Five Penn College sports teams opening
Starting their seasons at home on Thursday are the men’s and women’s soccer teams (the women host King’s College at 4:30 p.m. and the men entertain Keystone College at 7 p.m., both at UPMC Field). The women’s volleyball team travels to Lycoming College for a 5 p.m. match Thursday, while the men’s and women’s cross-country squads travel to Mansfield University for a 9:15 a.m. meet on Saturday.
Young and inexperienced but rising. That sums up where coach Tyler Mensch’s team is to begin his seventh season.
“We had a good spring season overall and have brought in 17 new players who so far have raised the level of play quite a bit. We only have three players who have played more than one year of college soccer due to the COVID year (2020), so we are still very young and inexperienced. Our limited preseason has brought about a different attitude so far and the guys have been competing and keeping a very positive mindset in training,” Mensch said.
The key returning players from last year’s squad that finished 4-11-4 overall and 2-3-3 in the United East include seniors Gabe McKeon, of Williamsport, a forward; goalie Braeden Eckard, of Danville; defender Rowen Gibson, of Abington; juniors Spencer Price, of Smyrna, Delaware, a defender; forward Tad Shellenberger, of Port Royal; and sophomores Tommy DeGeyter, of Long Valley, New Jersey, a midfielder; midfielder Matt Neeson, of Chadds Ford; and goalie Cole Catherman, of Selinsgrove, a transfer from King’s College who started in 11 matches.
Of the first-year players, Mitchell Lesh, of Pine Grove, earned PA Soccer Coaches Association All-State honors in 2019 and was the Pottsville Republican Herald Player of the Year, while Nathan Schwartz, of Lancaster, was awarded Lancaster-Lebanon League second team honors a year ago.
“Lesh hasn’t played competitive soccer since 2019, his senior year of high school. He was recruited to play at Lock Haven but COVID and a change of majors brought him to Penn College. Once he gets his soccer legs back he will be a force in the center of the field,” Mensch said.
“We are a young team that is still figuring out the rigors of college athletics. If guys can quickly adapt to the speed of play and physicality, we could jell pretty quickly and get some quality early season results,” Mensch said.
“Defensively, we return most of our experienced players and add a few additional guys who will help to anchor the back line and defensive midfield positions. (The) goalkeeper situation is very competitive with three quality goalkeepers who all can play at a high level,” the coach continued.
“We lost most of our goal scorers and playmakers from 2021, so we need guys to step up immediately in the attack and be goal-hungry. We do not bring back a ton of point-getters from 2021, so we will be relying on some new faces to help make us more dangerous in the final third of the field,” Mensch said.
A key to success, the coach noted, will be “getting off to a good start and believing that we can win. In the past we have started slow, which has created a sense of doubt or ‘here we go again, we are not going to win.’ We need to get a few wins under our belt and really figure out how to win as a team. A good start to the season should give us the momentum we need for United East competition.
“(Our) nonconference schedule is very tough and challenging, playing programs that are quite established over the years. Keystone, McDaniel, Shenandoah, King’s, Juniata and Susquehanna are all quality opponents who will give us a better idea as to where we stand in the Division III soccer world.
“The United East Conference, from top down, is very competitive and every match has the feel of a playoff match. You need to take care of business at home and look to snag a result or two on the road. We are hopeful to be in the mix for a final four finish and UEC semifinal appearance.”
In his first season as the head coach, Ian Scheller takes over a program that reached postseason play in five of the last six competitive seasons.
“I am hoping to bring an enthusiasm and love for soccer to the program. Also, being an alum of Penn College, I bring a pride and a desire to do well here, to give back to the school and a sport that gave me a lot. I am also hoping the experience I have gained over the past few years (as an assistant women’s coach at Lycoming College and the head boys coach at Loyalsock Township High) can be a contributing factor toward long-term success,” Scheller said, adding, “The key to building the program is trust. The players need to trust in our training and trust in our style of play.”
Assessing his philosophy, Scheller said, ”My coaching style is to try to give players options. On the field, they are in control, so it is up to me to help them understand the options that may be presented to them during a match. Decision-making is one of the most important skills on the soccer field, so we train ourselves to make the best decision, to allow us to be successful.
“Success for me comes from improvement. Obviously improvement with regards to the record, but improvement from the players on the training ground. I love when a concept clicks in the mind of a player and gives their game another dimension. Watching a player get better every session is rewarding and will eventually lead to the team improving, and eventually lead to the improvement in the record column.”
Among the top returning players are junior midfielder Teagan Willey, of Towanda, who led last year’s 6-11 overall (3-5 UE) team with six goals and 16 points and sophomore midfielder Cassie Johnson, of Richland, who was named to the UE second team.
