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Saturday, September 3, 2016

Veteran Group to Lead Women's Soccer in 2016

BRADFORD, Pa. - The Pitt-Bradford women’s soccer team kicks off the 2016 season Friday on the road against Saint Vincent.

A lot has changed for the program since losing in overtime of the AMCC Championship match last fall. Marquis Walker has stepped into the role of head coach, replacing Mike Idland, who left in the offseason for the same position at SUNY-Brockport. In eight years at the helm, Idland steered the program to new heights and established Pitt-Bradford as one of the top teams in the conference. Walker will be tasked with taking the Panthers even further.

Walker comes from Hudson (Ohio) High School and previously coached at Malone University (Ohio). In his final year at Hudson, Walker led the girls’ soccer team to a 15-2-2 record and finished the season ranked seventh in the state among Division I programs.

An AMCC championship continues to elude the Panthers, who have finished runner-up to Penn State Behrend four straight years. Pitt-Bradford has won the regular season crown the last two years but would gladly trade either title for the program’s first NCAA tournament appearance. Behrend was selected to repeat in the preseason coach’s poll, followed by the Panthers, so much of the same is expected in 2016 between the league’s top two teams.

Walker will be inheriting a team with plenty of experience as only three seniors departed from a year ago and he’s grateful for the opportunity.

“The leadership of the captains and upperclassmen is a luxury that I am thankful of,” Walker said. “It is a rare occurrence that a new coach gets the opportunity to take the reins of a contender.”

Junior goalkeeper Sarah Dailey returns to anchor the defense. The reigning AMCC Defensive Player of the Year led the league in shutouts a year ago and ranked second overall in save percentage. More impressively, she conceded only four goals in conference play.

Juniors Kaitlyn Donnelly and Kaitlyn Williams, a pair of all-conference selections, return as the top goal scorers. Williams, along with sophomore Meghan Stuck, will solidify the midfield, and sophomore Grace Dadzaa will join Donnelly up front to form a formidable attack. Ashley Parks and Kelsea Robbins are the lone seniors on the team and hope to finish their careers in grand fashion.

Despite last year’s disappointing finish, Walker has praised the Panthers for their focus during the preseason.

“The players have a tremendous work ethic and are extremely competitive,” Walker said. “While there are no guarantees based on past performances, I like the chances of our team competing at a high level this season in the conference.”

The Panthers will be tested early, playing their first five games of the year away from Bradford, before hosting Allegheny on Sept. 17 for their home opener. AMCC plays starts a week later at Penn State Altoona and plays out through October. One note, Pitt-Bradford travels to Penn State Behrend Oct. 19, for a midweek match that could go a long ways in determining a regular season champ and home-field advantage for the playoffs.

That matchup comes with only three games remaining on the schedule, so by then Walker should have a fairly good idea of this team’s ceiling. If anything, the Panthers will be looking to break through and clear that final hurdle setting the stage for a magical season.

Panthers Look to Build Upon Strong Finish to 2015

BRADFORD, Pa. - The Pitt-Bradford volleyball team is set to open the 2016 season at the Moravian Greyhound Premiere Invitational Friday against Ursinus and Alvernia.

The Panthers will play a total of four matches this weekend and look to set the tone for a better start than a year ago. Pitt-Bradford lost 12 of its first 16 matches in 2015 before ripping off seven wins in the final 11 contests. Much of that can be attributed to experience as the Panthers were working to replace six starters. Second-year head coach Tom Roof believes this year’s squad is better prepared.

"I really like the makeup of this year's team,” Roof said. “We return nine players from last year and with the six new players we have in, I think we're deeper than we've ever been. Not only that, but we're quicker and more athletic.”

Sophomore Kirsten Platz, the reigning AMCC Newcomer of the Year, returns to lead the Panthers in 2016. The middle hitter ranked among the league’s leaders in blocks and kills last season. Platz, along with sophomores Alexis Dhayer and Courtney Holzwarth, are expected to show improvement from a promising rookie campaign.

The senior class of Christina Rauh, Megan Geary and Mandy Finch provide experience at key positions. Rauh, a setter, led the AMCC in service aces a year ago and will be tasked with engineering the attack. Geary provides depth at the same position, and Finch, an outside hitter, was among the team leaders in kills in 2015.

Juniors Alma Turpin, Erin Fagan and Emily Reitz all played significant roles last season, and much of the same will be expected this year.

The freshman class of Sydney Shepherd, Katie Sedon, Meagan Welsh and Gesica Ferrar will push for playing time as well. Roof has praised their athleticism throughout the preseason and is excited about their potential. Transfers Rose Thacker (Northeast Mercyhurst) and Brianna Majot (Lock Haven) round out the team.

The Panthers will play 13 of their first 14 matches on the road, including tournament stops at the Vassar Invitational and Wooster’s Ginny Hunt Kilt Classic. Pitt-Bradford opens the home slate Sept. 15 against Houghton and kicks off AMCC play at home against Penn State Behrend Sept. 28. The Panthers missed out on the league playoffs a year ago, snapping a streak of eight-straight appearances. Roof hopes the experience from last year will better serve the Panthers in 2016.

"Last year I thought we didn't really play well in the big AMCC games,” Roof said. “And I think that was a product of being such a young team. Hopefully, now, that won't be the case.

“We have to play with confidence and that's how we're going to have to play this weekend if we want to get the start we're looking for.”

Franciscan was tabbed to repeat as conference champs, edging out regular-season champ Penn State Altoona. Pitt-Bradford was picked seventh, but Roof believes this team is capable of much more.

“Our conference is loaded this year again and it's going to be a fight for everyone just to get to the playoffs, but I'd be disappointed if this team doesn't challenge for a conference title,” Roof said.​

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