Penn College basketball teams eager to go
In nonconference games, the women open on Wednesday at Elmira (N.Y.) College while the men step into action on Friday and Saturday in the Crosstown Invitational that includes McDaniel College, Pitt-Greensburg and Lycoming College. United East Conference play begins Dec. 3 for both Wildcat teams.
Also this week, the college’s cross-country runners are scheduled to compete in the NCAA Division III Mid-Atlantic Regional at Carlisle, while wrestlers got their season underway this past Saturday.
Coach Britni Mohney called her first season at the Wildcats’ helm in 2019-20 one of reinvention, reinvestment and rejuvenation as her team went 7-17 overall and 4-12 in conference play – both program season-bests since 2014-15. And despite more than a year away from competition due to the COVID-19 pandemic that wiped out last season, her hopes remain high.
“While it was devastating to lose a season due to the pandemic, we learned and grew a lot as a program. Fortunately, we were still able to practice through the pandemic (safely with protocols), which allowed us to work on our fundamentals, communication and team building,” Mohney said.
“When we began practicing Oct. 15, it’s like we picked up right where we left off in February of 2020. Each practice, this team has exceeded our expectations. They crushed their mile test, they are picking up on plays quickly (that we are adding more at earlier stages of the season) and we are smarter ballplayers,” Mohney said, adding, “This all comes from the trust we have in each other and the understanding of each individual to excel collectively as a team.
“I think our biggest obstacle we are going to face is understanding the mental and physical grind of competing against outside competition again. While we can control what is happening on our end, it’s an entirely different ball game when you step out onto the floor against an outside opponent.”
Mohney assesses this year’s squad as “the perfect mix of veteran and young members.
“With the pandemic, we have an entire sophomore class that did not get to compete as (first-year players). We have (first-year players) and sophomores who are going to be seeing collegiate competition for the first time together. On the other end, we have an elite veteran squad who has paved the way through their work ethic on the court and their leadership off the court. Be aware, however, that our sophomore class is beyond capable of showing that they play like a veteran squad; and our first-year class will get to that point in time.”
Key returning players are seniors Cassi Kuhns, 5-foot, 10-inch forward, of Loyalsock Township; Maci Ilgen, 5-9 forward, of Millheim; Ja’Quela Dyer, 5-10 forward, of Dover, Delaware; and Makayla Shadle, 5-5 guard, of Galeton.
Kuhns led the 2019-20 team in scoring with 293 points and comes into the season with 669 career points.
“Kuhns, Ilgen and Dyer all are powerhouses in the paint. This was shown in their performances in the former NEAC statistical standings; which are expectations I have for all of them going into the 21-22 season,” Mohney said, adding that Shadle “through her leadership and work ethic, will look to be a contributor and leader for our program.
“Our practices have shown great competition on both the offensive end and the defensive end. Each day and each game, we are all going to compete for playing time to contribute to the program’s success. That is what is exciting about this season is that we are going to be able to use our strengths from all of our players against our opponents in a multitude of ways. We are looking forward to seeing the performances and contributions of our newcomers as our program begins to shift to a competitive opponent.
“We have an abundance of strength this season, which is an exciting place to be as a coach and program because the opportunities are endless. We are going to be a quick program with plans of running up the floor and scoring easy. If that is taken away from the defense, we have a lot of threats and depth.
“We look at our forwards alone in Maci, Cassi, Ja’Quela, (5-9 sophomore) Emily Pardee, of Williamsport, and (6-1 freshman) Bell Hitesman, of Muncy; how are you going to stop them? And if you do, we have threats on the outside with our guards.
“We have (5-5 sophomore) Allie Troup, of Huntingdon; and (5-6 sophomore) Aubrey Stetts, of Jersey Shore, who are quick guards with high IQ that can command the floor and get into the paint with ease, which allows them the opportunity to dish to their shooters (5-9 sophomore) Shelby Pyatt, of Frenchtown, New Jersey; (5-4 freshman) Kayleigh Miller, of Sayre; and (5-7 freshman) Tessa O’Keefe, of Altoona, who can hit the outside shot.
“Then you have our combo guards in (5-9 sophomore) Rachel Teats, of Middleburg; Shadle; (5-6 sophomore) Julie Anthony, of South Williamsport; and (5-5 sophomore) Kassidi Lenhart, of Muncy, who have the handles, the drive and the mid-range shot.
