Athletics takes center stage at Fayette campus

Championships and new sports came to Penn State Fayette in the past year
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Credit: Penn State

LEMONT FURNACE, Pa. — While the students of Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus have long been respected for academic excellence, they are becoming known far and wide for their athletic prowess. The Athletics Department has made great strides over the past academic year, with a trifecta of championships and the introduction of several new sports.

Although Fayette is one of the University’s smallest campuses, its student-athletes have proven to be among the most competitive, with the men’s cross-country and women’s volleyball teams each winning Penn State University Athletic Conference (PSUAC) titles in the fall and the wrestling team bringing home the PSUAC trophy in February. In fact, nearly every sport qualified for a national tournament this year.

The teams playing at the Fayette campus have no louder cheerleader than Athletic Director Lou Zadecky, who said, “I am extremely excited and happy about the growth of our athletic programs. I think that the dedication and hard work of the student-athletes and the coaches have propelled us to the best year for athletics in the school’s history. It has made us grow together as a department.”

According to Zadecky, academic achievement is as high a priority as victory, and he is pleased with the outcomes of the Student Athletes Graduating and Excelling (SAGE) program and the retention task force. He said these efforts have boosted players’ grade-point averages and dramatically reduced the number of ineligible athletes.

Currently, there are women’s teams for basketball, volleyball and softball, while male students can participate in baseball, basketball and wrestling. Under Zadecky’s leadership, the Athletic Department expanded the number of sports over the past academic year, with the addition of co-ed track and field, cross-country and golf. He anticipates offering additional sports programs in the future, but is proud of what the campus’ coaches and student-athletes accomplished over the 2016-17 academic year.

The Fayette golfers had an impressive inaugural season, qualifying for the PSUAC/United States Collegiate Athletic Association (USCAA) championship, where they placed 17th. Ryan Gesso finished 43rd and made first team all-conference, while Haley Brothers, who was the team’s sole female member, was honored as a USCAA all-academic.

Also, the formidable Fayette women’s volleyball team bested all other Penn State campuses last fall to win the PSUAC championship with a victory over Penn State Mont Alto. This was the team’s eighth statewide title in the last nine years.

They defeated a higher-seeded team, Maine Fort Kent, to advance to the second round of the national tournament. The women of the Fayette campus came out hungry and fierce as they sought redemption for last year’s loss in the PSUAC championship game against Penn State Brandywine. Fayette won the sets 3-0 and capped off their regular season and PSUAC tournament record at 17-0 and 24-4, respectively. There were four first-team all-conference players, including Siteri Tale, Victoria Helmantoler, Janelle Cooper and Emma Lewis, one second-team all-conference, Caitlyn Williams, and one honorable mention, Kelsey Tyler. Tale was named Co-newcomer of the Year, while Nancy Wheeler earned Coach of the Year recognition. Also, Lewis earned USCAA all-academic honors and Cooper was a USCAA All-American.

Joining the volleyball team in another PSUAC championship victory in the fall was the Penn State Fayette men’s cross-country squad, which Coach Joe Carei led to their first conference title and best team finish in program history.

The Roaring Lions dominated with four all-conference runners. Cameron Coffey and Devin Pisarski each played major roles in pushing Fayette to first place. Coffey finished first, while Pisarski placed fourth in the tournament, and each received first-team recognition. Michael Elliot placed 11th and Jesse Varndell placed 14th, earning both athletes second-team status.

The cross-country team also had a strong showing at the 2016 USCAA national championships, finishing 13th in the nation, with most of the team’s members running their career best. This was the first Roaring Lions’ cross-country team ever to compete on the national level.

Carei, who was honored as cross-country men’s Coach of the Year, was pleased with the overall results of the meet, despite some setbacks. “We had a little adversity, with one runner getting in a car accident and being on concussion protocol and another who battled back from a serious ankle injury, but they prevailed. I am really proud of our team,” Carei said.

The Penn State Fayette women’s basketball team qualified for the playoffs as the No. 5 seed; it was the eighth consecutive year the team made the playoffs. The team went 13-14 overall and 8-6 in PSUAC play. Taylor Smith was first-team all-conference, while Courtney Haines and Haley Moreland earned two PSUAC honorable mentions. Also, Smith was named as a USCAA first-team All-American and Haines as a second-team All-American.

The men’s basketball team battled hard and finished tied for seventh place in the PSUAC. They were strong competitors in the USCAA tournament as the 10th seed, and several team members had standout performances, most notably Dominick Jackson. The Roaring Lions finished the season with an 11-6 record, and they will look to rebound next season.

A few months ago, the Penn State Fayette wrestlers won the state championship at a joint PSUAC-USCAA tournament and also finished fifth of 14 teams in the USCAA portion of the tourney. This was the first-ever PSUAC title for the Fayette wrestlers.

Coached by Jerry Simon, eight of the campus’ 12 wrestlers competed, with the following five members earning first place in the PSUAC portion, in addition to doing well in the USCAA portion: Nathan Spinetti, Ethan Kenney, Michael Perdomo, John Fedorek, and Josh Godzin.

During the USCAA portion, Spinetti and Kenney were first-place finishers, while Perdomo placed third. Godzin also performed well enough to rank third, and Fedorek finished fifth.

This spring, under Carei, Penn State Fayette formed its first-ever track and field team. Twenty male and female members participated in five meets, competing on a regular basis against NCAA Division II and Division III athletes. Their season concluded with a bang at the USCAA national invitational in late April. Despite having a small squad, the men’s team managed an eighth-place finish, while the women got 10th. Also, Gesso was crowned unofficial national conference champion.

Carei noted that Penn State Fayette’s participation in the USCAA national meet may enable that organization to add track and field as an official sport. “It is exciting to be a part of something new, especially since we are in our infancy, too,” he said. “It will be great to grow with the USCAA in the interest of track and field.”

Although the women’s softball team was eliminated during postseason play, they surprised many by going from a single win in 2015-16 to PSUAC second-round postseason contenders this academic year. Moreover, four student athletes were honored for their season performances in the PSUAC. Tiffany Markovitch, Miranda Nichols and Monica Joseph all earned PSUAC second team All-Conference. Hannah Kline was also granted Honorable Mention, and Head Coach John Miller was named as PSUAC Coach of the Year.

In light of postseason elimination, the Lady Roaring Lions received a national bid as the USCAA 10th seed for the national championships held in mid-May. They faced off against the No. 4 seed SUNY-Canton in the L-bracket of the double-elimination tournament, but were unable to overcome an 8-0 deficit. They did, however, manage to conclude tournament play with a consolation victory. This sealed their place as the ninth best team in the nation, with the defeat of sixth-seeded University of Maine-Presque Isle in a close 2-0 bout.

A close observer of all the team sports at Penn State Fayette since his arrival on campus has been Assistant Athletic Director Stephen Oberly, who commented on the dramatic turnaround he has witnessed. “It has been a true pleasure to watch some of these programs develop over the last three or so years — to come from nonexistent to national contenders,” said Oberly. “As an administrator, it has been impressive to watch, but even as a sports fan, it shows how there is a true dedication on this campus to athletics and to growing these student-athletes in every way possible.”