2016 PAC Football Preview: What to Say About These 11 Teams?

By Justin Zackal

There’s a lot to say about the 11 PAC football teams as they enter the 2016 season. The soothsayers who participated in the preseason poll pretty much recreated last year’s standings, but for the following exercise we’ll let an optimist, the statistics and each head coach have their say about the teams:


THOMAS MORE (11-1, 8-0 PAC in 2015)
thomasmoreOptimist Says: For the seventh time in the last eight years, the Saints are defending at least a share of the PAC title. Only two teams came within two touchdowns of the Saints last year, one of which was an overtime loss to Wabash in the second round of the NCAA playoffs. Thomas More should only get better as second-year head coach Regis Scafe puts more of his fingerprints on a team that sure didn’t seem like it was unfamiliar with a new coaching staff last year.

Statistics Say: Thomas More outscored opponents by an average of 48.6 to 17.3 last year, including 52.1 to 13.6 through the first nine games.

Coach Says: “We try to stay balanced and we have some good young guys in the program, but (with all-PAC receivers Goose Cohorn and Tyler Vogelpohl graduated) … we’re going to have to do it more by committee.”


wj-newOptimist Says: W&J won eight games last year and head coach Mike Sirianni still called it a disappointment, lamenting that his team did not get better during the season. After stewing all offseason, during which he hired a new strength coach, Sirianni has his team’s attention. The Presidents have had too much success (nine wins per season in 13 years under Sirianni and 23 PAC titles in 32 years) to let this program slip any further.

Statistics Say: Senior quarterback Pete Coughlin completed 71 percent of his passes last year, leading all of Division III and setting W&J and PAC records for a season. He led the PAC with 302.3 passing yards per game (25 TDs, 7 INTs).

Coach Says: “(Coughlin) gives us a chance to beat anyone in our league because of what he can do with his feet. Some of our best plays I just let him go, (just) running around, see what you can do. He’s a special type of player.”


Case LogoOptimist Says: The Spartans went from 3-7 in 2014 to 7-3 last year under head coach Greg Debeljak, and this year they return 13 starters, including eight all-PAC players. They have six offensive linemen who have starting experience protecting first-team all-PAC quarterback Rob Cuda. Only losing to Thomas More by four points last year, Case showed how close it is to dethroning the Saints.

Statistics Say: Cuda ranked ninth in the nation last year with 334.6 total yards per game, leading the Spartans with 2,631 passing yards (28 TDs, 5 INTs) and 715 rushing yards.

Coach Says: “You can get caught up in the numbers and how many people we have back. We have an excellent quarterback coming back. We try to stress to the kids all year, it’s not going to happen just because we were good last year.”


westminsterOptimist Says: If Westminster is considered a sleeping giant, with six NAIA national championships before joining NCAA Division III 16 years ago, then last year the Titans woke up with their most wins since 1997. Third-year head coach Scott Benzel won’t let them doze off after one season, not with 16 starters returning, including the team’s leading passer (Paul Columbo), rusher (Dominique McKinley) and receiver (Jemetrius Bentley).

Statistics Say: Westminster’s defense, which returns seven starters, led the PAC last year in scoring defense (16.7 points per game) and total defense (257.0 yards per game).

Coach Says: “(The older players) need to teach these guys coming in this is how you play college football, this is how you prepare and this is what you need to do to be successful.”


CMU1Optimist Says: The Tartans enter the season with a seven-game win streak, third most in Division III. Under head coach Rich Lackner, they’ll learn from last year’s 1-3 start. CMU also has three preseason All-Americans: junior safety Drew Fitzmorris, junior running back Sam Benger and senior defensive end Brian Khoury. The rest of the PAC has one (W&J’s Coughlin).

Statistics Say: Benger led the nation with 2,092 rushing yards, averaging 190.2 yards per game while becoming the 21st player in Division III history to reach the 2,000-yard plateau.

Coach Says: “It says a lot about the character of our kids and the quality of our assistant coaches to turn things around and win six in a row. We hope to have a better start to the 2016 campaign than we had last year. A lot will depend on how that offensive line shapes up (three starters lost).”


