Penn College’s challenging athletics season recalled

Published 05.24.2020

Wildcat Weekly

The 2019-20 school year for Pennsylvania College of Technology athletes will be remembered as much for what took place off the playing field – due to the COVID-19 pandemic and cancellation of the spring sports seasons in mid-March – as what was accomplished on it.

It marked the college’s sixth season as a member of the North Eastern Athletic Conference and third as a full-fledged member of NCAA Division III.

In the NEAC during 2019-20, the Wildcat teams had:

  • One Top 4 finish (women’s soccer).

  • One Top 5 finish (men’s cross-country).

  • One Top 6 finish (men’s basketball).

Individually, Penn College had:

  • One All-NEAC first-team selection.

  • Five All-NEAC second-team honorees.

  • Four All-NEAC third-team choices.

In NCAA regional competition Penn College had:

  • One eighth-place wrestler, along with a 15th-place finish among 18 teams.

  • The men’s cross-country team placed 37th in a 51-team field.

Best of the best
Six student-athletes and one coach were honored this past week at the fourth annual Penn College Wildcat Athletic Awards, which going forward will be called “The CATS” (Celebrating Athletic Triumphs and Successes). They were:

  • Senior Brittan Kittle (baseball), of Millville, and junior Morgan Heritage (softball), of New Castle, Delaware, named the Male and Female Athletes of the Year, respectively.

  • Freshman Ryan Bauer (wrestling), of Denton, Maryland, and freshman Sloan Tressler (women’s soccer), of Mill Hall, named the Male and Female Newcomers of the Year, respectively.

  • Junior Hayden Beiter (men’s cross-country), of Williamsport, and junior Taylor Gonzales (women’s soccer), of Lititz, named the Male and Female Scholar-Athletes of the Year, respectively.

  • Men’s basketball coach Geoff Hensley named the coach of the year.

Bauer finished the season at 21-21 and led the team in matches and major decision wins, and was tied for the team lead in takedowns. He was second on the team in wins, technical falls and team points.

Tressler started in all 20 contests for the Wildcats as a defender and was named All-NEAC third team. She helped the defense limit opponents to 36 goals, while also being a threat on offense with 12 shots and two assists.

Beiter carries a perfect 4.0 GPA and has been a two-time NEAC Scholar-Athlete recipient. He is president of the Penn College Construction Association, a member of the Alpha Chi National Honor Society and a member of the Chi Alpha Sigma Honor Society. Beiter contributed 64 hours of community service in various events throughout the year.

Gonzales was an All-NEAC second-team selection as a goalie and served as vice president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. She is an active member in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and works as a community peer educator. Gonzales boasts a 3.51 GPA and has been a two-time NEAC Scholar-Athlete selection.

Kittle was a 2019 All-NEAC first-team selection, posting a .328 batting average and leading the team with five home runs and 32 RBI. During the brief 2020 season, Kittle came out hot with a .567 batting average, a 1.791 OPS, five homers and 17 hits in the first 10 games of the season and was named NEAC Player of the Week in the only week of competition.

During the 2019 season, Heritage was an All-NEAC first-team selection and helped her team to a runner-up finish in the conference. She tossed a no-hitter in 2019 and earned a NEAC Pitcher of the Week honor. During the shortened 2020 season, Heritage had four wins, 33 strikeouts and earned NEAC Pitcher of the Week honors in the first and only week of the season.

“At the beginning of the year, we challenged our student-athletes to compete in every facet of their lives, and they did just that, not knowing that the hardest challenge was yet to come,” John Vandevere, director of athletics, said leading off the season-ending awards presentation.

“We all faced a different reality this past March, and in particular our spring sports teams as their seasons were cut short after only a handful of games due to COVID-19. For our spring student-athletes, we are saddened by this outcome.

“Our hearts go out to our seniors who did not get the opportunity to end their careers on their own terms. I’m hoping this experience makes you stronger, realizing to never take anything for granted because you never know when it will be taken away, the sad reality that you had to deal with this past season.

“What I am very proud about after a life-changing moment like this is the response of our students, coaches and staff (who) all responded with enthusiasm, compassion and commitment to the challenges you were facing, (such as) taking online classes. Reaching out to your professors, advisers, classmates and teammates, your social media presence and your creativity in those platforms shined through during this very unprecedented time and it was amazing to watch, like and share.

“We had a great year with teams improving, as well as advancing in their respective playoffs. We enhanced our facilities at UPMC Field and (with) HVAC in Bardo Gymnasium. In the fall, we announced our addition of our men’s lacrosse team, which will begin intercollegiate play in the spring of 2021. We have inducted our second class of student-athletes into the Chi Alpha Sigma National Honor Society.

“This is a very exciting time for Penn College Athletics as we continue to expand and improve in the NEAC and NCAA.”

A sport-by-sport review of the 2019-20 year (alphabetically) for Penn College teams:

Although his team had just one event under its belt before the spring sports season was canceled, first-year coach Dustin Bartron saw a lot of potential.

