Fall Preview: Teams determined to stay on top

By Kari Condel

Sports Editor

The fall sports season has begun for our Bulldogs, and it is time to showcase the dedication maintained and fostered during the summer months. All athletes have returned to Center Valley from various states across the country to come together as one for the love of the sport. After their respective preseason trainings, our sports teams are ready to compete and control the conference.

Volleyball

2017 Record: 22-10 (Freedom Conference 7-0)

Returning: 12

DeSales University Invitational: Aug. 31-Sept.1

As announced by the conference office, the women’s volleyball team is slated second in the MAC Freedom preseason poll. The Bulldogs received 44 points in the poll, four points behind first place’s Eastern University. Coming off of their fourth 20+ win season and a perfect record in the MAC Freedom Conference, the Bulldogs are driven by a burning passion to dominate regular season play, return to the title match and end on top.

The Bulldogs return the core of last year’s team including four All-MAC Freedom performers including seniors Gabby Savite and Natalie Gray, junior Morghan Shoemaker, and sophomore Noel Kelly. These decorated players are joined by other top returnees senior Taylor Antoniewicz and sophomore Grace Merritt.

“One of our biggest strengths is experience,” Gray stated. “Having to only implement three new players into an already solid team makes for an easy transition into the new season. Another huge strength is our sense of family. I look at my teammates as not only my best friend but my family.” This sense of family will be a major strength for the Bulldogs going forward.

Head coach Michele Zabinski leads the team in her 14th season. She was three-time MAC Freedom Coach of the Year, and has led the Bulldogs to the MAC Freedom postseason play in 12 of the previous 13 years and holds a career record of 250-172 (.592). It is a numerical representation that is indicative of the hard work, dedication and consistency of her past teams.

“Our primary goal is to not be a good team, but a great team. By staying consistent and holding ourselves to a standard, we can achieve other goals such as a MAC Championship, as well as a bid to the NCAAs,” Gray said.

The women’s volleyball team opened their season with a 3-1 record during their home invitational on Aug. 31. The overall winning nature of the invitational was a precursor to the team’s first MAC Freedom conference game. The Bulldogs were victorious, 3-1, hosting Eastern University in a rematch of last season’s title match on Sept. 12. The Bulldogs are the first-ever team to defeat Eastern since the Eagles joined the MAC Freedom conference.

Men’s Soccer

2017 Record: 12-3-6 (Freedom Conference 4-1-2)

Returning: 20

Homecoming Game: Sept. 29 vs. Misericordia

The men’s soccer team has been tabbed second in the MAC Freedom preseason, finishing with 43 points, just two points behind Eastern University. The Bulldogs will enter the 2018 season as the defending MAC Freedom champions, and their season will be characterized by grit and spunk to return to the postseason tournament to defend their title.

The Bulldog’s top five scorers from last season are returning including seniors Justin Habick and Michael Kirby, who both earned All-MAC Freedom honors. Other top returning scorers include seniors Alex DiRienzo, Zach Reichard and Max Cortina. The Bulldog’s defense will remain solid with the return of sophomore Sean Tunney who earned All-MAC Freedom Second-Team honors and senior Giuseppe Natale, who started all but one game last season.

“I think our biggest strengths this year as a team would be our experience, our dedication and our freshmen class,” stated Habick. DiRienzo added, “We have a good mix of seniors and juniors that provide depth and energy for a full game.” Retaining the top five scorers and two key defensive players are advantages for the Bulldogs in regard to team chemistry.

Head coach George Crampton is returning for his 20th season with the team. He is a decorated coach, being the only coach in DeSales history to win more than 55 games and has been named the MAC Freedom Coach of the Year five times. Crampton has added onto this list, earning his 200th win as the team defeated ST. Vincent College, 4-1.

“The team’s goal for this season is mainly to improve upon last year,” said Habick, complimented by DiRienzo’s addition of, “To win our conference championship for the second straight year and win a game in the NCAA tournament so we can go further than last year.”

“We think it’s important to set our goals high,” Habick added. Mental and physical toughness will be a key factor in the Bulldog’s season, facing every opponent with the same fortitude and the high hopes of being triumphant. The men’s soccer team will open MAC Freedom conference play during their homecoming game against Misericordia University on Sept. 29.

Women’s Soccer

2017 Record: 11-7 (Freedom Conference 5-2)

Returning: 14

Homecoming Game: Sept. 29 vs. Misericordia

The women’s soccer team was picked third in the MAC Freedom preseason poll released by the conference office. The Bulldogs earned 37 points based on last season’s performance, behind second place’s Wilkes University and first place’s Misericordia University.

The team returns two key acclaimed players including MAC Freedom Rookie of the Year and First-Team member sophomore Rachel Medlar and All-MAC Freedom Second-Team member junior Claire Bassetti. Senior Haley Jacobs and sophomore Lia Gaccione, who split the goaltending duties last season and posted a combined 1.33 GAA, return to help dominate season play.