“So, when I look at our strengths, it’s our depth and our talent; our strength is our team.”
One area that needs improvement, according to the coach, is patience on offense.
“Our mindsets are go, go, go. When we get in the half-court to run quick hits, we need to have patience and allow the offense to flow instead of rushing. When we are able to have patience, we can see the open shots, drives and dishes. This will help limit our high turnover ratio that we had in our previous season,” Mohney said. “We also need to get comfortable with shooting from the 3-point line. Starting this year, the range moved back to the men’s distance (22 feet, 1¾ inches). Repetition and awareness of where we are shooting are going to be key in finding consistency with our long-range game,” she continued.
“Our culture is based off of four words: Trust. Engagement. Commitment. Honor. If we can hold ourselves to the standards of our culture, the sky is the limit. We try to reiterate to the team that the only team that can beat us is ourselves. If we stay true to who we are as individuals and as a collective, we will be successful on and off the court,” Mohney said.
When it comes to goals, Mohney said, “We believe in our first year together in the 2019-20 season that we proved ourselves to be competitors. Not only did we show that, but we, as a team, also started to believe that. While we want to carry that over, we want to show opponents that we are a playoff-caliber program.
“Our plan is to take each practice and each contest one by one; keep enhancing on our strengths and improving upon our areas of concern. We are excited for our supporters and our opponents to see this new era of Penn College women’s basketball.”
Assisting Mohney is Travis Heap.
“Our team culture is at an all-time high right now,” coach Geoff Hensley exclaimed shortly after his team’s last game on Feb. 25, 2020, as the Wildcats closed out a 7-19 season that included a 5-12 overall conference mark – their best in three seasons – and a postseason playoff berth for the first time since 2010-11.
“We had a lot of buzz and excitement around the program following our playoff berth in the 2019-20 season. It was a record performance for our program that quickly lost a lot of that enthusiasm once COVID hit and everything was shut down, followed by the next season getting canceled. We still have a strong foundation in terms of work ethic, positive energy and being great teammates, which has helped carry on the success achieved in past seasons,” Hensley said.
Entering this season, “we have a brand-new team. More than 75% of our roster has never played in a collegiate basketball game. This will be a learning and growing experience for our players and coaches. Youth will be on our side and we’ll look to our juniors and seniors for veteran leadership,” said the coach, whose career record at Penn College is 10-41.
The team’s key returning players are 6-foot, 2-inch senior forward Jesse White, of Harrisburg; 5-10 junior guard Obens Luxama, of Port St. Lucie, Florida; 6-3 sophomore forward Will Sulesky, of Huntingdon; 6-2 sophomore guard Corey Blackwell, of Hammonton, New Jersey; and 6-3 sophomore forward David Brown, of Bridgeport, Connecticut.
“It has been a great start to the season with practices. We can see growth and improvement every time we step on the court. Our returning players have done an outstanding job setting the tone for our young players to follow. And the new players have stepped up as we are going to rely on some new faces to be ready to go from the start,” the fourth-year coach said.
“We are extremely young with only one senior and one junior on the team. The remaining part of the roster is freshmen and sophomores. It has been exciting to see how all the pieces are coming together so far at this early stage before games have even started. It’s too early to tell what the ceiling is for this team, but I think … this team has a lot of potential,” Hensley continued.
“This team is very versatile,” Hensley said in assessing team strengths. “We have multiple key players who can play multiple positions on the court. I believe we have a great balance of inside and outside play on the offensive end, and the versatility also helps on the defensive end with multiple players who can defend multiple positions.
“As young as we are, the major area we lack in is experience. We will learn from every practice and every game, and hopefully, continue to improve and progress throughout the course of the season. The basketball season is long (24 games through Feb. 19) and we will find our identity and hit our stride once we are able to bring everything together.
“The key for us this year will be to focus on the process. We will learn a little bit more about our team and each other every time we step on the court. We will not hit our peak in November or December, but as long as we can continue to improve and focus on the process, we could be a tough team come January or February.”
