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2021-22: Penn College athletes keep making strides

During a year in which athletics programs across the nation saw a return to near normalcy for the first time since 2018-19, Pennsylvania College of Technology teams had plenty to celebrate during their eighth season as a member of the United East Conference and fifth season as a full-fledged member of the NCAA.

Included were:

  • Softball regular-season champion, conference tournament runner-up, UE Pitcher of the Year and three All-Region selections.
  • Baseball conference tournament third place and one All-Region selection.
  • Golf conference tournament third place and Rookie of the Year.
  • Men’s lacrosse top four.
  • Five all-conference first-team selections.
  • 12 all-conference second-team honorees.
  • Archery top 20 national finish.

“The determination and resolve of our student-athletes has never been more apparent than it was this year. After a year off, our student-athletes returned to competition and still had to navigate challenges created by the pandemic. They met those challenges head-on and represented our institution with pride,” interim Athletic Director Matthew Blymier said.

“We finished the season strong during the spring season. Our baseball, golf and lacrosse teams finished near the top of the conference and our softball team made its third-straight appearance in the conference finals. We had very young teams this year and I think our future is very bright in all of our sports,” Blymier said.

“While we had mixed success in competition this year, we continued to excel in the classroom – and that’s always the main objective. We raised the bar yet again with our overall grade point average, number of dean’s list selections and the number of student-athletes with 4.0 GPAs,” Blymier added.

A sport-by-sport review of the 2021-22 year (alphabetically):

In the USA Archery Collegiate Target Nationals, six archers got a taste of what it is like to compete against the best in the country, earned a 16th-place finish among the 23 that accumulated team and individual points, and gained valuable experience that will pay dividends going forward.

The men’s compound team of Noah Burke, of Tionesta; Alex Edwards, of Kutztown; and Jonathon Vough, of Athens; and the men’s fixed pins team of Dyson Renn, of Hellam; Brandon Fisher, of McClure; and Jansen Balmer, of Ephrata, both lost in the national outdoor quarterfinals.

In individual men’s fixed pins with 61 competitors, Renn qualified 11th in the ranking round, won his head-to-head match in the round of 16 and then lost in the round of eight (final 16), after tying his opponent but being less than one centimeter off on the closest-to-the-center tiebreaker.

“Everyone is looking forward to the offseason. Each archer learned a lot about what they need to work on to prepare for 3D in the fall and the rest of next season,” second-year coach Dustin Bartron said.

In addition to getting 20 wins for the eighth time in 16 seasons under coach Chris Howard and reaching postseason play for the fifth year in a row, the Wildcats handed their coach his 300th career win (his overall record now stands at 320-224) as they finished 21-18 overall and 14-10 in all UE games.

Statistically, Jacob Carles, of Bernville, led the team with a .407 batting average, 59 hits and 15 (of 16) stolen bases; Jake Wagner, of Palmyra, led with 51 runs scored; Cameron Dick, of Dillsburg, was tops with 18 doubles, 42 runs batted in and slugging percentage (.604); Shane Price, of Kersey, led with six home runs; and Carles, Dick and Nate Gustkey, of Philipsburg, each had two triples. On the mound, Sam Zeigler, of Palmyra, had a team-best 5-1 record and team-low 3.12 earned run average, while Ben Bretzman, of Bendersville, was the strikeout leader with 57.

Four Penn College players were named to the UE all-conference team. Junior outfielder Carles was named to the first team, while junior third baseman Dick, senior pitcher Zeigler and junior designated hitter Shane Price, of Kersey, were named to the second team. After the season ended, senior Connor Burke, of St. Clair, was named to the conference’s All-Sportsmanship Team and Carles was named to the All-Region 4 third team.

Among the keys going forward will be getting stronger and staying healthy.

“The biggest jump I see is from the freshman to sophomore year and that’s usually because of strength training, guys getting bigger, stronger and faster. And, we have to be healthy. With who we have coming back next year, I’m excited about what lies ahead,” Howard said.

“The most important stride our program made this year was gaining this great experience and learning what it takes to compete with the best teams in the conference,” coach Geoff Hensley said after his team finished 5-18 overall and 5-11 in the UE.

Freshman point guard Gavin Barrett, of Roselle, New Jersey, led the team in scoring (258 points), assists (132) and steals (43), and was named to the UE All-Sportsmanship Team.

In three seasons under Hensley, the Wildcats are 15-59.

In coach Britni Mohney’s second season, the Wildcats continued to see on-court improvement as they finished 7-16 overall and 6-10 in the UE, the first time since 2014-15 they have posted six conference wins in a season and the second time since that same season they had seven overall wins.

“We had a lot of first-year collegiate players get experience, and that builds for a promising future for Penn College basketball,” Mohney said.

Junior Rachel Teats, of Middleburg, led the team in scoring (292 points) and assists (69) while junior Ja’Quela Dyer, of Dover, Delaware, was tops with 212 rebounds. Senior Maci Ilgen, of Spring Mills, was named to the UE All-Sportsmanship Team.

Under Mohney, the Wildcats are 14-33.