BETHANY (5-5, 4-4 PAC)
bethanyOptimist Says: The Bison were supposed to be better than a .500 team last year, but, still, 11 wins in a two-year span hasn’t happened at Bethany since 2000-01. Bethany hasn’t had a losing PAC record since 2012, the year before fourth-year head coach Bill Garvey took over the program.

Statistics Say: Senior running back Jalen Holmes ranked second in the PAC in rushing last year (135.3 per game, 6.0 per carry) with a school single-season record 1,353 rushing yards, but Bethany will need him to help control possession after the Bison were third-worst in the PAC in time possession (28:09 per game) to go with a PAC-low 13 forced turnovers.

Coach Says: “We’re definitely going to go through (Jalen). … The biggest thing we need to work on as a program is our consistency throughout a 10-game season.”


st-vincentOptimist Says: So Saint Vincent didn’t see a four-win improvement like it did from 2013 (0-10) to 2014 (4-6), but the Bearcats should improve this year with five new assistant coaches on third-year head coach Ron Dolciato’s staff, including defensive coordinator Shawn Rohrer for his second stint at Saint Vincent after spending the last five years running W&J’s defense.

Statistics Say: Senior running back Shavonta Craft scored a team-high eight rushing touchdowns last year with 124 total touches (103 carries, 21 receptions) for 670 yards (437 rush, 233 receiving).

Coach Says: “Well, I should give (Shavonta) the ball more than I did last year … the more he gets the ball the better he gets.”


waynesburgOptimist Says: Even though last year was Waynesburg’s worst record since 2001, you could have expected a lull with a true freshman, quarterback Jake Dougherty, starting at the most important position. Head coach Rick Shepas admitted that they were patient to develop their signal-caller, not to “throw him to the wolves early on” and that they “played close to the vest with him.” Last year was a reboot and the Yellow Jackets should soon get back to averaging more than eight wins a season like they did the previous three years.

Statistics Say: Dougherty averaged 187.2 passing yards per game with 19 TDs and 12 interceptions.

Coach Says: “(Jake) developed exactly the way we wanted him to and I think we took some chances as we finished the season with him. His development is right on where we want him to be. The biggest thing for us is we’re going to be able to surround him with much more talent and I think that’s going to be the most significant thing that could change for us.”


GENEVA (2-8, 1-7 PAC)
genevaOptimist Says: Geneva keeps trending downward each year (5-5 in 2013, 3-7 in 2014 and 2-8 in 2015), but the Golden Tornadoes have stability in 24th-year head coach Geno DeMarco to reverse their fortunes. They also have a first-team all-PAC linebacker as the backbone of their defense in Jimmy Quinlan (99 tackles in 2015).

Statistics Say: Geneva ranked in the top half of the PAC in total defense (389.9 yards per game) last year, but its offense couldn’t move the ball, ranking 10th (296.1).

Coach Says: “I know a lot of people think we are dead but I will go on record saying we’re not dead yet.”


THIEL (2-8, 1-7 PAC)
thielOptimist Says: Having an experienced quarterback affects what your team can do — just ask Waynesburg — and Thiel has a good one in senior Ryan Radke. His athletic ability will allow the team to accelerate its capabilities as first-year head coach Dan Blume gets acclimated.

Statistics Say: Radke is already Thiel’s all-time leader in career total offense (6,108 yards) after ranking fifth in the PAC last year with 2,129 yards (151.8 passing average, 61.1 rushing average).

Coach Says: “Ultimately, we are going to fit our scheme and our system to what our players do well. Coming in, Ryan Radke is a dynamic player and he’s arguably our best football player, so the first thing we wanted to do as a staff is find ways to stress teams with his athletic ability.”


GROVE CITY (0-10, 0-8 PAC)
grovecityOptimist Says: Only one way to go, right? Well, you could have said that last year, but the Wolverines didn’t win a game for a second straight year. However, this year is different because the program finally belongs to first-year head coach Andrew DiDonato, who was the offensive coordinator/head-coach-in-waiting last year. The transition is complete; time to rebuild.

Statistics Say: Grove City was either 10th or 11th in the PAC in the major team categories last year except pass offense (221.1 per game, 6th) and pass defense (218.0, 5th), but that’s mostly because the Wolverines were playing from behind and opponents were protecting leads.

