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Loss of fall sports seasons disappoints Penn College coaches

A year of change was in order for most Pennsylvania College of Technology athletes during the 2020-21 academic year with a restructuring of the North Eastern Athletic Conference. And it was compounded when the college’s fall sports also became a victim of the COVID-19 pandemic, being canceled like spring sports a few months before.

The mid-July decision sidelining fall sports athletes in men’s and women’s cross-country, men’s and women’s tennis, men’s and women’s soccer, women’s volleyball, and men’s golf, following unanimous action by the NEAC Presidents’ Council and Board of Athletic Directors, left Penn College coaches disappointed, yet understanding.

All NCAA Division III fall championships also have been canceled.

“As many other coaches and student-athletes in a similar situation, our team is devastated by the loss of competition this fall. We understand the importance of ensuring the health and safety of students and staff, but this does not take away from the pain,” women’s soccer coach Christa Matlack said.

“As a team, we have already come together to support one another, knowing that the only way to get through this will be as a team. We plan to take advantage of any opportunity to perform team-related activities, whatever these may be, in order to make the most of this fall. We will learn and grow from the loss of this season in more ways than one,” Matlack said, adding, “As a program, we wholeheartedly expected to return this fall as fierce competition. We had our sights set on a strong season with another appearance in the postseason.”

Golf coach Matt Haile said, “My initial reaction to the fall season is that I was hopeful but, once I saw the other conferences start canceling, I figured we were going to follow suit.

“It’s very disappointing but the key takeaways for me is that I have some new guys coming in and this may be a blessing in disguise to help them get off to a great start academically and set that foundation of time management and good study habits in that first semester. The other benefit is that our championship season is in the spring so we are hopeful by then we can compete for the championship.

“Expectations were just as high as they’ve always been. We had three key returners (Kohltin Bartlow, of Montgomery; Alex Acree, of Brookville; and Sean McNamara, of Lancaster) and a couple recruits that I think will be a great addition to the team. I did lose one recruit due to deciding to not start his college career until things may become more certain with our pandemic.”

“For tennis, we were really looking forward to getting back into the swing of things since our spring season was cut drastically short,” men’s and women’s coach Jessica Bower said. “We had five nonconference matches scheduled for the fall, which included our crosstown rival Lycoming College.

“We have some good recruits coming in. We have Eric Counsil, of Milton, transferring from Millersville, who is a big hitter and will place near the top of the lineup. We also have five incoming ladies adding to our team. We have some great returners such as Tucker Phillippe-Johansson, of Mattituck, New York; Jesse Kight, of Williamsport; and Zack Burkhart, of Milton, on the men’s team and Olivia Eisenhauer, of New Columbia; Alexis Youse, of Pottstown; and Tijana Mrkalj, of Pittsburgh, on the women’s side.

“It’s really too bad that we won’t get to play other teams this fall, but we saw it coming. It’s a strange world right now and nothing seems too surprising. We will use this time to practice and get stronger so that we can do some real damage in the spring.”

“My initial reaction was disappointment for our student-athletes,” cross-country coach Nick Patton said.

“It was especially hard to inform our team of the decision that was made,” he continued. “I think as a coach, you have to put yourself in the shoes of your student-athletes during this unprecedented time. You’ve got to try and understand how they are feeling. I know if I was in their position, I’d be pretty devastated and probably a little frustrated.

“The unique thing about our sport is, it’s more than a sport, it’s a lifestyle, an identity; it continues far after the eligibility runs out. I’m sure a lot of my student-athletes are a little lost right now and it’s completely understandable. I know they were looking forward to this season, being back on campus with their teammates and were working hard this summer dedicating themselves to training. I always tell our team, control the things you can control. We will work through the rest.

“As tough as this decision was to cancel fall sports, it was the right one. The health and safety of our student-athletes is the No. 1 priority. I know it wasn’t easy for the NEAC or Penn College to make this decision, but sometimes, the right decisions are the hardest.

“Moving forward, I will be focusing on recruiting and keeping the team engaged as much as possible.

“Expectations for the fall were the same as every season: Train hard throughout the summer and fall, so we can be at our best in late October, early November.”

“Back in March, when COVID-19 shut down the spring sports, you think to yourself there is no way that this can last into the fall. As months went by, it became clearer and clearer that it was going to be really difficult to have any sort of competitive fall season,” men’s soccer coach Tyler Mensch said.