Other key returnees are sophomore defender BillieGean Hennessy, of Holtsville, New York, and sophomore goalkeeper Nicole Lichtinger, of Erie, who recorded two shutouts a year ago, according to the coach.
Two transfers who bring collegiate experience to the squad are sophomores Madison Racine, of Hamburg, via Marywood University, and Sara Darlington, of West Chester, via Pitt.
“Our team is young and full of potential,” Scheller said. “We currently have 22 players, 18 of which are in their first or second season with the team. We only lose three players to graduation this year, which bodes well when trying to build continuity within our squad. The young core provides our team with a youthful enthusiasm, with a squad filled with players dedicated toward building a contender, during their time at the college. The team will need to cope with a few bumps in the road this season, but I believe we are capable of matching last season’s wins, despite having such a young team.
“Our team has players capable of making an impact on the scoreboard. This season, we are placing an importance on scoring goals. Goals win games and we are hoping we can improve on the number of chances we put into the back of the net over the course of the season. Our team possesses pace, power and attacking flair, with players like Johnson and Willey returning as our top two goal-scorers from last season, plus the addition of players like Darlington and freshman Wiley Egan, of Northumberland, who are players that I know have a nose for goal. We also have a solid center/back pairing, with freshman Riley Reed, of Elysburg, and Hennessy, sitting in front of the capable hands of Lichtinger, who will all be tasked with keeping the ball out of our goal.”
Areas that need improvement, Scheller said, are “depth and experience. With having such a young team, there will be some mistakes and missteps along the way. The important thing for us is the way we deal with these moments when we falter and how we move forward from those situations. Experience can only come from playing, so there will be times we learn on the fly this season, but watching this team grow is something that is very exciting to me and makes me really excited for the long-term future of this program.
“Squad depth is a concern, due to injuries that inevitably occur over the course of a season. Squad depth is an area which can only be cured by recruiting, which we are well underway at this point of the season, with three players verbally committed from the class of 2023 and a few others who have expressed that we are their top choice. We will look to bring in another large class in 2023.
“Our keys to success will come from playing simply and being flexible over the course of the games. We train hard, in order to understand the way we want to play and the options we will have when on the field. Our goal is to make the game as simple as possible. Every player is tasked with one thing, ‘Do your job, not somebody else’s’. This concept will allow us to pinpoint mistakes and learn from them. With a team this young, it is important to get experience and learn from every match. Our progress as a team will go a long way toward helping us to be successful. Success this year is not about wins and losses, it is about understanding your role and executing it on a daily basis.”
Commenting on his outlook, Scheller said, “(the) United East is a tough conference, last year with us finishing 3-5, beating Gallaudet, Wells and Morrisville. This year I would imagine we can strive for that win total again, with us challenging our opponents in a few close games along the way. Our nonconference schedule is one that will provide us with many tough tests along the way, playing programs like King’s, Wilkes, Susquehanna and Marywood, to name a few. We will hope to match our nonconference win total again from last year, collecting three wins out of conference in 2021.”
“This season, we have a full roster at 12 athletes with some recruits possibly still pending. It has helped so much to run more effective practices when you have enough girls to run drills. The team has a wonderful camaraderie already and we are just finishing up week two of practice,” coach Carolyn McKeon said Wednesday.
Junior setter Cheyenne Stein, of Orwigsburg; junior outside hitter Coryn Oswald, of Langhorne; and seniors Christine Limbert, of Curwensville; and Kylee Butz, of Lawrenceville, are expected to play key roles for this year’s team, according to McKeon, as is freshman libero Brooke Simmons, of Waterford, of whom the coach said, “She has already added so much to practice and plays her position with passion.”
McKeon noted that Butz took last season off and Oswald suffered a season-ending injury before it began as the Wildcats finished 1-16 overall and 0-8 in United East play a year ago.
“Stein has very talented hands and understands the complexities of running a 5-1. Power-hitter Oswald looks to make up for the time missed last year and is ready to rule the court. Simmons, as a true libero, adds depth to the team we did not have last season,” the coach continued.
Blocking and filling holes on defense are two areas of concern, McKeon said.
The keys to success, McKeon said, are “communication and commitment to the team goals and having fun on the court.
“We are looking forward to a few new team competitions like Cairn University and Widener University. (We are) looking for (a) second-year win over Keystone but know they will come out strong on their home court. There were some close games last year and we are looking forward to winning those.
“I am so excited to be back for the second year with a group of women who seem to already adore playing together. There is nothing better as a coach than watching a team bond and do it quickly. The freshmen have been embraced and those who are returning after time off are fitting back in like a glove. The team spirit is high, and everyone can feel the excitement of having a full roster. We have options this year and that is something we did not have last year.