Assessing the United East, Hensley said, “We have some very tough teams in our conference who return some very good players. Penn State Harrisburg, Morrisville State and Lancaster Bible all had great seasons before COVID-19 and return a lot of talent. Add in our new conference foe in St. Mary’s (Md.), and the United East Conference will be extremely competitive in this region. But that’s what makes college basketball so exciting: every game is a battle and, on any given night, anybody can beat anybody.”
Assisting Hensley will be Darrell Gray and Mark Kruczek.
“It’s just another race,” coach Nick Patton said of Saturday’s regional competition.
“I expect both teams to put in a solid effort like we did at the conference meet. Let the chips fall where they may after that,” continued the coach, in his seventh season. “Both courses have some hills and roll quite a bit, but it’s a fair course overall. We ran there earlier this season and were able to get a good preview of it.”
The season personal best for the men’s team in an 8K race was a 29:31.56 turned in by freshman Alec Rees, of Centerport, New York, on Oct. 9 at Houghton College. Other top runners for the men’s squad have been sophomore Dean Fulton, of Palmyra; sophomore Noah Bowers, of Burnham; senior Nick Snow, of York; sophomore Will Deem, of Furlong; and sophomore AJ Wiles, of Glenville.
Junior Cinnamon Digan, of Mifflinburg, owns two team personal bests for the women with a time of 29:39.1 in a 6K race (Oct. 30 at the United East Conference Championship) and 19:42.23 in a 4K race (Sept. 25 on the Carlisle course), while freshman Avery Baker, of Lock Haven, posted the best 5K race time of 25:40 (Sept. 11 at Lebanon Valley). Also running for Penn College have been junior Taylor Schon, of Selinsgrove; freshman Kayleigh Miller, of Sayre; and sophomore Aubrey Stetts, of Jersey Shore.
In its first outing of the season – and in 19 months – at the King’s College Ned McGinley Invitational, Penn College finished 13 with 22 points among 15 teams. RIT took the team title with 112 points.
Individual top finishers for the Wildcats were Jesse Walker, of Ridgefield, Connecticut, who placed eighth at 165 pounds after going 4-2, including one fall, and Colin Jens, of Centreville, Maryland, at 141, and Ryan Berstler, of Middletown, at 125, who both ended 3-2. Going 2-2 in their matches were Patrick Snoke, of Northampton, at 133; Noah Hunt, of Muncy, at 141; and Cullen van Rooyen, of Dresden, Ohio, at 157. Charles Trimber, of Moon Township, ended 1-2 at 125; while Anton Easterbrook, of Wyomissing, at 157; and Dylan Toback, of Kinnelon, New Jersey, at 184, both were 0-2; and Nicholas Semon, of Norristown, at 149, was 0-1 after defaulting in his opening bout.
“We were exceptionally impressed with the effort from all the guys today,” coach Jamie Miller said. “We came up a little short in a few matches, but none were due to lack of effort. We definitely have some things to work on, namely trusting our offense and capitalizing on opportunities to score, but overall we got the experience we came for.”
After wrapping up last week, fall sports coaches in soccer and women’s volleyball took some time to reflect on their teams’ seasons:
Coach Tyler Mensch came into his seventh season with a young squad seeking a new identity that finished 4-11-4 overall and 2-3-3 in the conference.
“It was great being back on the field after a year-plus hiatus due to COVID. 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.
The Wildcats were outscored 31-16 during the season and held scoreless in 10 matches, and Mensch noted, “We struggled to score goals throughout the year and, if a few shots that hit a post or crossbar go in, it’s a different season and we are preparing for playoffs. We attempted more shots and corners this year (than any of our past NCAA-era years) and defensively had seven shutouts. I'm hopeful that, with a lot of hard work in the offseason, we can be more clinical next fall in front of goal while continuing to play good defense.
“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.”
Senior Colton Wartman, of Ellicott City, Maryland, led the team with five goals and 10 points, while senior Chris McFarland, of Coatesville, was the assist leader with three. Junior goalkeeper Braeden Eckart, of Danville, finished with 1.17 goals-against average.
“We lose some key seniors who played a big role in attack so we will have to develop some attacking guys this spring while also bringing in another class of competitive recruits with blue-collar and hardworking attitudes,” Mensch said.