Coach Says: “We have a bold vision of what we want to do, but it’s not going to happen overnight. It’s a process.


W&J Unveils New Athletics Brand, Logo

W&J image 1A diligent and creative process to develop a new brand and logo for Washington & Jefferson College Athletics came to fruition on Wednesday night. The brand and logo was unveiled to the public on WTAE-TV, Pittsburgh Action News 4 following months of preparation. The immediate response from the Washington community, students and alumni was more than favorable following the brand’s unveiling.

The new brand was developed by SME, a strategic branding agency based in New York City. Among its clients, SME has produced logos and branding for the Atlantic Coast Conference, Miami Marlins and the Kentucky Derby.

“This is an exciting time for W&J Athletics,” said Director of Athletics Scott McGuinness. “I would like to thank SME for the company’s creativity and strategy during this process. Our committee considered valuable input from students and alumni to help us build an athletic logo program that encompasses the vast and rich history of this athletic department, but also keeps an eye towards the future.”

The brand will be rolled out in phases over the next year as it is integrated into the athletic facilities expansion and renovations, added to team uniforms in line with the College’s uniform replacement policy, and implemented throughout social media and web platforms. For the official W&J press release and a look at the team specific logos, click here.

The PAC Sports Network is proud to say it played a role in the editing of the “brand reveal video” which can be seen below. Congratulations to W&J Athletics for a great new look!

Top-Seeded La Roche Riding a Crescendo into the NCAA Mideast Regional

By Justin Zackal

wjThe La Roche baseball team just keeps getting better and better, improving its season win total each year since 2009. The Redhawks enter the NCAA Division III Baseball Mideast Regional riding a crescendo of success by making their fourth appearance at regionals since 2012.

Follow all the action as the PAC Sports Network ( will broadcast each game of the eight-team, double-elimination tournament from Washington & Jefferson’s Ross Memorial Park May 18-22.
Let’s go “around the horn” with La Roche head coach Chase Rowe, followed by a “quick pitch” for each of the other seven teams:

FIRST BASE. La Roche (36-9), ranked 12th in the nation, is the FIRST-ever Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference team to earn the No. 1 seed in a regional. After becoming the FIRST team in school history to win more than 33 games, is this team expecting to break even more new ground with a FIRST-ever trip to nationals? “I don’t talk to the group about expectations,” Rowe said. “They’ve wanted to win this regional since the first workout in the fall. That’s been the expectation they put on themselves. This group has been hungry to make their own mark.”

SECOND BASE. This will be the SECOND year that La Roche is playing in a regional at Ross Memorial Park. The Redhawks went 3-2 in last year’s regional as the fourth seed before losing to Frostburg State, 8-4, in the championship game. La Roche has played 11 games (7-4) the last three seasons at Ross Memorial Park. “W&J is pretty much like a second home field to us,” Rowe said. “It’s a great place, we love playing there and we’re excited to be back.”

SHORTSTOP. The most important player on La Roche’s team may not lead the Redhawks in many statistical categories (only his 28 walks). But, senior SHORTSTOP Colin Williamson (.337, 30 RBI, 6 HR) plays a critical role. “He’s our leadoff hitter; he sets the tone,” Rowe said. “He’s the heartbeat for this group. He’s the hardest-working, nicest kid, best student that you can get. He’s just an all-around guy that kids look up to. He’s the table-setter at the top of the lineup. When he’s going good, we’re really good. When he’s struggling, we have to scratch and claw to win. He’s the most important factor right now.”

THIRD BASE. This is La Roche’s THIRD straight regional appearance and the Redhawks have won 30 or more games in each of the last three years. Will they draw on this experience? “Not really. I think this group is much more staying in the moment right now,” Rowe said. “We had a tough conference tournament. We had to come out of the losers’ bracket after losing the first game and late in the regular season we were trying to put ourselves in a position from an overall record standpoint to get an at-large bid. We’ve been grinding games at least for the last three or four weeks. They are drawing from that a lot more than from last year or the previous year. Hopefully they’ll keep the momentum going.”