“(The key to building the program) is more recognition by the college community. Many female athletes don’t even know we have a program. I have talked to alumni who never knew we had a team either.”
First-year coach Tom Leeser brings a wealth of experience to the Penn College program after building highly successful boys track and field and boys and girls cross-country programs at Milton High School.
Commenting on his coaching philosophy, Leeser said, “I really want to focus on growth. It’s not so much who’s coming in with the most talent, but let’s take the talent you’re bringing in and see how we can develop it and improve it.
“Also, let’s grow as a person as well as an athlete. I bring a little bit of coach and a little bit of dad to the job, in terms of how I approach getting to know the student-athletes and helping them to recognize there are a lot of priorities they have to deal with from their academics to their personal life decisions as well as athletics.
“Individually, with track and cross-country, there’s always a clock so you can always measure improvement and success compared to previous races. The clock, they say, doesn’t lie.
“When I say personal growth: in terms of kids maturing, accepting leadership roles.
“The team is small, but what I’ve been impressed with is there is some maturity and leadership in a number of them, and that’s always a nice thing to have. If you don’t have that, your work as a coach is a lot more difficult.”
Last season at the United East meet, the men finished sixth in a seven-team field and the women were fifth of seven. At the season-ending NCAA Division III Mid-Atlantic Regional, the men were 27th in a 31-team field and the women 30th of 31. Individually, Alec Rees, of Centerport, New York, and Cinnamon Digan, of Mifflinburg, turned in the best times for their respective teams at each event.
Rees, along with junior Noah Bowers, of Burnham, and senior Nick Snow, of York, return for the men’s team.
“(We have) a few quality returners from last year and a few newcomers with good high school credentials,” Leeser said, noting that while his runners are “willing to work, (have) high expectations and good team unity,” the squad lacks numbers and depth.
The keys to success, Leeser said, are “quality training, focus on growth and improvement, and a positive team environment.
“The plan is to establish ourselves in the top half of the conference this season and raise our expectations for next season. (We look to) set lofty, yet attainable goals, put in the effort on a daily basis, control the things you can control, have fun and enjoy the experience.”
On the women’s side, there are no returnees from a year ago, although now-senior Rosey Thomas, of Port Allegany, who was a first-team all-conference selection as a freshman in 2018, has returned to the team.
“All of our women are new to our program, except Rosey. Some women bring in a bit of running experience, while others have varied athletic backgrounds. We will be starting from the ground floor and focusing on growth,” Leeser said.
While the coach said he has seen “desire and a willingness to improve,” he pointed out that overall fitness levels, knowledge of the sport and experience are areas that need improvement.
The key to success, Leeser said, will be “patience, take one day at a time. Come together as a team and perform at our best around championship time.”
Thursday, Sept. 1 – host Keystone College, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 3 – host McDaniel College, 3 p.m.
Wednesday, Sept. 7 – at Alfred State College, 4 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 1 – host King’s College, 4:30 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 3 – at Wilkes University, noon
Monday, Sept. 5 – at Geneva College, 7 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 1 – at Lycoming College, 5 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 3 – at Cairn University, 7 p.m.
Tuesday, Sept. 6 – at Clarks Summit University, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 3 – at Mansfield University Short Course Open, 9:15 a.m. (men), 10:15 a.m. (women)
Saturday, Sept. 10 – at Lebanon Valley College Dutchmen Invitational, 10:15 a.m.
Friday, Sept. 9 – at Misericordia University, 3 p.m.
Sunday, Sept. 11 – host Susquehanna University, 11 a.m.
Wednesday, Sept. 14 – Elizabethtown College Fall Invitational at Hershey Country Club East, noon
Friday, Sept. 16 – Mountain Valley Classic Day 1 at Sinking Valley Country Club (Altoona), 10:30 a.m.
Saturday, Sept. 16 – Mountain Valley Classic Day 2 at Summit Country Club (Cresson), noon
Formula Four Championship
Monday, Sept. 5 – Okayama, 9 p.m.
Monday, Sept. 19 – Interlagos, 9 p.m.
Collegiate iRacing League GT3 Challenge
Tuesday, Sept. 6 – Long Beach, 9 p.m.
Tuesday, Sept. 20 – Twin Riing Motegi, 9 p.m.
Collegiate iRacing League Premier Series
Tuesday, Sept. 13 – Kansas, 9 p.m.
Tuesday, Sept. 27 – Texas, 9 p.m.
For more about the United East, visit the conference website.
For additional information, visit the Wildcat Athletics website.