CROSS-COUNTRY (men/women)
Competing in the UE Championships, the men were sixth and the women fifth, both in seven-team fields. Individually, freshman Alec Rees, of Centerport, New York, finished 17th to lead the men and junior Cinnamon Digan, of Mifflinburg, placed 18th to lead the women. Then, during season-ending races at the NCAA Division III Mid-Atlantic Region Championships, the men placed 27th and the women 30th. Individually for the Wildcats, Rees was 149th for the men and Digan was 190th for the women.

“Both teams went out and competed to the best of their abilities. I’m very impressed with the grit and determination we showed. Both teams have a lot to be proud of with the way they competed. I know I am one proud coach,” Nick Patton said of his sixth editions.

Honored by the UE in the postseason being named to their respective All-Sportsmanship Team were Digan and sophomore Dean Fulton, of Palmyra.

“Over (last) summer, CSL Esports and NACE (National Association of College Esports) formed a partnership to create the NACE Starleague. This partnership increased the participating schools from 150 to over 400. We were used to competing against schools in Pennsylvania, so with the addition of schools in New York, Virginia and Ohio it was unknown how we would stack up in the competition,” coach Joshua Young said. “Our Valorant, Overwatch and Rocket League teams were all new rosters, so I am proud of them with the growth and success as the season progressed.”

Going into the UE Championship, first-year coach Rob Lytle said there was no quit in his team, and his players proved it with consecutive rounds of 337 and a 674 total that earned third place in an eight-team field. Leading the way was freshman Gavin Baer, of Bainbridge, whose rounds of 83-76 gave him a two-day 159 total and sixth place in a 40-player field. It also earned him second-team all-conference and Rookie of the Year honors.

Looking ahead, Lytle said, “The kids I have on the team that are moving to the fall season are going to work hard over the summer in some tournaments and they’re looking forward to the fall. I can’t comment on who we’ve got coming in, but I believe we’ve got some decent prospective players looking at the fall that could make this really exciting.”

After the season ended, Baer also was named to the conference’s All-Sportsmanship Team.

In the program’s second year under coach Jordan Williams, the Wildcats finished with a winning overall record (9-8) and ended 4-3 in all UE matches after reaching and falling in the conference semifinals.

Five players landed on the UE all-conference lacrosse team as freshman defender Mason Nester, of Schwenksville, was named to the first team, while sophomore attack James Thatcher, of Bala Cynwyd; sophomore attack Quinn Caviola, of Ridgefield, Connecticut; freshman midfielder Trevor Soli, of Redding, Connecticut, and freshman short stick midfielder Cole Spezialetti, of Millersville, were all named to the second team. Also, junior Alex Freeman, of Lebanon, was named to the conference’s All-Sportsmanship Team.

“We believe we are going to continue to grow and become more competitive each year. We are playing a lot of the same teams next year as well as picking up some extremely competitive programs on the schedule such as Kean and Stockton. We want to play the best teams that will play us week in and week out so we can see what high-quality lacrosse is. With this group, I know they welcome that challenge and will fight for 60 (minutes). We have the pieces here and coming in this fall to make some noise in year three,” Williams said.

In two seasons under Williams, Penn College is 13-10.

SOCCER (men)
Coach Tyler Mensch came into the season with a young squad seeking a new identity that finished 4-11-4 overall and 2-3-3 in the conference.

“Our record does not indicate how competitive we were. We were inches away from being a very good team and qualifying for the United East Conference playoffs,” Mensch said, adding, “We got a lot of experience with our freshmen and sophomores contributing a lot of minutes. They all got a sense of what it takes to play at the collegiate level, which will be beneficial heading into fall of 2022.”

In the postseason, it was announced that senior Chris McFarland, of Coatesville, a defensive midfielder, was named to the UE all-conference second team, making him the first three-time all-conference honoree in Penn College’s NCAA era that began in 2014-15. He also earned second-team honors as a junior and sophomore. During his career, McFarland had an NCAA-era team-record 15 assists, including a team-best three this season. Also, senior Colton Wartman, of Ellicott City, Maryland, was named to the UE All-Sportsmanship Team and led the squad with five goals.

In six seasons under Mensch, the Wildcats are 32-72-10.

SOCCER (women)
After reaching the conference playoffs during coach Christa Matlack’s first two seasons before the pandemic, the Wildcats had a 6-11 overall finish (3-5 in the UEC) and missed the postseason in Matlack’s final year. “(It was a) challenging fall due to a battle with injuries resulting in lack of consistency in our lineup,” said Matlack, whose three-year record was 28-28-1.

Progress during the season, however, was that the “freshman and sophomore class(es) saw a large amount of playing time that will only benefit them moving forward,” Matlack said, adding, “(There is) a lot of potential for growth. The returning athletes combined with a strong incoming class bodes well for the program.”

Sophomore Teagan Willey, of Towanda, led the team with six goals and 16 points. Freshman Cassie Johnson, of Richland, named to the UE second team, led with five assists and was second in scoring with five goals. Freshman Brieanna Twigg, of Montgomery, was named to the UE All-Sportsmanship Team.

Over the winter, former Penn College men’s player Ian Scheller was introduced as the team’s new head coach.