“The biggest strength of the team this year is that we play as a complete unit, with trust in one another and a willingness to adapt, which puts us in good positions to win,” Jacobs said. “Our commitment to one another will give us an advantage over more seasoned teams.” The women’s team is a young team consisting mostly of freshmen and sophomores, but this commitment to each other and dedication to improve will carry the team forward.

Morale and spirit will carry the Bulldogs through their season to return to postseason play, with the aspiration to rise to the final round.

Head coach Greg Ridout is also returning for his fourth season with the Bulldogs. Ridout’s overall record for his first three years at DeSales is 34-23 (.596), which makes him the winningest coach in team history.

The Bulldogs ended 2017 qualifying for the MAC Freedom postseason for the fourth straight year, but fell to Misericordia in the semifinal round. The team tallied four in a 4-0 win over Alvernia in the season opener, marking their first shutout of the season. The Bulldogs open conference play during homecoming weekend against Misericordia on Sept. 29.

Field Hockey

2017 Record: 12-9 (Freedom Conference 4-3)

Returning: 14

Homecoming Game: Sept. 29 vs. Delaware Valley

The field hockey team has been picked third in the MAC Freedom preseason poll, tied with Wilkes University, after one of the most iconic and historic seasons in program history. Perseverance and endurance are the qualities that will characterize the 2018 season, with last season’s painful loss in the conference championships fueling the fire.

The Bulldogs return juniors Madison Brader, Kylie Honnick-Payne and Katarina Polyviou who were all voted All-MAC Freedom First-Team selections. Other returning key players include juniors Christie Hansen and Julia DeLuca.

“Our biggest strength as a team is our fortitude,” Honnick-Payne stated. “We push ourselves harder in practices and in everything else we do, whether it be our warm-ups or even sprints at the end of practice. Having this sense of heart makes us such a strong and highly motivated team who will put in the work and do whatever it takes to win.”

Head coach Lindsay Goeller is returning for her fourth season and enters this season nine wins away from moving into second place on the all-time wins list at DeSales.

Honnick-Payne talked about the season’s goals with the first and foremost being, “to return to that [MAC Championship] game and finally win!” Conference play begins Sept. 21, with the Bulldogs traveling to FDU-Florham for a rematch of last year’s MAC Freedom semifinal game. Their homecoming game will take place on Sept. 29 against Delaware Valley.

Men’s Cross Country

2017 Team Finish: Fourth in the Middle Atlantic Conference

Returners: 17

Home Invitational: Oct. 6

The men’s cross country team placed fourth out of 17 teams at the MAC Cross Country Championships last October.

Highlights from the championships include a sixth overall finish by senior Gabe Lamm (26:36.4) and a 16th overall place for sophomore William Summers (27:28.6). Other top finishers and key components to the team’s fourth overall place were seniors Kyle Gonoude (24th – 27:48.4) and Kyle McCann (30th – 28:06.4), and junior Nick Cauley (45th – 28:48.1).

“I think our biggest strength this year is our positive attitude that we bring to practice every day ready to work hard day in and day out,” McCann stated. This hard work and dedication will carry the team into their 2018 fall season. Cross country is an individual sport but cannot be done without the support and sportsmanship of all members of the team, cheering each other on both during practices and races.

The men’s team opened their schedule hosting local rivals Moravian and Muhlenberg in a warm-up race, earning a third-place finish. Lamm, now a senior, had the best performance for the Bulldogs, placing fifth overall on the 5K course (16:29). Other key runners are freshmen Aaron Stoyack and Dan Sharo.

As a young team, McCann talked about their goals which are geared toward developing the fresh faces, stating, “Our team goals this season are to win the conference championship and I think with the young talent we have and the veteran leadership, we have a really good shot of doing so.”

The DeSales University Invitational is set for Oct. 6, gearing up for the MAC Championships at Stevenson University on Oct. 27.

Women’s Cross Country

2017 Team Finish: Second in the Middle Atlantic Conference

Returners: 4

Home invitational: Oct. 6

The women’s cross country team was slated second in the MAC Cross Country Conference after last season.

The women opened their season identical to the men’s team, hosting local rivals Moravian and Muhlenberg in a warm-up race. The team finished third place overall, and ran five runners. Highlights includetop finisher sophomore Kayla Murawski, taking 15th place (21:55) on the 5K course. Freshman Leeann Markwalter and junior Alaina Neubauer finished within two spots of each other, taking 17th (22:23) and 19th (22:45), respectively.

“This year we have a very young team, composed of primarily underclassmen,” Neubauer stated. “With that being said, we have the ability to grow together as a family and a team. We hope to develop mentally, physically and improve our personal bests. We all have a positive, eager drive to keep hurdling barriers together.”

The performance ability integrated with the togetherness allows the team to work off each other’s strengths and weaknesses in order to achieve the best individual and team results.  The Bulldogs are led by head coach Gordon Hornig, and he will be entering his 22nd season. He has earned the honor of MAC Coach of the Year twice and has worked to build the women’s program into a contender in the MAC Conference every year, and the 2018 season will be no different.

The DeSales University Invitational will be on Oct. 6 in preparation for the MAC Championships held at Stevenson University on Oct. 27. The Mideast Regional Championship will also be hosted by DeSales on Nov. 10.

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