mark.”

Scott agreed.

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Jill Kamerer-Smith and Rosanne Scott.

“We took pride in everything we accomplished as a team,” said Scott, who ranks third on Bethany’s all-time scoring list with 1,636 points and finished her career with a program-best 493 assists and 323 steals. “Just with our competitiveness, we wanted to make our mark on the program. With the seniors we played under as underclassmen, we had great leaders so they started the attitude that we wanted to continue. We wanted to win and the girls who came after us helped continue that tradition.”

After graduating from Bethany, Kamerer-Smith served as a part-time assistant coach basketball at Thomas More College while earning her teaching certificate. She went on to teach high school physical education for close to nine years before spending the past four years teaching elementary school.

“Basketball definitely helped me as a PE teacher,” she said. “Being an athlete has always been a part of me even when I was younger. I thought I would coach and go down that path, but it didn’t go that way.”

She did, however, coach junior varsity basketball in Kentucky for five years before she hung up her coaching whistle.

“People always ask me about coaching, but my coaching years are over,” said Kamerer-Smith, who now enjoys watching her sons, six-year-old Jace and three-year-old Jett, start to get into basketball. “I might help out with my sons, but I’ll probably just yell from the stands.”

Former PAC Football Coach Tries Hand Abroad

By Rob Longo

Around western Pennsylvania, Jeff Hand is somewhat of a familiar name. The Ellwood City native was previously the head coach at Waynesburg University, and later moved on to coach at Westminster College.

But after Hand resigned as the coach at Westminster following the 2013 season, Hand looked for something different, so he decided to head across the pond to France for six months from January to July to coach.

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Photo courtesy of Westminster Athletics.

“It’s a unique scenario,” Hand said. “I was very fortunate to be a college football coach at 28 years old. After those 15 years, I decided to do something out of the box, do something unique and do something for myself. Getting the chance to travel a little bit has been rewarding. Football is such a unique scenario; you really get back to the grass roots of it. When I was in France, it was myself and an offensive coordinator and a few position coaches, but for the most part, you have to coach it all.”

In France, Hand’s team, Amiens Spartiates, made it to the national championship. But with the team playing two-straight weeks and having a week off allowed Hand to do the traveling he desired, making stops in Ireland, Spain and Italy among other places on the off weeks.

Hand compared American football overseas to that of soccer in the United States, where clubs have an age limit up until 19, where players are put in the senior league.

“In France, I had a guy on the team that was 35, had three kids, was married, had a full-time job and loved the game,” said Hand.

After the brief stint in France, Hand will take his coaching abilities to the sandy beaches of Brazil this month to be the head coach of the Rio Branco Cabritos, an 11-month long position.

When it comes to talent, Hand compares it to the Division III level. In recent years, many Division III programs have traveled to Europe to face teams in exhibition games to get a few extra reps in, as well as to gain a priceless experience.

“There are some really good standout players, and some other guys that are committed that want to get better at the sport, Hand said. “The athleticism is there, it really is. The biggest difference on athleticism is they all grew up playing soccer – anything with their hands is relatively new. We grow up catching and throwing; they’re still coming along. Athletically, they’re there. The fitness level is there and they’re committed to putting the time in, but not to the level of a committed NCAA athlete. The French national team and the German national team can compete and beat some Division III (programs).”

Between scarce resources and teaching the fundamentals, Hand said the biggest challenge is, of course, the language barrier.

“That’s the biggest downfall; I’m not multilingual,” said Hand. “I try to learn some words before I go. They know American football terms. They know what a guard pulling is. All the positions are the same name; it’s all Americanized. They know some things about the sport but it’s still challenging. I always prided on myself to get to know the players, and that kind of makes it challenging because you want to talk to them and create a relationship. At some practices in France, I was on my own, but some of the assistant coaches were good translators for me. There were some players that were pretty good with English.”

Unlike in Europe where Hand had a place to live, a stipend and his plane ticket paid for, he will also have a cell phone and meals provided for him in Brazil. With no family to be worried about, Hand said where his future endeavors after South America are unknown.