“We had potential to have the national champion bowhunter male team along with three of the top-five individual male bowhunters in the country,” Bartron said. “We (had) the potential to have the compound male national champion as well (freshman Zach Fisher, of Lebanon). I look forward to seeing his growth and progress over the summer with next year being a (United States Archery Team) USAT University Games year. Also, I think (in) male recurve we had potential for a top-five individual. Our male recurve team had potential to finish in the top 10 overall.

“(Now), it will come down to personal dedication and willingness of each archer to continue to work hard and take personal time to practice and grow in the sport during this time.”

Going into their 14th season under Chris Howard, the Wildcats were hopeful of presenting the coach with his 300th career win. After a 5-5 start, that is where the season ended – due to the coronavirus.

“We have learned that everyone will be granted this year of eligibility back, but some of our seniors won’t be back regardless,” Howard said.

“This is a unique situation and we all understand that the health and safety of everyone is of the utmost importance but it still doesn’t lessen the hurt we all feel, players and coaches,” added Howard, whose career record stands at 289-193.

Basketball (men)
In season two under coach Geoff Hensley, the Wildcats nailed down their first-ever playoff appearance as a member of the NEAC and their first postseason contest since 2010-11 when they finished second in the Penn State University Athletic Conference. And after ending 7-19 overall and 5-12 in all NEAC games (5-11 during the regular season), they had their first seven-win season since 2016-17.

Senior Ben Sosa, of Loyalsock Township, led the team in scoring with 451 points and closed out his four-year career with 1,286 points and fourth place on the men’s list. Sosa also was named to the All-NEAC second team.

Assessing the overall season, Hensley said, “It was a fantastic season from a program-building perspective as we continued to lay the foundation of a championship program through our culture, which resulted in more wins, including the first-ever berth in the NEAC postseason tournament. Our team culture is at an all-time high right now, where all the players have bought into developing a great work ethic, being positive, resilient young men and serving the team. Not only did our culture vastly improve but our level of competitive basketball improved as well.”

Looking ahead, the coach, whose career record is 10-41, said, “I’m optimistic for the program moving forward as we continue to build on the foundation that was laid by our outgoing seniors. We return a very talented core group of underclassmen, who I believe will be just as talented as many of the conference opponents’ returners.”

Basketball (women)
Four games into the schedule, the Wildcats snapped a two-season, 19-game loss string, and before all was said and done, the Wildcats ended their first season under coach Britni Mohney with a 7-17 overall record, 4-12 in the NEAC, and both marks were season-bests since 2014-15.

Cassi Kuhns, of Loyalsock Township, led the Wildcats in scoring with 293 points and has 669 points thus far in her career.

“We continue to build on everything that we worked hard to achieve this year, and that is what we have to remember — how hard we worked,” Mohney said.

“Now that the groundwork is laid, it is time to build the house,” Mohney continued. “As a coach, this is where I will see the commitment level of the student-athletes and where they truly want this program to go. Add to this the first recruiting class under this new staff to fill in the gaps where we can grow and to create more competition within the team to push each other to higher limits.

“Our character is built in the offseason. The preparation and determination are where we must grow in the offseason to be tougher competitors in the 2020-2021 season.”

Cross-country (men/women)
In their fifth season under coach Nick Patton, the Penn College men, with 120 points, finished fifth in a 10-team field in the NEAC Championships.

Individually for the Wildcats, junior Matt Leiby, of Danville, was 19th in 29:18.6 and earned all-NEAC third-team honors for the second year in a row. As a freshman, Leiby was a second-team honoree.

Sophomore Katie Plankenhorn, of Montoursville, led the women and ended 38th over a 6K course in 30:26.8.

In the season-ending NCAA Division III Mideast Regional Championships at Bethlehem, the Penn College men placed 37th among 51 teams over an 8K course and the Penn College women were last among 49 teams over a 6K distance.

Said Patton afterward, “It was a solid day for a down year and we had quite a few PRs on both sides, which is encouraging moving forward.”

During the fall invitational season, Penn College recorded one first, two fourths and two fifth-place finishes.

Assessing his team afterward, coach Matt Haile, in his 11th season, said, “(Our) fall season wrapped up on a high note. We improved our team scores from last season by five strokes and are trending in the right direction looking ahead to the spring season.”

That, however, never happened as the squad had yet to take the links before its season was canceled.

“I continue to tell them that this experience will only make them stronger as they navigate through their journey of life. We are presented with challenges all the time and this is surely one of them we have all been faced with. I hope that they all continue to be healthy and safe and we navigate through these tough times together and come out on top for the future of our program,” Haile said.

Soccer (men)
After back-to-back trips to the NEAC semifinals, the Wildcats stumbled as they finished with a 3-13-3 overall record and 3-5-3 conference mark.

“It’s hard to really figure out what went on this year. ... Things just didn’t work out as we anticipated,” coach Tyler Mensch said.

“Games that we lost by one goal, I think five of those games we were winning in the second half and just weren’t able to finish off the win,” continued Mensch, whose teams in five seasons have gone 28-61-6.