“I think what helped me from an emotional standpoint was that you could see all the rules and parameters NCAA was announcing so it sort of helped cushion the blow that we wouldn’t have a fall season of matches. It wasn’t like everything was dropped on us all at once like the spring. Ultimately, I feel like it was the right decision to make and we will all grow closer together and be better from this current situation,” the coach continued.

“We are still hoping to train a few days a week this fall and we will utilize any time we get to spend together as a team getting better in all facets of the program. We hope to work on our fitness, individual technical work and our leadership program, which will help mold our young student-athletes into great leaders down the road.

“We were going to have another young team this fall, so being able to work on our strength training and fitness in both the weight room and on the field will help prepare us for next year’s season.

“I was excited for this fall to see if we could have a bounce-back year. The guys were clearly disappointed with how 2019 went and they really took it upon themselves to be better. Things started off great with the returners actively playing pickup soccer and at the Liberty Arena, along with getting in consistent lifts and fitness with our new strength coach. They continued to work out through quarantine and the returners were able to integrate our 12 new freshmen quite well with Zoom meetings and social media.

“I feel like this will be the closest team we have ever had as the returners have really made our new guys feel like a part of the family already. We will make the most of this fall and be thankful for any opportunities we get to be together.

“We look forward to Fall 2021 and being able to play outside competition!”

Emily Shelmire was hired over the summer as the women’s volleyball coach – succeeding Bambi Hawkins, whose teams over 16 years went 189-176 – but being sidelined isn’t the way she expected her first season to go.

“I am very excited to be the new volleyball coach! I have 12 years of volleyball experience (playing in high school and college intramurals, refereeing and volunteering). This is my first collegiate coaching position,” Shelmire said.

“As for my coaching style, I believe in the philosophy of 90% preparation and 10% execution. Perfect practices make perfect games. The key is to not focus on a bigger winning streak for the season but to improve fundamental skills and make goals to become a better team. If I see improvements within my players then I know I am doing my job correctly,” Shelmire said.

“I am very sorry for not only our volleyball players but for all athletes, students and faculty. This is a tough time as we are trying to fight the coronavirus,” the coach said.

“For our team, we can turn this into a positive. We can take the time to improve our skills and mindset for a better season when we are allowed back on the court to play. Even though we are not allowed to compete during the pandemic, we are allowed to get pumped and ready for the future. I’m trying to look at the bright side and to improve on our game play and practices while we still have the opportunity,” Shelmire added.

“While not having fall games this season will feel a little odd, I am excited about seeing our students back on campus and the campus life being alive again. I think we all have missed seeing our students on campus,” director of athletics John Vandevere said.

“We have the opportunity to engage our student-athletes and have some team-related activities while ensuring social distancing and masking guidelines. It will be nice to see our coaches and student-athletes working together while at that same time giving our student-athletes a sense of normalcy,” Vandevere said.

“Our goal is to have a winter and spring season for our student-athletes and coaches. We are a little too far out to see what that will look like as guidance from the NCAA, Gov. Wolf, and our discussions within the NEAC are ongoing to see what our next steps are,” Vandevere said.

“As for (Penn College Athletic) Hall of Fame, we have elected to postpone this year’s ceremony as this athletic achievement needs to be celebrated the right way. It would not be fair to the inductees to limit their party size or have masking and social distancing requirements during this moment celebrating their athletic achievements here at Penn College. We did not want to take away from their experience nor have it limited by COVID-19. Our hope is to induct our next class in the fall of 2021,” Vandevere added.

Esports season still on
Because competitors participate online in a socially distanced atmosphere, the Penn College fall esports program still is on.

“Our season has not been canceled and we are playing this fall. We will be playing Overwatch, Rocket League and Valorant in the National Association for Collegiate Esports. Pre-season in Overwatch, Rocket League and Valorant start on the week of Sept. 21, with the main season starting a week later and running until Nov. 15,” coach Joshua Young said.

“We will be live streaming our matches for all NACE events. Rocket League games will be played on Tuesdays at 8 p.m., Overwatch on Monday/Thursdays at 8 p.m. and Valorant on Wednesdays at 8 p.m.,” Young said.

“Our Overwatch team will first compete in Harrisburg University Esports Invitational Sept. 19-20,” he said. “Overwatch is also going to compete in the TESPA Overwatch Collegiate Varsity Series,” which will run from Sept. 27 to Dec. 13.

