Penn College women’s basketball, wrestling teams set for postseason
Following a season in which numerous NCAA-era program milestones were reached, including a winning dual match record (11-10) for the first time since 2012-13 well before it became NCAA eligible in 2017-18, first-year coach Pankil Chander is looking for more in the postseason.
Action gets underway at 11 a.m. Friday and resumes again at 11 a.m. Saturday.
Among the highlights thus far during bouts against eight of the top 25 teams in NCAA Division III and multiple top 15 individuals:
- First tournament title
- First conference medalists
- First time with two top-five tournament team finishes in one season
- First time with six medalists in a single tournament
- First time a wrestler garnered a national ranking – and in the top 10, at that
- First Wilkes Open medalist
- First win over conference contender SUNY Oneonta
- First winning dual record
The key, so far, Chander said, “There has been more belief surrounding our preparation mentally, physically, emotionally, strategically, technically and positionally than ever before. We have enhanced our training environment and the way we communicate as a team. The belief, trust and accountability are high because we are confident in the way we prepare, and we have unique relationships because we have learned how to hold each other accountable in an uplifting way.”
Penn College’s lineup (with records and season highlights in parentheses) going into regionals includes:
125 – Ryan Berstler, of Middletown (28-12, third at ECWC Championships, third at RIT Invitational)
133 – Pat Snoke, of Northampton (25-9, fourth at ECWC Championships, fifth at RIT Invitational, fifth at Wilkes Open)
141 – Noah Hunt, of Muncy (34-13, sixth at Ned McGinley, fourth at ECWC Championships, third at RIT Invitational, third at Waynesburg Invitational)
149 – Brett Patton, of West Chester (11-9)
157 – Cullen Van Rooyen, of Dresden, Ohio (21-18 third at Waynesburg Invitational)
165 – Mason Leshock, of Shamokin (22-8, third at ECWC Championships, first at Waynesburg Invitational)
174 – Zach Miller, of Lock Haven (sixth at Waynesburg Invitational)
184 – Isaac Cory, of Montoursville (13-1, Ned McGinley Invitational champion)
197 – Gabriel Kennedy-Citeroni, of Blairsville (17-17, sixth at Waynesburg Invitational)
Hwt. – Billy Bumbarger, of Morrisdale.
“Individually, there have been exceptional performances across all 10 weights,” Chander said. “Berstler, Snoke, Hunt, Leshock and Cory have been consistently performing well against strong competition, which has placed them in a position to be considered among the top eight in their region, which could reflect the way seeds fall in the bracket. Snoke and Hunt’s consistent performances have earned them a top five regional ranking at their respective weights leading into the postseason.”
Looking ahead, Chander said, “The NCAA Mideast Region is one of six regional tournaments in the country, which makes each region an unavoidably deep and tough field.
“The Mideast Region tends to be one of the higher-performing regions at the NCAA Championships every year, which speaks volumes about the rigor and intensity of this event. The stakes are high since wrestlers will either extend their season or conclude it. Only the top three wrestlers in each weight class qualify for NCAAs.
“It’s an unforgiving event since it all comes down to one weekend – a body of work through the course of the season doesn’t influence championship bids. One has to truly show up that weekend and earn their spot on Friday and Saturday. There’s only 18 qualifiers at each weight in the country, so if you’re among that group, you’re in elite company.
“We have several wrestlers that have the talent, skill level, work ethic and enough evidence of success that suggests they can break out and outperform their seed at this event if we wrestle to our potential.
“Pat Snoke beat an NCAA qualifier last year and he knows he can get the job done at the right time. Isaac Cory already has a dominant win over the No. 3 ranked wrestler in the region, so he’s good enough to beat anyone in that bracket. Mason Leshock has proved he can put great guys away in a dominant fashion. Ryan Berstler beat three guys seeded above him at the conference tournament to take third. Noah Hunt was a 12 seed at the regional tournament last season and finished fifth. We have wrestlers that are prepared for success and we’re excited about the opportunity.”
Assessing the rest of the field, Chander said, “There are three top 15 teams in the nation and a multitude of top 15 individuals in the nation sprinkled throughout this regional tournament. Most of these programs have 7-10 decades of history, tradition and success. Many of them with several national championships to their name. We’re grateful for the opportunity!”
The Wildcats are competing in the postseason for the first time since 2012-13 and the first time during the college’s NCAA era, which began in 2014-15, although they only became NCAA playoff eligible in 2017-18.