#2 RANDOLPH-MACON (32-6-1). The Yellow Jackets are ranked second in the nation, and second in the regional. The Old Dominion Athletic Conference champions don’t have a proven track record, having never won a regional game in four other appearances (1977, 2008, 2011 and 2013). PLAYER TO WATCH: Senior third baseman Travis Lodge, the ODAC Player of the Year, ranks second in the nation in slugging percentage (.867).

#3 WOOSTER (34-11). The Scots, on the other hand, have that experience, despite making their first appearance since 2013. Champions of the North Coast Athletic Conference, Wooster’s 28 tournament appearances are the fourth most in Division III, while the Scots have won five regional titles (1989, 1994, 1997, 2005, 2009) and have finished second twice (1997, 2009) or third once (2005) at nationals. PLAYER TO WATCH: The ace of the pitching staff for the last two years, junior left-hander Michael Houdek is 9-2 with a 3.00 ERA this year.

#4 THE COLLEGE OF NEW JERSEY (30-10). The highest seeded team with an at-large bid, the Lions come out of the New Jersey Athletic Conference, which produced three tournament teams this year. The Lions are making their first NCAA postseason appearance since 2009. PLAYER TO WATCH: Senior outfielder Patrick Roberts owns team highs in the key average stats – batting average (.392) on-base (.476) and slugging (.582) – and counting stats – hits (62), walks (24) and homers (6).

#5 OHIO WESLEYAN (27-14). An at-large team out of Wooster’s conference, the NCAC, the Battling Bishops are making their first NCAA playoff appearance since 2008 and their 18th overall. PLAYER TO WATCH: Senior C.J. Tosino is a first-team all-NCAC outfielder who’s batting a team-high .403, which ranks fourth in the NCAC.

#6 JOHNS HOPKINS (28-13-2). The Blue Jays, an at-large team from the Centennial Conference, are making 21st appearance in the NCAAs, including 12 in the last 16 years. Last year, they went 3-2 in the Mid-Atlantic Regional, falling short of their first regional title since 2010. PLAYER TO WATCH: Junior Conor Reynolds, a first-team all-Centennial shortstop, has more than 150 career hits and 125 career runs, both on pace to rank in the top-five in team history.

#7 ST. JOSEPH’S LONG ISLAND (24-11). Despite finishing fourth in their conference, the Golden Eagles grabbed an automatic bid by winning the Skyline Conference Tournament for the second time in team history. PLAYER TO WATCH: Senior utility player Nick Girardi, Skyline Player of the Year in 2015, earned second-team honors this year after batting .387

#8 WIDENER (24-16-1). The Pride automatically qualified by capturing their second Middle Atlantic Conference Commonwealth crown over the last three seasons. PLAYER TO WATCH: Junior second baseman Justin Healey is batting .366 and earned conference tournament MVP laurels by going 8-for-11 in the team’s three wins.

PAC Baseball Tournament Preview: The Starting Nine Topics

By Justin Zackal

base-ins-050816Three of the four teams that played for last year’s PAC baseball championship return to Thomas More this year as the top-seeded Saints will once again host the four-team, double-elimination tournament May 12-14.

Thursday and Saturday’s games will start at noon and 3 p.m., while Friday’s slate will feature games at 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. The PAC Sports Network will deliver live video broadcasts of all of this year’s games at

Despite the same location and similar teams as last year, there are different storylines. Here is the lineup of “starting nine” topics to follow this weekend:

Thomas More (26-9, 20-4 PAC) is the best offensive team in the PAC this year. The Saints’ .347 batting average ranks fourth in the nation, led by junior outfielder Casey Metzger, who ranks second in the PAC with a .437 average.

“That’s kind of our forte,” said Thomas More head coach Jeff Hetzer. “That’s one thing we can usually count on from year to year.”

But what’s different about this year’s team is…

The Saints improved their fielding percentage from last year’s .945 (seventh in the PAC) to .966 this year (30th in the nation).

“Our defense has vastly improved,” Hetzer said. “I think that’s been really good for us and a dramatic difference from last year to this year.”

