Pennsylvania College of Technology men's and women's basketball teams are coming off tough seasons, but both men's coach Chris Lemasters and women's coach Matt Wilt anticipate improvement this campaign. The teams open Monday at home in Bardo Gym against non-conference opponent Pitt-Titusville; the women at 6 p.m. and men at 8 p.m.
In competition last week, the college's wrestling team opened its season, the cross-country team competed in nationals, the women's volleyball squad had a pleasant surprise ending to its season and several tennis players and the team's coach earned all-conference honors.
After assuming the reins midway through last season, Lemasters, a standout at both Mansfield High School and Alfred University, was named the team's head coach in the spring and is anxious to get started.
"We're still a young team and we're going through the learning process right now. We have a good number of returners coming back, but still it's a young group," the coach said. "We know it's a learning process and right now we're more focused on trying to develop the type of program we want.
"I feel pretty solid that I've got 15 guys who can go into a game and play, whereas last year there were only five or six guys I felt comfortable putting into the game. We definitely needed to improve our athleticism a lot, so we were in the gym in the spring and fall doing various workouts to make us a little bit more explosive," Lemasters continued.
"Also, this year we had them run a ton because, although we like to slow the pace down, (some games) tend to get very up tempo. A lot of teams we go up against throw 15 athletes against you and just sub them in five at a time. We'll have a lot better condition this year to be able to handle it."
Key returning players include co-captains Scott Fenton, a 6-foot, 2-inch sophomore forward who was an all-Penn State University Athletic Conference Honorable Mention last season, and Bryant House, a 6-5 junior forward who was injured much of last year. Also back are 5-10 junior point guard Ethan Kline and 6-4 sophomore forward Colton Acorn.
"We have a great core group of returning guys, it just all depends on injuries. They look good this year but you just never know what can happen," Lemasters said. "The beginning of the year always is a learning experience. I think we can give some of these teams a run for their money but we schedule heavy in the beginning of the year so we're ready once the (conference) season starts."
Assisting Lemasters are former Wildcat players Tom Little and Joe Simon, both of whom helped the team reach the playoffs in recent years before last season's 4-20 finish.
"Our numbers are still down with 11 players, but we have some returning players in Kierstin Steer, 5-8 senior forward from South Williamsport; Mackenzie Brown, 5-10 sophomore center from Lititz; Ali Van Metter, 5-7 sophomore guard from Saylorsburg; and Dana Reed, 5-7 sophomore forward from Sunbury, who all started at one point or another last year so we should be a lot better than we were last year," said coach Matt Wilt, who enters his third season.
Steer, with 961 career points, needs just 38 points to become the Penn College women's all-time leading scorer. One of the newcomers on the team is Steer's younger sister, Jamie, who was a 1,000-point career scorer at South Williamsport Area High School.
"I think we're probably (among the) top four in the league, if everybody stays healthy," Wilt said, noting that because of the college's extended women's soccer season he only had his full squad together twice through Thursday.
The Wildcats will employ a motion offense this year, with assistant coach Darrin Bischof, the former varsity boys coach at Jersey Shore Area High School, focusing on that aspect of the game while Wilt concentrates on defense.
"We're going to do about everything it takes to win," Wilt said of his game strategy. "Everybody is going to play a lot."
Penn College has several tough non-league foes to face before conference play begins late this month and Wilt is hopeful of a good start in an effort to improve on last year's 3-21 mark.
"Once the league starts, we should be more than ready to go," he added.
Competing in the United States Collegiate Athletic Association National Championships on Friday at Lake Placid, N.Y., Penn College placed 12 th in a 17-team men's field with sophomore Dan Flynn finishing 39th with a time of 30:42.61 among more than 160 individuals.
Also for the Wildcats, Dan Starr was 40th in 30:43.38; Dan Blauvelt was 59th in 31:54.74; Michael Acquaro was 79th in 33:31.84; Ed Knyff was 81 st in 33:35.82.
On the women's side for Penn College, freshman Eileen Harrington finished 142nd with a time of 40:53.70.
"We ran a pretty good race," said coach Mike Paulhamus. "We needed to have that perfect race to compete with the top teams here. It's always a very tough field."
Earlier in the week it was announced that Paulhamus had been named the Penn State University Athletic Conference Coach of the Year after his men's team won its 10 th straight conference title. Also, Flynn, Starr and Blauvelt earned spots on the all-conference squad, which is comprised of the top 10 finishers at the PSUAC championships.
Tim Kurtz at 149 pounds, and Tyler Myers at 157, scored falls for Penn College in its season opener on Friday, but the Wildcats lost to The Apprentice School of Newport News, Va., 31-21.
On Saturday at the Electric City Duals at Scranton University, Myers, at 157 and 165, and Logan Gresock at 184 and 197, each went 4-0 while the team was 1-3 after losing to PSU DuBois, 27-12; falling to The Apprentice School, 32-18; dropping a 49-12 decision to the University of Maryland Baltimore County and edging Scranton, 24-23, on criteria two (more six-point wins). Myers pinned all of his opponents and Gresock pinned three of his four. UMBC won the team competition with a 4-0 record.
The Wildcats, now 1-4 overall, begin PSUAC action Saturday in a home twi-meet with PSU Beaver and PSU Mont Alto starting at noon at Bardo Gym.