Penn College, seeded fourth after finishing 9-7 in the UE and 10-15 overall, will open play against top-seeded tournament host SUNY Morrisville (14-2 UE, 17-7 overall) at 5 p.m. In the other semifinal, second-seeded Penn State Harrisburg (13-3 UE, 16-9 overall) goes up against third-seeded St. Mary’s (Md.) College (13-3 UE, 17-7 overall) at 7 p.m.
Friday’s winners will square off for the championship and a berth in the NCAA Division III playoffs at 4 p.m. Saturday.
Assessing her team’s season so far, coach Britni Mohney said, “We had to find our footing. We did not start strong with our nonconference opponents and then opened up with two of the stronger competitors in the conference in Lancaster Bible and Penn State Harrisburg. After battling with Penn State Harrisburg in early January, our team started to understand that we can compete with the top of the conference.
“Our first conference win against Penn State Berks sparked a light within our program; we became hungry for more. The turning point came when we beat No. 1 seed SUNY Morrisville on the road in overtime. With only one loss prior coming from Penn State Harrisburg, this was a game that made a statement to the remainder of the conference. From that moment forward, we found our success story. The program changed as our student-athletes learned how to win in big games, and we won for each other.”
Two on-court areas that have keyed the success are assists and defense.
“When we began to play for each other, adding the extra pass and finding the open teammates, our ballgame started to improve,” Mohney said. “We had better shot selections, higher shooting percentages, and more confidence in our offensive game.
“Defensively, this is the heart of our program. In our wins, we’ve held teams to below their averages. We are second in the conference in holding teams to 55 points per game and forcing them to shoot below their average field goal percentage. We are the type of team that wants to disrupt defensively and that shows when you cannot predict which defense you will play against on any given day. That is a testament to the players for trusting in their coaches and for being versatile with their play to allow us the opportunity to do so.”
Statistically, Lexi Troup, of Huntingdon, leads the team in scoring with 242 points and a 9.7 per game average, while Rachael Teats, of Middleburg, is second with 234 points and a 9.4 average. Aubrey Stetts, of Jersey Shore, has 182 points (7.3 avg.); Emily Pardee, of Williamsport, has 161 points (7.0); Kayleigh Miller, of Sayre, has 146 points (6.1); and Ja’Quela Dyer, of Dover, Delaware, has 122 points (5.1).
Teats also is tops with 167 rebounds (6.7 average), and Dyer is second with 140 boards and a 5.8 average.
While her team has made strides in each of its first two seasons under Mohney, this year’s nine conference wins and 10 overall wins are the most for a Wildcat team since the 2014-15 season.
“First and foremost, we are grateful,” Mohney said of her team reaching the playoffs. “It’s been a long time coming but we are exactly where we are supposed to be. The last loss SUNY Morrisville had going into United East Conference playoffs was to Penn College, and that is a great feeling to have.
“(Our) program has learned how to fight back from deficits, we’ve learned to take a lead and keep a lead, but most importantly, we learned to win. This comes from hours of watching film on ourselves, critiquing our mistakes but acknowledging our successes.
“We’ve learned more about ourselves as a team both off the court and on the court this year. We look forward to exploiting weaknesses within our opponents’ offensives and capitalizing on our defensive intensity. If we can compete with confidence, play as a team, and play our standard of Penn College basketball, we can be a force in the playoffs.
“There are great teams heading to the final four, and Penn College is one of them.
“SUNY Morrisville returns their entire cast that won the United East Conference last year. St. Mary’s College of Maryland has an outstanding scoring trio that includes outside shooting, an inside presence, and a forceful drive.
“Penn State Harrisburg has quickness and roster depth which can be a battle to overcome as they have the ability to press for 40 minutes worth of basketball.
“This weekend will be a true testament to what we want our program to become in the future. And we look forward to the challenge. It’s also great to receive the support from these programs as they have been championing for us to clinch the final four spot as they have acknowledged our growth and competitiveness within our program. We may be the last seed, but we are playing our best ball at the right time.”
Friday, Feb. 24 – United East Semifinals at SUNY Morrisville, Penn College vs. SUNY Morrisville, 5 p.m.; Penn State Harrisburg vs. St. Mary’s (Md.) College, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 25 – Championship at SUNY Morrisville, Friday winners play at 4 p.m.
Friday, Feb. 24 – NCAA Division III Mideast Regional at Ithaca College, 11 a.m.
Saturday, Feb. 25 – NCAA Division III Mideast Regional at Ithaca College, 11 a.m.
For more about the United East, visit the conference website.
For additional information, visit the Wildcat Athletics website.