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First Penn College men’s lacrosse team set for action

New sport. New coach. New players. Without question, it is a season of new beginnings for the Pennsylvania College of Technology men’s lacrosse team.

Since his hiring in July, coach Jordan Williams has been building the foundation of the college’s newest NCAA Division III sport, taking what had been former high school and/or college club team players and molding them into Penn College Wildcats.

And on their home turf at UPMC Field at 1 p.m. Saturday, they will get a good test of how much progress has been made when they host five-time defending North Eastern Athletic Conference champion Morrisville State College in the first of a five-game, conference-only schedule.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say a good start is important at all. We have yet to play a collegiate game or even a scrimmage. A good start is just the start; if we make it to game one with all the (COVID-19) adversity, that is a good start,” Williams said.

“Our baseline is set from game one, then the goal is to improve each time we step out on the field. We are more focused on the process of improving throughout our season; results will come one way or the other. Within our conference, there are some great teams and coaching staffs that will have their guys ready to play each week. If we focus on what we can control, give our best effort and compete, I think we have the opportunity to put ourselves in a great position within the NEAC,” the coach said.

Williams’ introduction to lacrosse came as a youngster with the sport’s pace, uniqueness and how it is a combination of other sports he already liked as its calling cards. After high school and college, he served as an assistant coach at Lourdes, Chatham and Ohio Wesleyan universities before coming to Williamsport.

The culture Williams is fostering is built on three pillars: service, gratitude and grit.

“We have been practicing as an entire team with contact gearing up for our first game. It has been great to get away from strictly stickwork and theory to finally put what we have learned into action and competing, which seriously coincides with Penn College and our hands-on education,” Williams said. “I believe the competition aspect on the field is doing so much for our culture, identity and the foundation. We have learned a lot about each other’s strengths and weaknesses, which I feel will mesh together nicely for year one.

“Off the field, we have worked with Habitat for Humanity in the local neighborhood multiple times. (We have) Participated in Vs. Cancer (raised $2,800 last fall – half goes to Janet Weis, other half goes to Vs. Cancer & Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation). (We have) Collected almost 900 nonperishable items for the pantry and local food bank. We also had sessions with Alpha Echo Project, which has been huge for assisting in developing leaders, weaponizing mindfulness and helping build our overall culture through relationships.

“Throughout the first few months, we have had platoon competitions (small groups within our team) and doing a ton of team-building activities to get guys talking and vulnerable with each other.

“On the field, we do our weekly awards – Builder of the Week (a welding mask), which goes to the young man who is working hard on/off the field to help build our foundation and program, as well as Woody of the Week (a Woody doll), which goes to the young man who is being a great teammate on/off the field.

“At the beginning of practice, we always have a thought of the day – whether a quote, situation, etc. – to get the guys thinking. At the end of practice, we go around and have guys share different things, whether it’s something they’re grateful for, a failure they had this week, how they served someone, an accomplishment.

“We have laid a lot of foundation down with all of our efforts, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. We are just worried about laying one more brick.”

In addition to COVID-19 and restrictions that come with it, transitioning a club team to Division III has been Williams’ biggest challenge.

“These guys came here for their majors, for their education, and many of them gave up opportunities to play NCAA lacrosse to get our degree. The biggest challenge has been attempting to build buy-in to something bigger than ourselves, with varying commitment levels at first, but also realizing these guys are passionate about things other than lacrosse – which I love,” Williams said.

“We have ebbed and flowed from 30-plus guys down to 18 and are now up to 22, but this group has taken the leap of faith to create our foundation, which I am immensely grateful for. Like I tell them: If they weren’t here, I wouldn’t have a job,” the coach said.

Williams also is adjusting to his new position as a head coach.

“The biggest adjustment has been having the final say in decisions – on and off the field. I have worked under some awesome coaches who valued my opinion, considered it, and sometimes went with it. It is much easier as an assistant to not like the HC decision if they disagreed with you, but now the buck stops with me, which has been a huge adjustment,” Williams said.

Wildcats to watch, according to the coach, are senior attacker Stephen Lepore, of Palmyra; junior midfielder Dan Jackson, of Phoenixville; junior midfielder Nathan Hugo, of Ligonier; sophomore long stick midfielder Isaac Hernandez, of Monroe Township, New Jersey; and senior goalie Andrew Gobbi, of Haymarket, Virginia.

Top newcomers are freshmen Dan Harkins, of North Wales, a midfielder, and Quinn Caviola, of Ridgefield, Connecticut, an attacker.

Assessing his squad thus far, Williams said:

Offense – We have some talent and experience on the offensive side of the ball who are becoming more comfortable within our systems. We strive to be a free-flowing team where guys work to their strengths instead of scripting everything on the offensive side, which requires a ton of communication. With this we have a good mix of athleticism, stick skills and leadership so we are capable to have a lot of looks. This offensive group will be led through our midfield with some great options at attack who offer some versatility in their game. I am excited to see how we continue to mesh and mold the offense with the year progressing.

Faceoff – We have two or three options at the X this year and with the new rule change to standing neutral grip, our unit has been adjusting well. This in theory should create more 50/50 ground balls and involve the wings more, which I feel is one of our strengths due to our personnel.

Goalie – We have a senior in the cage who takes up a lot of net, communicates well and stays composed. He has the mental side locked down and that is half the battle in lacrosse. Our goalie play will be a big piece of the puzzle moving forward this year.