“To me, it’s a tradeoff,” Hand said. “I get to travel. The Brazilians want to talk long-term as long as things are good. In all honesty, I have to get there and see what is there. If it works out and I’m comfortable there, I might go back for an additional year. I can’t see myself living in another country for an extended period of time. I want another run at the college level, but I’m not pinning myself down on what the timeline of that is. There are definitely opportunities; it’s a matter of finding the right one.”

Dawn Of A New Day For Grove City Football

By John D’Abruzzo

Grove City College’s football program has begun to think about its future.

Soon after receiving word that longtime head coach Chris Smith will retire following the upcoming 2015 season, the college quickly set up a game plan.

Former Grove City standout quarterback Andrew DiDonato has been named Smith’s successor. He will join the coaching staff in January and serve as the Smith’s offensive coordinator before taking over as head coach at the conclusion of next season.

“Since the day I graduated, I knew if I ever got the chance to return to Grove City College I would take it,” said DiDonato, who is a 2010 graduate of Grove City. “I feel very fortunate to return and work with a man I greatly respect.

“It will make for a nice transition to be able to learn from Coach Smith this upcoming year and then take over after next season.”

DiDonato

Andrew DiDonato will take over as head coach following 2015 season.

A native of Bridgeville, Pa., and 2006 graduate of South Fayette High School, DiDonato was a four-year starter at Grove City. He still holds all-time career passing records in yards (7,509), completions (750) and touchdowns (49).

DiDonato spent the past three years coaching at his high school alma mater. As Joe Rossi’s offensive coordinator, DiDonato helped guide the Lions to their second consecutive Pennsylvania state championship this past season. He also had a hand in developing quarterback Brett Brumbaugh into Pennsylvania’s all-time leading passer.

“I was blessed to work with and work around great people,” said DiDonato, who had coaching stints with the University of Buffalo and Peters Township High School before going to South Fayette. “Over the past two seasons I was fortunate enough to prepare for and coordinate in four championship games – two WPIAL finals and two state championship games.

“The experience of coaching in that type of environment will help me at the next level.”

Besides coaching football, DiDonato also will teach exercise science and physical education at Grove City.

“Having known Andrew DiDonato for many years as coach and colleague, he is an excellent choice to lead the next generation of Wolverine football and I’m delighted that he is joining our staff,” Smith said. “As I prepare to embark upon my final year as head coach, I’m excited about the prospects for the 2015 season and I am confident in Andrew’s experience and ability to lead our program for many years to come.”

Smith has guided the Grove City’s football program to 119 career wins during his 31 seasons. He helped the Wolverines capture Presidents’ Athletic Conference championships in 1997 and 1998.

“For more than three decades, coach Smith’s unwavering dedication to Wolverine football has been a blessing to Grove City College,” Grove City College President Paul J. McNulty said.  “Our program has been fortunate to have an excellent teacher and leader of young men in coach Smith.

“His mentorship helped to shape scholar athletes whose on-field success mirrored success in the classroom and later, in life.”

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Coach Chris Smith will leave a legacy of success at Grove City.

A former Grove City player, Smith played for the Wolverines from 1968-71 and led the team in interceptions all four years. He also holds the program record with 22 career interceptions.

Smith began his coaching career at Grove City as an assistant football coach and track coach in 1979. He took over as head football coach in 1984 and also served as the college’s athletic director from 1996 to 2003. Smith was named the Division III Coach of the Year by the Metropolitan New York Football Writers Association in 1997.

“Coach Smith and I had a wonderful player-coach relationship during my time at Grove City College,” DiDonato said. “I consider it my responsibility to make him, all alumni and the Grove City community proud of the way this program grows during my tenure.”

This past season was a tough year for Smith and the Wolverines. They finished 0-10 overall after an 0-8 run in the PAC.

“During my playing days at Grove City, I experienced first hand how competitive every school is in this conference,” DiDonato said. “The schools that have joined the conference since I graduated have made the competition even stronger.

“I expect every game this upcoming season to be a challenge.”

DiDonato also believes the Wolverines will need to put in a lot of offseason work in order to field a competitive team next fall.

“A major factor for the amount of success we will experience this season will be preparation,” DiDonato said. “Developing in the weight room this winter, competing on the practice field this spring and ensuring there is no let down in either area over the summer.

“We must maximize our opportunities from now until camp starts in August.”