Basketball Postseason Begins Thursday for Wildcat Men, Friday for Women
The Penn College men , 16-9 overall and 14-3 in the conference, are seeded fourth and host fifth-seeded Penn State DuBois (17-8, 13-4) at 8 p.m. Thursday at Bardo Gymnasium. The fifth-seeded Penn College women, 16-9 overall and 12-4 in the PSUAC, travel to fourth-seeded Penn State Greater Allegheny (14-10, 12-3) at 7 p.m. Friday.
A year ago, the Wildcats of coach Gene Bruno reached the postseason for the first time since the 2004-05 campaign and lost in their first game. This year the coach, in his 13th season, expects more.
"I think we can win the whole thing, if we play ball the way we have to," Bruno said. "We can win it all. I'm confident. My kids play hard."
The 16 wins thus far is the most by a Penn College men's team in school history, going back to 1966-67 when the sport was begun at the college's predecessor Williamsport Area Community College. The previous most wins in a single season was 15 in 2004-05.
"Considering the adversity we've had to overcome, it's been a great year," Bruno said in reference to the injury bugaboo that has plagued several players. "It's been an exciting year and the effort these kids have given me has been unbelievable."
In a home game Jan. 14 against Penn State DuBois, the Wildcats won, 94-89, but Thursday's lineup could be shuffled, depending on the health of his players. Among those who Bruno mentioned as possible starters are Mike Knepp (junior/Swiftwater), Craig Flint (senior/Port Allegany), Leroy Joiner (freshman/Williamsport), Joe Simon (junior/Renovo), Tom Little (senior/Beacon Falls, Conn.) and Phil Kaylor (sophomore/Lebanon). The coach also expects a strong contribution from Wyatt Decker (freshman/Dushore).
Joiner is averaging 16.7 points per game, Solyak 14, Flint 13.3, Simon 12.6 and Little 11. Overall, the Wildcats are scoring an average of 81.4 points per game and allowing 79.2. In conference play they have scored an average of 85.9 points per game and allowed 75.3. Simon is one point shy of reaching 1,000 for his Penn College career, having scored 332 as a freshman, 353 as a sophomore and 314 thus far this season.
"DuBois is a very good team. It is the best team in the seeding of the eight-team tournament," Bruno said.
"They put up a lot of points. For us to beat that team we're going to have to swarm the boards, we're going to have to attack the basket in transition, attack the basket in half court and stay away from the 3-point line," the coach continued. "Our game has to be attack the basket. We can get the 3-point shot anytime. I only want us to shoot 10 to 13 3s a game, that's it. We're going to have to bring our "A' game to beat them."
With a victory Thursday, the Wildcats will face either top-seeded Penn State Beaver or eighth-seeded Penn State Abington on Monday at the Bryce Jordan Center at University Park. The championship game is scheduled for Tuesday, also at Bryce Jordan Center.
"We can't look at next Monday night. We've got to take it one game at a time and not worry about the moment after until it's there," Bruno stressed.
Penn College has won its last five games in a row.
Starting in 2004-05, the Penn College women consistently have reached the playoffs. They won the conference championship in 2005-06 and lost in the semifinals each of the last two years. The key to going further, according to second-year coach Alison Tagliaferri, is simple:
"I completely believe that we can beat any team in this league but unfortunately it doesn't matter what I believe, they (players) have to believe it when they go out and play. If they do that, then we will win the league. If they don't, then we'll come up short again," she said.
An important factor in the team's success thus far, the coach believes, has been teamwork.
"They definitely have been coming together and playing more as a team than they did the first half of the season. The girls have made a big effort to jell more as a team and I think that it really shows in how we're been playing and getting along with each other. Hopefully we can continue that camaraderie into the playoffs," Tagliaferri said.
"The girls just need to believe they can win. "¦ They have to show up and play defense,"
The Wildcats beat Penn State Greater Allegheny Jan. 17 at home, 72-66. According to Tagliaferri, Greater Allegheny only has six players on the squad, "but they are very scrappy."
Defense, the coach said, will be the key to winning Friday and advancing to next week's Final Four at the Bryce Jordan Center on Penn State's main campus.
"The last game (against PSGA) we were up and then let them come back. I've been trying to preach to the girls all season that their defense is what is going to help us win a championship. We never have a problem scoring; we average close to 70 points a game. They just need to buy into the concept that the defense is going to be what helps them win.
"We have the ability to go in and win the game. Getting to the foul line, getting to the basket, getting them in foul trouble -- being that they only have six people -- is going to be a key factor as well," the coach continued.
Penn College's starting five will consist of Meagan Morris (junior/Herndon, Va.), Kelsey Mack (freshman/Douglassville), Chelsey Holmes (freshman/Hughesville), April Gallagher (freshman/Avis) and Erica Logan (sophomore/Montoursville). Top players off the bench will be Lindsey Weigand (sophomore/Watsontown) and Jessica Strasser (junior/Hawley).
Logan is averaging 14.7 points per game, Holmes 12.3 and Mack 10.6. As a team, the Wildcats are scoring an average of 66.9 points per game and allowing 59.5. In conference games, Penn College is averaging 68.2 points per game offensively and allowing 58.4.
The Wildcats have a variety of scoring threats and Tagliaferri sees that as a plus.
"There's not one person that they can lock down because if Erica is having an off night, Kelsey and Chelsey and April are capable of dropping 20 points at any time. And Megan has been doing a lot better looking for her offense and getting to the basket.
"We've been working a lot on fundamentals. Over the last couple of games we've really cut our turnovers down. "¦ The girls have been focusing on taking care of the basketball every possession."
Tagliaferri said the advice to her players is simple: play every possession like it is their last.
"We've got to play one half of basketball at a time. I completely believe that we can beat Greater Allegheny and I know the girls do, but it depends which team shows up," she said.
"Greater Allegheny is definitely capable of knocking us off if we don't focus and get the job done. Yes, I'm optimistic about it, but I'm all business about it at the same time. The girls have to have that mindset that it's all business and go in and get the job done."
With a victory Friday, the Wildcats will face either top-seeded Penn State Schuylkill or eighth-seeded Penn State Abington on Monday at the Bryce Jordan Center. The championship game is scheduled for Tuesday, also at Bryce Jordan Center.
Photos by student photographers Jessica L. Tobias (men's game) and Kenneth L. Barto (women's game)