“I am really excited as this will be our first full season for the varsity esports program. I am going to use our team managers — junior Logan Readinger, of Oley (Rocket League); sophomore Drew Thomas, of State College (Valorant); sophomore Jared Patten, of South Abington Township (Overwatch); and junior Michael Simonelli, of West Chester (Fortnite) — as the top competitors in our titles. They manage the day-to-day of the team and also play the game for us,” Young said.

Participants compete in the Wildcat Den (Room 203A of the Madigan Library), which was converted into an esports facility last winter.

NEAC down to eight schools
Also in July, the NEAC lost four members as Keuka College departed for the Empire 8 Conference and Cazenovia College, SUNY Cobleskill and SUNY Poly left for the North Atlantic Conference.

That leaves, in addition to Penn College, Gallaudet University, Lancaster Bible College, Penn State Abington, Penn State Berks, Penn State Harrisburg, Morrisville State College and Wells College. NEAC membership will return to nine schools in 2021 with the arrival of St. Mary’s College of Maryland, which is leaving the Capital Athletic Conference.

Men’s lacrosse coach named
On July 6, Jordan Williams became the college’s first men’s lacrosse head coach. He will lead the program in its inaugural NCAA Division III season in Spring 2021 after spending the previous five seasons as an assistant coach at Ohio Wesleyan, Chatham and Lourdes (Ohio) universities.

“Jordan was just outstanding during the entire interview process and we were really impressed with his energy, passion and attention to detail,” Penn College Director of Athletics John Vandevere said. “We have added another great coach to our already stellar coaching staff and we cannot wait to see Jordan’s impact on our department and our men’s lacrosse program.”

Williams earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration from Aurora University (Illinois), where he was a member of the men’s lacrosse team and a four-time scholar-athlete selection. He obtained his master’s degree from Lourdes University in 2017 and was a graduate assistant coach during his two years in Sylvania.

Following his time at Lourdes, Williams spent a season as the offensive coordinator at Chatham, in Pittsburgh. He joined the coaching staff at Ohio Wesleyan in 2018 where he was responsible for the goalies, man-up offense and the recruiting coordinator. During his two seasons there, the Bishops went 13-11, had four offensive All-American and all-region selections, and one conference player of the year.

IN THE CLASSROOM
Chi Alpha Sigma inducts 20
In June, it was announced that 20 Penn College student-athletes with a 3.59 average GPA were inducted into the second class of Chi Alpha Sigma National College Athlete Honor Society. Student-athletes must be in their junior or senior year with a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.4 to be eligible.

“This is a tremendous achievement for our 20 student-athletes to be inducted into Chi Alpha Sigma, we are very proud of them for this accomplishment,” Vandevere said. “Their dedication to their education, as well as their respective sports, shows their commitment and leadership. I thank each of them for being that beacon to their respective teams and their positive impact on their programs as well as our department and college.”

Penn College senior inductees are Benjamin Sosa, of Loyalsock Township (men’s basketball/business administration); Jordan Murray, of Chambersburg (men’s cross-country/residential construction technology and management: building construction technology concentration); Brittany Weiskopff, of Roaring Branch (women’s cross-country/accounting); Tayla Derr, of Selinsgrove (women’s soccer/dental hygiene); and Joey Morrin, of Morrisville (men’s tennis/graphic design).

Wildcat junior inductees are Maci Ilgen, of Milheim (women’s basketball/nursing); Cassi Kuhns, of Loyalsock Township (women’s basketball/applied human services); Victoria Wolfe, of Dalmatia (women’s basketball/applied health studies); Matthew Leiby, of Danville (men’s cross-country/civil engineering technology); Jake Mashack, of Blossburg (men’s cross-country/civil engineering technology); Cinnamon Digan, of Mifflinburg (women’s cross-country/welding and fabrication engineering and technology); Alexander Acree, of Brookville (golf/civil engineering technology); Chris McFarland, of Coatesville (men’s soccer/manufacturing engineering technology); Taylor Gonzales, of Lititz (women’s soccer/nursing); Jenna Rejman, of East Aurora, New York (women’s soccer/pre-physician assistant studies); Kelly Williams, of Marion, New York (women’s soccer/civil engineering technology); Morgan Heritage, of New Castle, Delaware (softball/dental hygiene); Alexis Heritage, of New Castle, Delaware (softball/information technology: network specialist concentration); Luke Whitenight, of Berwick (men’s tennis/civil engineering technology); and Marcie Harman, of Nescopeck (women’s tennis/building science and sustainable design: architectural technology concentration).