Only third-seeded Washington & Jefferson (24-15, 16-8 PAC) has a better fielding percentage at .968 (20th in the nation). The Presidents rely heavily on their defense because…

W&J pitchers allow the fewest walks (2.3 per 9 innings) but also the fewest strikeouts (4.5 K/9 IP). More things can happen when the ball is in play, so it’s impressive that the Presidents are able to maintain a 4.25 ERA (PAC average is 5.40). Second-seeded Thiel (28-12, 17-7 PAC) is tops in the PAC in ERA at 4.20, led by senior all-region left-hander Matt Elko (1.81, 5-1), although he hasn’t pitched in three weeks and his status is in question. The Tomcats strike out more batters (6.26 K/9 IP), but so does Thomas More (6.32 K/9 IP) and pitching is the Saints’ weakness.

“If there’s a dent in our armor it would be the pitching,” Hetzer said. “It hasn’t been good. The ERA shows that (5.80 ERA, seventh in the PAC). That’s one thing we worry about.”

Despite the worries, Thomas More won’t try anything desperate, like pitching games by committee. The teams in this year’s tournament will remain steadfast with what got them here because of experienced…

There’s a reason why the tournament field is so similar to last year and that’s continuity from the league’s coaches. Hetzer is in his 16th season, while W&J’s Jeff Mountain is in his 14th year and Thiel’s Joe Schaly his 17th. Matt Royer may be the newcomer, leading fourth-seeded Grove City (25-14, 15-9 PAC) to its first tournament appearance since 2011 as the team’s first-year interim coach, but Royer has more than 19 years of collegiate head-coaching experience. At 22-7 and 14-2 in the PAC, Royer led Grove City to its best start in team history, but that was before April 23-24 when the Wolverines were swept in three games in their last trip to Thomas More. Since then, Grove City has lost seven of its last eight PAC games, including all six to Thomas More and Thiel. The other three teams should be more confident based on…

W&J, having won 10 of its last 11, and Thiel, 9 of 12, enter the tournament on hot streaks, but Thomas More is the most consistent team in the league.

“The main thing for us has been being consistent and trying to get back to this spot,” said Hetzer, whose team went 3-2 in last year’s tournament, including a 17-5 loss to the W&J in the final game. “You can’t win the conference unless you’re in the conference tournament, so I think that’s been the goal just to get back here and change the end result from the year before.”

The Saints only lost consecutive games twice the entire season, and the latter occurred against W&J last weekend when Thomas More already clinched…

Thomas More is the only team in the league that has to stay in a hotel for all of its road conference games. Despite this, the Saints were 7-2 in those games and 13-2 at home.

“I don’t know if it’s a big advantage when it comes to baseball, but we wouldn’t trade it,” Hetzer said. “I think with our guys it’s just being more comfortable when you’re playing at home versus staying in a hotel.”

If home field is not a huge factor, what does Hetzer think will increase his team’s chances of winning?

“Two-out hits are big in tournament play,” he said. “You get momentum and you can keep (an inning) going, it really enhances your chances of winning. And, vice versa, if you can’t get out of an inning on a 50/50 play and it continues, then it goes the other way as well.”

Thomas More bats .322 with two outs, best in the league, while its batting average against with two outs is .295. Grove City bats .320 with two outs and W&J and Thiel are both at .281. Thiel is best at limiting opposing two-out hits at .283. The question is which player will provide those hits. Often in tournaments a player, sometimes an unlikely one, gets hot. But odds are it will come from…

“You count on (your best guys) but some of the guys that maybe haven’t done it all year could have a great three days,” Hetzer said.

It’s impossible to predict an unlikely hero, but one player enters the tournament hitting well, particularly against Thomas More. W&J junior outfielder Nick Vento batted .400 last week and he homered in all three games vs. Thomas More.

“He just lit up over the weekend,” Hetzer added. “It seems like he lights us up every time he sees Thomas More; it’s like a whiffle ball game to him.”

Other candidates: Grove City’s Andy Fritz and Matt Waugaman, the PAC leaders in batting average (.438) and homers (10), respectively, Thomas More’s Ben Kenning, the RBI leader (47), and Thiel’s Dan Koller, the hits leader (59).