Defense – This group is a little less experienced but has good size, moves well and they communicate as a unit. We see a lot of different looks with our offensive group so it has helped develop our IQ and ability to adapt to different scenarios on the fly. With our defense it requires adjustments on the fly depending on the dodger, the location of the ball, what the off-ball offensive guys are doing so it requires that communication. We do a great job of talking through situations, even if it is the wrong decision, we do it as a unit.

“I think our biggest area that needs improvement is overall lacrosse IQ. It is something that is hard to teach. It takes time to understand the game to be able to read, anticipate, then react versus just reacting. This is a combination of whiteboard, film, walking through and then repetition after repetition. The best part about this group is how coachable they are – they are sponges – which makes things much easier,” Williams said.

Although due to COVID restrictions, there may be no spectators for the area’s first lacrosse team this season, Williams is looking to introduce the sport to the community as time progresses.

“My goal is in the fall to start introducing the sport to elementary, middle and high schools in the area with free clinics with our team coaching. Just grow the game in the area and show people we are here. I think just by being present, if we are doing the right things, we will draw people. It is an exciting sport to watch whether you know what is going on or not. I have met probably two people in my life who have picked up a stick and said ‘Nope, this isn’t for me,’” Williams said.

The key to his team’s season, Williams said, is “staying healthy (COVID and injuries). We have a small roster where every guy is/will be integral to our success. Everyone has a role from the top to the bottom and that changes weekly.”

SCHEDULES/RECORDS/RESULTS
Baseball
Saturday, March 27 – host Penn State Harrisburg at Bowman Field (2), 1 p.m.
Wednesday, March 31 – at Wells College (2), 1 p.m.
Saturday, April 3 – at Penn State Abington (2), 1 p.m.
Wednesday, April 7 – at Lancaster Bible College (2), noon
Saturday, April 10 – host Penn State Berks (2) at Bowman Field, Noon
Thursday, April 15 – at Penn State Harrisburg (2), 1 p.m.
Saturday, April 17 – host Wells College at Bowman Field (2), 1 p.m.
Wednesday, April 21 – host Penn State Abington at Bowman Field (2), 1 p.m.
Saturday, April 24 – host Lancaster Bible College at Bowman Field (2), 1 p.m.
Wednesday, April 28 – at Penn State Berks (2), 1 p.m.
Saturday, May 1 – NEAC Playoffs, TBA
Saturday, May 8 – NEAC Semifinals, TBA
Saturday, May 15 – NEAC Championship, TBA

Softball
Saturday, March 27 – host Morrisville State College at Elm Park (2), 1 p.m.
Saturday, April 3 – host Penn State Harrisburg at Elm Park (2), 1 p.m.
Wednesday, April 7 – at Penn State Berks (2), 3 p.m.
Saturday, April 10 – host Lancaster Bible College at Elm Park (2), 1 p.m.
Wednesday, April 14 – host Wells College at Elm Park (2), 4 p.m.
Saturday, April 17 – at Penn State Abington (2), 1 p.m.
Saturday, April 24 – at Morrisville State College (2), 1 p.m.
Thursday, April 29 – at Penn State Harrisburg (2), 3 p.m.
Saturday, May 1 – host Penn State Berks (2), 5 p.m.
Thursday, May 6 – at Wells College (2), 4 p.m.
Saturday, May 8 – NEAC Semifinals, TBA
Saturday, May 15 – NEAC Championship, TBA

Men’s Lacrosse
Saturday, April 3 – host Morrisville State College, 1 p.m.
Sunday, April 11 – at La Roche University, 1 p.m.
Saturday, April 17 – host Medaille College, 1 p.m.
Saturday, April 24 – at Wells College, 1 p.m.
Saturday, May 1 – at Hilbert College, 2 p.m.
Wednesday, May 5 – NEAC Playoffs, TBA
Saturday, May 8 – NEAC Championship, TBA

Golf
Wednesday, April 7 – vs. Lycoming College at Williamsport Country Club, TBA
Wednesday, April 14 – NEAC Preview at Harrisburg’s Dauphin Highlands Golf Course, TBA
Saturday-Sunday, April 24-25 – NEAC Championship at Harrisburg’s Dauphin Highlands Golf Course, TBA

Men’s Tennis
Saturday, April 10 – at Lancaster Bible College, 1 p.m.
Sunday, April 11 – host Penn State Harrisburg, 1 p.m.
Saturday, April 17 – at Penn State Berks, 3 p.m.
Tuesday, April 20 – host Penn State Abington, 2 p.m.
Saturday, April 24 – NEAC Playoffs, TBA
Tuesday, April 27 – NEAC Semifinals, TBA
Saturday, May 1 – NEAC Championship, TBA

Women’s Tennis
Saturday, April 10 – at Lancaster Bible College, 1 p.m.
Sunday, April 11 – host Penn State Harrisburg, 1 p.m.
Saturday, April 17 – at Penn State Berks, 3 p.m.
Tuesday, April 20 – host Penn State Abington, 2 p.m.
Saturday, April 24 – NEAC Playoffs, TBA
Tuesday, April 27 – NEAC Semifinals, TBA
Saturday, May 1 – NEAC Championship, TBA

For more information, visit the Wildcat Athletics website.

For more about NEAC, visit the conference website. (NOTE: All playoff schedules taken from that site).

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