Assessing her team’s success, coach Angela Stackhouse noted, “We had a very accomplished season and it is incredible to look back and see everything we achieved:

  • Conference (tournament) runners-up;
  • Regular-season champion;
  • Five all-conference team selections;
  • Senior pitcher Kyla Benner, of Bethlehem, being named conference Pitcher of the Year, (earning) three-time Pitcher of the Week honors, Penn College Female Athlete of the Year, and tossing two perfect games;
  • Freshman pitcher MacKenzie Weaver, of Montoursville, being named Penn College Female Newcomer of the Year and tossing a no-hitter.”
  • And the season also included program records for most wins in a season (28) and consecutive wins (15) as it finished 28-9 overall and 24-4 in all United East games.

In addition to Benner and Weaver, senior Olivia Hemstock, of Northford, Connecticut, also was named to the UE first team, while junior Ivvy Morder and junior Maddie Hurst, both of Mechanicsburg, were named to the second team, and Jordan Specht, of Frederick, Maryland, was named to the conference’s All-Sportsmanship Team.

Also, Hemstock, Benner and Specht were named to the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Division III All-Region third team. It is the second consecutive year that Hemstock and Specht earned all-region honors and Benner’s first all-region nod.

“The future of the program remains bright. We have plenty of young talent looking to fill some big shoes and I believe they are ready to do so,” said Stackhouse, whose teams have gone 52-18 in three seasons. “This team has learned what it takes to compete for championships and I am sure they will be hungry for another opportunity!!”

TENNIS (men)
After posting a 5-1 fall record, fourth-year coach Jessica Bower was full of optimism for her men’s squad going into the spring. But a season-ending injury to her No. 2 singles player in early April forced a juggled lineup that went 1-6 the rest of the way for a 6-7 finish, 1-4 in the UE. Even so, senior Tucker Phillippe-Johansson, of Mattituck, New York, finished 8-6 at No. 1 singles and freshman Paul Langbein, of Carnegie, was 9-4 at No. 2 singles. And, they teamed for an 11-3 doubles record.

Of the men’s team, Bower said, “We are looking forward to next year and continuing to improve our record and qualify for the postseason. We have a couple of good recruits coming in who will help bolster the top of the lineup. We need to not only be able to count on the top of the lineup but the guys on the bottom (4, 5, 6) need to be able to come up with some wins as well.”

After the season, Phillippe-Johansson was named to the conference’s All-Sportsmanship Team.

TENNIS (women)
The Penn College women ended with a 3-11 overall record, Bower said, which was the best since 2015-16 when they were 3-10. The Wildcats were 1-4 in the UE.

“The women definitely showed how versatile they can be. We had women who were playing in the bottom of the lineup in the fall and at the top in the spring and vice versa,” Bower said.

After the season, senior Alexis Youse, of Pottstown, was named to the conference’s All-Sportsmanship Team.

Overall under Bower, the Wildcat men have gone 13-18 and the women 7-25.

“Overall, it was a year of growing pains,” said first-year coach Carolyn McKeon, whose team snapped a two-season (going back to 2019), 19-match losing streak early on only to drop its next 13 matches and finish 1-16 overall, 0-8 in the UE.

Freshman Sierra Yaggi, of Troy, led the team with 169 digs while sophomore Cheyenne Stein, of Orwigsburg, was tops with 200 assists. Freshman Hailey DeBrody, of Cogan Station, led with 58 kills and 17 blocks. Senior Emalie Marnati, of Canton, was named to the conference’s All-Sportsmanship Team.

“The ladies not only grew this year, but they did it with smiles. We had a lot thrown at us and we showed every day and worked hard. I could not be more proud of these women and their efforts in a post-COVID-19 season,” McKeon said.

Competing in his first NCAA Division III Mideast Regional Championship, 141-pound sophomore Noah Hunt, of Muncy, became the fifth Wildcat in school history to place among the top eight at regionals. Hunt also had a team-best 16-12 record.

Assessing his final season as the coach, which included a 5-13 record in dual meets, Jamie Miller said, “Despite some significant setbacks, this has been a really exciting year for us. … These guys are all warriors and the vast majority of them will be back next year with some really high expectations. The future is bright for our program because of the guys on our roster.”

During four seasons under Miller, Penn College was 30-69.

In April, it was announced that the college will begin competing in Empire Collegiate Wrestling Conference (ECWC) starting next season, marking the first time it has had a conference affiliation since 2015-16.

Twenty-three student-athletes, representing nine teams with an average GPA of 3.64, were inducted into the Chi Alpha Sigma National College Athlete Honor Society.

This year’s class joins 64 previously inducted student-athletes. A student-athlete must be in their junior or senior year with a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.4 to be eligible.

“Induction into Chi Alpha Sigma is a distinctive recognition of the exceptional gifts, talents, skills and positive energy our student-athletes bring to our campus, classrooms and contests,” Penn College Faculty Athletics Representative Tom Zimmerman said. “We are honored and proud to recognize them and their achievements.”

For more about the United East, visit the conference website.

For additional information, visit the Wildcat Athletics website.

No. 42

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