But no one will remember statistical leaders; they only remember…

Thomas More won three PAC titles (2010-11, 2014) since joining the league in 2006. Thiel and GroveCity haven’t won since 2003 and 2008, respectively. W&J won its 10th PAC title last year, its sixth since 2004. As defending champs, the Presidents could be considered the team to beat.

To Thomas More, at least, it’s a new tournament.

“We don’t get caught up in all that and who we are playing,” Hetzer said. “We are not looking back (at last year) and saying, ‘Man, we can’t wait to get W&J again,’ because you don’t know. It could be Thiel or it could be Grove City this year.”

PAC Softball Title Up for Grabs in “Anyone’s Tournament”

By Justin Zackal


Westminster Titans are the top seed and host for the 2016 PAC Softball Championships.

Not since 2011 has a PAC softball team won the conference title as the top seed and tournament host. Still, Westminster prefers the home-field advantage as the Titans host the four-team, double-elimination tournament Friday and Saturday in New Wilmington.

“We obviously aren’t taking anything for granted,” said Westminster’s 20th-year head coach Jan Reddinger. “The top seed isn’t often as successful in this tournament because everyone is so evenly matched. The top four teams are so comparable and so close in talent that it could be anyone’s tournament.”

Find out whose tournament it will be by following all the action on the PAC Sports Network, which will stream video of every game, Friday at 10 a.m., noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., and Saturday at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. (if necessary).

Reddinger is probably more aware of history than the young players on her team, and that’s just one reason why the team has enjoyed so much success this year.

“If I had to say during the season it was a good thing because they didn’t know who we were playing,” Reddinger said. “They didn’t realize Bethany hosted it last year and was the regular season champs last year, or that Thomas More won it last year. There was no fear of who we were playing. They played every team the same. That, to me, was a plus.”

The Titans might not want to read the following breakdown of each team’s tournament history, but here goes:

#1 Westminster (23-13, 16-2 PAC) is hosting its third PAC tournament (2013, 2007) as the Titans are seeking their second league championship (2005).

#2 Thomas More (30-8, 15-3 PAC) has won five of the last nine and two of the last three PAC championships, including last year and in 2013 when Westminster last hosted — and qualified for — the PAC tournament.

#3 Saint Vincent (24-12, 12-6 PAC) has never won a PAC championship but they hosted the tournament in 2012 and qualified last year as the fourth seed, finishing both seasons with a team-record 24 wins that were equaled again this year.

#4 Bethany (20-18, 12-6 PAC) hosted the tournament last year and the Bison’s 12 PAC titles are more than any other school, but they haven’t won since 2011.

Westminster’s two seniors, catcher Alexis Sheffer and pitcher Amber Forrest, are the only Titans who experienced a PAC tournament. Fourteen of the Titans’ 19 players are freshmen and sophomores, including sophomore pitcher Jazmyn Rohrer (12-7, 1.96 ERA) and freshman infielder Kailey Liverman (league highs of .496 batting average, 64 hits, 19 doubles, and 44 RBI).

The Titans cruised to a 19-game win streak before losing both games of a doubleheader last Friday at Thomas More, 4-1 and 5-4. Reddinger said the Titans didn’t take the Saints for granted, but she hopes losing had a positive effect.

“Now we know what it takes to beat a team like that,” Reddinger said. “Since we are hosting and the No. 1 seed, everyone assumes that we’re the team (to beat). Thomas More probably has a little more fear with everyone else just because they have a lot more experience at this than we do. One team has an advantage with experience and we have the advantage with it being at our place.”


Thomas More pitcher Mamee Salzer was the MVP of last year’s PAC tournament.

The player most capable of dictating the outcome of the tournament will be Thomas More senior pitcher Mamee Salzer (15-3, 2.17 ERA), who went 2-0 with a save last week, including a two-hit shutout at Bethany and a complete-game victory and a save in two wins over Westminster.

“All four teams that made it have tremendous pitching,” Reddinger said. “You never know with how your pitchers are, with injuries, how you’re hitting. It all has to come together and you only have two days for it to come together.”

That’s why the PAC tournament is so unpredictable and the regular season results don’t matter.

“It’s completely different,” Reddinger added. “There’s no room for making mistakes. When it comes down to this point it’s usually the team that wants it the most. It doesn’t always have to be the most talented team.”