“With a young core of players, it is important that they all buy into the offseason strength and agility programs. If we get guys to buy into the weight room and play as much as they can in the offseason, it will help us develop into better soccer players and hopefully get us back into the UEC playoffs in 2022,” added the coach, whose career record is 32-72-10.
Last Thursday, it was announced that McFarland, a defensive midfielder, was named to the UEC 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 a NCAA-era, team-record 15 assists. Penn College’s all-time assist record is held by Tarik Laroche, of Milton, who had 22 from 2012-15.
“Chris was responsible for shutting down the opponents attacking mid throughout the match,” Mensch said. “He is a tireless worker all over the field and prides himself in winning 50/50 challenges and starting the counterattack for our team.”
After boasting winning records and 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 fourth year. Penn College was shut out in eight of its 11 losses, although only outscored 37-32 overall.
“(It was a) challenging fall due to a battle with injuries resulting in lack of consistency in our lineup,” said Matlack, whose career record is 28-28-1.
Progress seen 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, led with five assists and was second in scoring with five goals and on Thursday the midfielder was honored by being named to the UEC second team.
“Cassie is a fierce competitor whose speed, technical skills and vision for the game led to much of our success in the middle third,” Matlack said. “She was a constant threat on counter-attacks, putting defenders on their heels and creating numerous goal-scoring opportunities for both herself and her teammates. This well-deserved accolade is just the first of many for Cassie whose skills will only improve with her confidence."
“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.
“Our team shifted halfway through the season with the addition of players and the loss of others. We were plagued with sickness and personal struggles along with some injuries, but we pushed through and were competitive in all our matches. Progress was made in working as a team,” the coach said.
“We can only go up from here (after) an 0-8 conference record. The offseason will be spent recruiting and continuing to work with Sweethearts and Heroes on our mental fortitude,” McKeon continued, adding, “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.”
Freshman Sierra Yaggi, of Troy, led the team with 169 digs while sophomore Cheyenne Stein, of Orwigsburg, was next with 103 digs and tops with 200 assists. Freshman Hailey DeBrody, of Cogan Station, led in 58 kills and 17 blocks. Despite playing in just six matches, junior Hannah Burnett, of Middlebury Center, was the team leader in service aces with 18 and Stein had 14.
Two of the college’s teams closed out the fall portion of their schedules on Monday with victories. The Wildcats topped Arcadia University, 3-1, in Overwatch to finish 4-5 overall and in Rocket League against Edinboro University, they scored a 3-2 win to end 2-7 overall.
“Over the 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.”
Looking ahead, Young said, “We will take the last season success and build off of it from spring competition, which we will be playing Overwatch, Valorant, Rocket League and League of Legends in NACE Starleague in the Varsity Division and will field additional Rocket League and League of Legends teams in NACE Challenger Division (jayvee teams). Our varsity League of Legends team will also compete in Collegiate League of Legends in the spring and we will have a student competing in the Collegiate iRacing League in both road and oval racing series. We will also compete in circuit tournaments as our schedule allows.”
Saturday, Nov. 13 – NCAA Division III Mid-Atlantic Regional at Carlisle
Saturday, Nov. 13 – NCAA Division III Mid-Atlantic Regional at Carlisle
Monday, Nov. 1 – vs. Arcadia University, W, 3-1
End of season
Monday, Nov. 1 – vs. Edinboro University, W, 3-2
End of season
Tuesday, Nov. 9 – Spa Francorchamps Race, 9 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 6 – at King’s College Ned McGinley Invitational, finished 13 of 15
Sunday, Nov. 14 – tri-match at SUNY Oswego with Ithaca College, 1 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 20 – host Wildcat Invitational at Liberty Arena, 10:30 a.m.
Wednesday, Nov. 10 – at Elmira (N.Y.) College, 6 p.m.
Wednesday, Nov. 17 – host Carlow University, 4 p.m.
Friday, Nov. 12 – Crosstown Challenge host McDaniel College, 5 p.m. (Pitt-Greensburg at Lycoming College, 5 p.m.)
Saturday, Nov. 13 – Crosstown Challenge host Pitt-Greensburg, 1 p.m. (McDaniel College at Lycoming College, 1 p.m.)
For more about the United East, visit the conference website.
For additional information, visit the Wildcat Athletics website.