Injuries played a part in the frustration as, according to the coach, there was no consistent starting lineup all year.

On the bright side, however, Mensch noted, “We’re so young. We only played one junior all season, so we return basically everybody, and hopefully, we’ll have a good recruiting class so we can get back to where we were the past two years.”

Junior defender Chris McFarland, of Coatesville, was awarded NEAC All-Conference second-team honors as an at-large selection. McFarland, who also earned second-team honors a year ago, started in all 19 matches for the Wildcats.

Soccer (women)
In their second season under coach Christa Matlack, Penn College finished 10-9-1 overall and 9-4 in all NEAC outings (8-3 regular season). It marked the fifth straight season that Penn College has reached the postseason playoffs.

Seven Wildcats were named to NEAC All-Conference teams, including Dominique Brown, of Benton, on the first team; Tiffany Brown, of Mechanicsburg, Francesca Timpone, of Smithtown, New York, and Gonzales to the second team; and Abby Williams, of Mechanicsburg, Kaelan Cronan, of Leesport, and Tressler to the third team. Cronan was on the first team a year ago, Gonzales was on the third team the last two seasons, Timpone was on the second team in 2017 and Dominique Brown was on the third team in 2017.

“(The) season started off a little rocky, but the team came together and worked their way into the final four. Overall, I’m proud of their effort and progress as a group,” said Matlack, whose career coaching record is 22-17-1.

During the offseason, according to Matlack, “(we) need to focus and improve on our individual commitment to our fitness and technical skills.

“Next season, hope to bring in players to help fill the shoes of those leaving us this year, but (we) return a ton of experienced players to help continue our success.”

Softball (women)
In its first year under coach Angie Hunley, Penn College got off to a 5-4 start during its spring break trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, but that is where the season ended, again due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We played a very high level of softball over spring break. Going 5-4 on the week doesn’t speak to how well this team played,” the coach said. “The fantastic performances from the pitching staff, the great at-bats from everyone in the lineup, and solid defense put us right where we wanted to be to enter conference play.

“Due to the season ending so abruptly, this has been the hardest season in my coaching career.”

Tennis (men/women)
After her teams posted identical 1-4 fall seasons and dropped their spring openers in February, Jessica Bower was looking to build her programs during her first full season as the head coach after serving in an interim capacity a year ago.

“With a mix of young and seasoned players, I was hoping to see a lot of mentoring from the more experienced players. They could help to groom the younger players so that going throughout the season we could set ourselves in a position to be competitive in the NEAC,” Bower said just after it was announced that the spring season was canceled.

“We are all pretty bummed about no spring season, especially the seniors. It’s not just us, it’s everyone (all sports). It is what it is and we’ll just keep playing (individually) and get back at it in the fall. Distance sometimes makes the heart grow fonder so in the fall we will be extra excited to be back at it,” Bower said. “I expect to have some good recruits coming in for the fall. I am very excited about where we could be one year from now with a full roster and some great talent.”

In her season and a half, Bower’s men’s teams have gone 6-7 and her women’s teams 2-11.

Volleyball (women)
Penn College finished 1-23 overall and 0-11 in the NEAC, marking the third time in five seasons the Wildcats had a one-win season and second year in a row that they were winless in the conference. On the positive side, the lone win snapped a two-season, 19-match loss streak.

A roster that started at 14 and went to as few as seven at times, due to injuries and other factors, presented a challenge, according to coach Bambi Hawkins, but she believes that the year of growth and experience for her underclassmen will help build for the future.

Looking ahead, Hawkins said, “I’ve been real heavily recruiting some taller girls for more height to put up there at the net to be more effective in the kill category and the block category; so that the girls don’t have to scramble so much on the back-row defense.”

In 16 seasons, Hawkins’ teams have gone 189-176.

After a 6-20 dual match season, Penn College, competing for the first time in the NCAA Division III Mideast Regional Championships, finished 15th in an 18-team field. Individually, Dylan Gettys, of Etters, went 2-3 in his matches at 165 pounds and placed eighth.

“This is a difficult year to assess. Our win-loss totals will paint the picture of a step backward. However, if you look a little closer at the competitiveness of our matches … you’ll see a lot of close individual matches, and a lot of close team scores against teams that were beating us handily in years past,” third-year coach Jamie Miller said. “We’ve wrestled through more injuries this year than in the past two years, which is a huge testament to some of our freshman who stepped in and delivered in some really big situations.

“We have a lot of work to do to be competitive in the Mideast Region. We had just started to find our footing in the Southeast — putting four in the semifinals last year. We came back this year with what I think is a stronger team and struggled in this new region.

“Overall, we need to add some more talent in the offseason, which we are working hard at through our recruiting efforts. These guys also saw for the first time what it takes to compete in the Mideast Region. Most guys need to become more conscious of their lifestyle … to reach their ultimate goal.”

In three seasons under Miller, the Wildcats are 25-56.

For more about NEAC, visit the conference website.

For more information, visit the Wildcat Athletics website.

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