St. Vincent poised to continue success
By Steve Bayko and Mike Hustava, Sports Information Assistants
Following a nationally ranked season, the Saint Vincent women's basketball team is ready for the start of the 2011-2012 season. Returning all but one starter and ranked 24th in the D3hoops.com Preseason Top 25 Poll, the Bearcats are poised to build upon their recent successes.
Leading the way this season will be first-year head coach Jimmy Petruska, marking only the second time in program history the Bearcats open the season under a new coach. Petruska took over the position in the interim mid-way through last season after the unexpected and tragic passing of former head coach Kristen Zawacki.
Petruska expects to have another strong campaign this season. Senior Brittany Sedlock, the reigning PAC Player of the Year and a D3hoops.com Second-Team Preseason All-American selection, leads an accomplished group of returning players. Saint Vincent came up one win short of the PAC Tournament Championship last season and qualified for the NCAA National Tournament. The Bearcats were downed by Greensboro (N.C.), 83-66, in the opening round of the tournament, finishing with a record of 24-5.
Joining Sedlock as returning starters are classmate Emily Fenton and juniors Melissa Mansur and Devin McGrath, a Second-Team All-PAC performer last season. Juniors Jordan Clinton and Savannah Hardy are accompanied by sophomore Ariel Rocco as veterans who contributed valuable minutes to last year's successful season. Kendra Burchfield also returns to the team this season after a one-year hiatus. Petruska knows the experiences of this group of veterans will play a role in the success of this year's team.
"Most of these girls have been playing with each other for two or three years now," Petruska said. "They've been through a lot together and they know what it takes to be a good team."
The leadership of the veterans will be very helpful for the eight incoming freshmen. Hollidaysburg freshman Elle Collins will be looked upon to contribute early at the point guard position for the Bearcats. "She is very talented, very strong and very smart," Petruska said. "When you incorporate that with Sedlock, McGrath, Fenton and Mansur, a scoring option at the point guard position is lethal."
Freshman forward Allyson VanGundy is coming off of a knee injury during her senior year of high school but Petruska believes she will be a contributor sooner rather than later. "She's not holding anything back," he said. "She is really strong and she can shoot the ball very well. We are expecting to see some good things from her."
Jessica Hentrel (Silver Spring, Md.), Alexa Lee (Mars, Pa.), Emily Satkovich (Somerset, Pa.), Ally Schmidt (Allison Park, Pa.), Kelley Sedlock (Northern Cambria, Pa.) and Jessica Welch (North Potomac, Md.) round out a freshman class that is expected to provide depth to an already talented squad.
The Bearcats open the season at the Hampton Inn Tip-Off Classic hosted by Messiah College on Nov. 18 and 19 against Farmingdale State University. Petruska and the rest of the Bearcats are embracing the opportunity.
"Messiah College has a great fan base. It's going to be a great atmosphere," he said. "The playoff atmosphere and hostility of playing on the road will be very beneficial for the freshmen. That is what we, as a coaching staff, are trying to get out of this trip."
Overall, Petruska is excited about the potential for his team this season. "We have the product on the court. They are fun to watch and they are fun to coach."
The first home game is November, 22 at 5:30 P.M. against the University of Pitt-Bradford. Saint Vincent opens PAC play on Nov. 30, traveling to Westminster College.