“It’s gratifying to honor our outstanding student-athletes in this prestigious manner. While each individual is accomplished and talented in unique ways they share one characteristic: striving to do their best in everything they undertake in their studies and in their sports,” said Tom Zimmerman, faculty athletic representative. “Their prominence makes each a valued asset to their team, on our campus and, ultimately, in their chosen career field. Personally, thank you, for inspiring and mentoring your teammates and classmates and being terrific Penn College ambassadors.”

Penn College is a member of Alpha Iona Chapter of Chi Alpha Sigma, chartered in January 2019, and joins more than 220 Division I, Division II and Division III colleges and universities, including three schools from the North Eastern Athletic Conference, in recognizing elite student-athletes who succeed in their sport and in the classroom.

Record 67 earn NEAC scholar-athlete honors
A school-record 67 student-athletes earned North Eastern Athletic Conference Scholar-Athlete honors, it was announced July 9. The Wildcats finished seventh among the conference’s 12 full-members and topped their previous mark of 60 selections in 2018-19.

“We are very proud of the academic accomplishments from our student-athletes this year,” Vandevere said. “This is the third straight year that we topped our previous number of scholar-athletes and it’s a trend we strive to continue. The achievements of our student-athletes in the classroom are always the most rewarding.”

To be selected, a student-athlete competing in a conference-sponsored sport must achieve a combined GPA of 3.4 or higher for the fall and spring semesters and must have been in good standing on his or her team.

This year, the NEAC named 1,026 scholar-athlete selections from its 12 full-member institutions and eight associate member schools for the 2019-20 academic year.

For the fourth straight year, Keuka College led all NEAC institutions with 147 scholar-athletes. Lancaster Bible followed with 136 scholar-athletes and the only other NEAC institution to surpass 100 honorees. The annual list of honorees continues to illustrate the geographic diversity of the conference and its member institutions with NEAC Scholar-Athletes representing 33 states and 14 countries.

The softball squad topped all Penn College teams with 12 selections. Next was the men’s cross-country team with 11 selections (out of 16 student-athletes on its roster). Penn College also had 14 student-athletes with a perfect 4.0 GPA. The college finished the academic year with a 3.18 department GPA, which equaled its high-water mark of the same GPA last year, and had 12 of 15 teams with a GPA of 3.0 or above.

Wildcats honored were:

Women’s softball (12)
Jaylynn Cochran, freshman, Cogan Station, human services and restorative justice
Shannon Detwiler, freshman, Martinsburg, pre-nursing
Olivia Hemstock, sophomore, Northford, Connecticut, dental hygiene
Alexis Heritage, junior, New Castle, Delaware, information technology: network specialist concentration
Morgan Heritage, junior, New Castle, Delaware, dental hygiene
Maddie Hurst, freshman, Mechanicsburg, human services and restorative justice
Danielle Krasevic, freshman, Shermans Dale, pre-nursing
Ivvy Morder, freshman, Mechanicsburg, human services and restorative justice
Madison Shaffer, freshman, Trout Run, forest technology
Tori Siler, sophomore, Havre De Grace, Maryland, pre-physician assistant studies
Kassidy Svenson, junior, Auburn, applied human services
Sarah Woodruff, sophomore, Port Jervis, New York, applied health studies: radiography concentration

Men’s cross-country (11)
Hayden Beiter, senior, Williamsport, residential construction technology and management: building construction technology concentration (4.0 GPA)
David Carlson, senior, Elizabethtown, engineering design technology (4.0)
Christopher Hogan, senior, Halifax, welding and fabrication engineering technology
Matthew Leiby, junior, Danville, civil engineering technology
Jake Mashack, junior, Bloomsburg, civil engineering technology
Reagan McCoy, senior, Lock Haven, plastics and polymer engineering technology
Jordan Murray, senior, Chambersburg, residential construction technology and management: building construction technology concentration
David Pfahler, senior, Quakertown, plastics and polymer engineering technology
Levi Pomeroy, sophomore, Dillsburg, mechatronics engineering technology (4.0)
Ethan Tharp, freshman, Coal Township, information technology: network specialist concentration
Austin Weinrich, senior, Jenkintown, residential construction technology and management: building construction technology concentration (4.0)

