When three Pennsylvania College of Technology fall sports teams take to the field Friday, two of them will be under new head coaches.
Rafael Morais, with the men's soccer team, and John McNichol, with the women's soccer squad, will make their debuts - the men open at Baptist Bible College at 4 p.m., and the women host Rosemont College at 7:30 p.m. - while Monica Brown returns for her second season as coach of the women's volleyball team that gets underway at 5 p.m. at crosstown rival Lycoming College.
Morais comes to Penn College with strong credentials. Since 2007, he has been the head of the men's soccer program at Briarcliffe College in Bethpage, New York. There, he was a two-time National Coach of the Year in the United States Collegiate Athletic Association, leading his team to two national championships with a total of five championship appearances. In seven years, he amassed an 85-12-5 overall record. In addition, in 2010 he coached Puerto Rico's national women's professional team in the Friendlies against Mexico.
According to Morais, his team had 40 student-athletes trying out for spots on what will become a 25-man roster.
"Even though our team is young, we have a lot of talent coming in and returning. I think we have the opportunity to make a huge statement this year," he said.
Jake Tuck, a senior, and Christian Dresseler, a junior, are two of the more fit players on the team so they're definitely leaders, Morais said.
"Ronald Garcia, of Brentwood, New York, and Hector Guerrero, from Mexico, are transfers from Briarcliffe College (USCAA national champion in 2012) and will give us the experience we need to go far in the competition," the coach continued.
"I believe that the biggest challenge this year is that we are a very young team. We may not be as experienced, but we definitely have a lot talent throughout the entire team.
After two non-conference matches, Penn College steps into North Eastern Athletic Conference action for the first time on Sept. 6 at SUNY-IT. Ten of the Wildcats' 17 regular season matches will be in the NEAC.
Last season, the Wildcats finished 14-5 overall and lost in the Penn State University Athletic Conference semifinals.
McNichol, a native of West Chester and a King's College graduate, comes to Penn College after serving as the assistant men's coach at King's College in Wilkes-Barre. Last season he helped King's win its conference championship and earn a berth in the NCAA Division III tournament.
"Overall, I am very excited for this upcoming season and building upon the success the team had this past season. It is a very exciting year for not only our women's soccer program but Penn College athletics, with it being our first year as a provisional member of NCAA Division III athletics and as full members of the North Eastern Athletic Conference. This season will provide a lot of firsts for our program and we are looking forward to the challenges ahead of us. We have a good mix of returning players," McNichol said. "I expect to start, Colleen Bowes, a sophomore from Wayne, in goal. She has done a great job in the preseason, building on her strong showing at last year's national tournament. Val Passalacqua, a senior from McAlisterville, has done a nice job in the midfield so far and I can envision her playing there this season. However, with this being my first year with the team I am still learning about each player and trying to find where they will fit in our system.
"The key to our success will be for everyone to continue to buy into the new system, as well as getting as familiar with the system as possible. If the girls continue to buy in the way they have since we started preseason, it will allow them to get even more familiar with what we want to do.
Penn College opens play in the NEAC on Sept. 6 at SUNY-IT. It will play 13 of its 18 regular-season matches in the conference.
A year ago, Penn College finished 11-7-2 overall and went 2-1 in the end-of-the-season USCAA Association National Championships.
Key returning players from last year's team include outside hitter Courtney Gernert, who Brown said, "has been our most dynamic player so far and I expect her to only get better this year with our strong freshmen class pushing her to get better;" middle and outside hitter Loralee Lindemuth, of Tidioute, of whom Brown said, "I expect Loralee to really come into her own this year. She has two solid years of playing experience for Penn College and has always filled whatever role given very well; and middle and right-side hitter Kaitlyn Klein, of Lock Haven. "Kaitlyn joined us last year and did very well. She has taken on a leadership role this year already and I expect her to continue that on the court as well," Brown said.
"We are working with a younger squad but our veterans are leading the way seamlessly. I'm looking for the returners and freshmen to become more comfortable playing together and at that point I think we'll be a tough team to beat," the coach said.
Penn College opens NEAC play Sept. 20 at Wells College. Twelve of its 26 regular season matches will be against conference opponents.
In Brown's first season, the Wildcats finished 13-20 overall and reached the PSUAC semifinals.