Men’s soccer (eight)
Alexander Cassada, sophomore, Chambersburg, information technology: network specialist concentration
Gregory Dorsch, senior, Mount Airy, Maryland, welding and fabrication engineering technology
Derek Eckman, freshman, Lancaster, building science and sustainable design: architectural technology concentration
Declan Gatchell, sophomore, Manchester, building science and sustainable design: architectural technology concentration
Tanner Layne, sophomore, Chesapeake, Virginia, information assurance and cyber security
Chris McFarland, junior, Coatesville, manufacturing engineering technology
Colton Wartman, sophomore, Ellicott City, Maryland, automotive technology management: automotive technology comcentration
Matthew Yoder, sophomore, Nescopeck, building construction technology

Women’s soccer (six)
Tiffany Brown, senior, Mechanicsburg, applied health studies: occupational therapy assistant concentration
Megan Bugbee, sophomore, Geneseo, New York, building science and sustainable design: architectural technology concentration
Tayla Derr, senior, Selinsgrove, dental hygiene
Charlee Marshall, sophomore, Snow Shoe, construction management
Jenna Rejman, junior, East Aurora, New York, pre-physician assistant studies (4.0)
Kelly Williams, junior, Marion, New York, civil engineering technology

Baseball (six)
Mason Blethen, freshman, Colora, Maryland, construction management
Connor Burke, sophomore, St. Clair, nursing (4.0)
Jacob Carles, sophomore, Bernville, engineering design technology
Cole Culver, freshman, Titusville, civil engineering technology
Andrew Snyder, freshman, Whitehall, business administration: sport and event management concentration
Sam Zeigler, sophomore, Palmyra, building construction technology

Women’s basketball (five)
Maci Ilgen, junior, Millheim, nursing
Olivia Johnson, sophomore, Shavertown, surgical technology
Cassi Kuhns, junior, Loyalsock Township, applied human services
Keyona Shoff, freshman, Shamokin, physical therapist assistant
Victoria Wolfe, junior, Dalmatia, applied health studies: occupational therapy assistant concentration

Women’s cross-country (five)
Cinnamon Digan, junior, Mifflinburg, welding and fabrication engineering technology
Megan Nosker, junior, DuBois, civil engineering technology
Kathryn Plankenhorn, sophomore, Montoursville, physician assistant studies (4.0)
Rosey Thomas, sophomore, Port Allegany, nursing
Brittany Weiskopff, senior, Roaring Branch, accounting (4.0)

Men’s basketball (four)
Brody Baker, junior, Lock Haven, pre-physician assistant studies (4.0)
Justin Baker, freshman, Landisville, industrial design
Benjamin Sosa, senior, Loyalsock Township, business administration: sport and event management concentration
Frank Tuason, senior, Stamford, Connecticut, business administration: sport and event management concentration

Women’s tennis (four)
Cara Diciano, freshman, Denver, pre-occupational therapy
Olivia Eisenhauer, freshman, New Columbia, pre-surgical technology
Marcie Harman, junior, Nescopeck, building science and sustainable design: architectural technology concentration (4.0)
Alexis Youse, sophomore, Pottstown, baking and pastry arts (4.0)

Men’s tennis (three)
Zachary Burkhart, freshman, Milton, building science and sustainable design: architectural technology concentration (4.0)
Tucker Phillippe-Johansson, sophomore, Mattituck, New York, residential construction technology and management: building construction technology concentration
Luke Whitenight, junior, Berwick, civil engineering technology

Men’s golf (two)
Sean McNamara, junior, Lancaster, mechatronics engineering technology (4.0)
Mike Miller, freshman, Montgomery, construction management

Women’s volleyball (one)
Hannah Burnett, sophomore, Middlebury Center, physician assistant studies (4.0).

Four named to honors court
On July 15, it was announced that Brody Baker, Sosa, Tuason and Ryan Lockman, of White Salmon, Washington, had been named to the 2019-20 National Association of Basketball Coaches Honors Court.

To be named to the court, a student-athlete must be an academic junior or senior and a varsity player, have a cumulative GPA of 3.2 or higher at the end of the 2018-19 academic year, have studied at least one year at their current institution, which must be a member of the NCAA or National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics with a NABC member coach.

For more about NEAC, visit the conference website.

For more information, visit the Wildcat Athletics website.

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