MANSFIELD – The 2019-20 Mountaineer Athletic season featured record-breaking and all-conference performances, personal bests, a national ranking, two all-time seasons, two All-American selections and outstanding academic achievement.
Unfortunately for spring sports, the 2019-20 athletic year also featured the cancelation of four seasons due to COVID-19. It is without a doubt that baseball, softball and men’s and women’s track and field will come back stronger than ever to make next season’s review that much more exhilarating, but for now let’s journey back to August and travel through February as the Mansfield student-athletes took the climb up the mountain.
The four programs that will be recognized are men’s and women’s cross country, women’s basketball and baseball.
The Mountaineer women’s basketball team made significant strides on the court throughout the year, all while playing the entire season without a senior on the roster.
Juniors Kira Merritt and Paige Whitfield took over the leadership duties in their first season as team captains. Whitfield — previously the Mountaineers shooting guard — moved to power forward to fill a void in the front court and although often undersized, was able to battle in the paint with the best of them. Whitfield (924) and Merritt (837) led the Mounties in minutes, while Whitfield was second in points (9.9) and rebounds per game (5.1) and Merritt led the team in assists (3.1).
The Mounties also showcased a very talented freshman class, with two of the rookies starting and two others notching significant playing time.
Freshman Jasmine Hilton was listed as a guard when she first stepped on campus but stepped up to fill a need at the center position. The freshman did so with authority, leading the team in scoring (10.2) and rebounding (6.3), while knocking down nearly 40 percent of her shots from the floor and 84 percent from the line. Freshman Jasmine Perez joined Hilton in the starting lineup and proved to be one of the best defenders on the roster. Perez notched two steals and 4.4 rebounds per game from the shooting guard position. Perez had multiple steals in 16 games, including a season-high five against Kutztown.
Freshman Alivia Paeglow led the Mounties in field goal percentage (.450) as the go-to option off the bench, while also pulling in 3.0 rebounds per game. Freshman Bella Skatell found her 3-point stroke as the season progressed and put it all together against Shippensburg where she was 6-of-6 from the field and 5-of-5 from three.
Coach’s Corner: “Obviously, we did not do as well as we had liked or expect, but I think that we had some great growth within our freshman group, and they gained some great experience. There is no substitute for PSAC experience and that will give us something to build off next season. I believe that our upperclassman learned and grew a great deal as well as players and leaders. We are starting to learn how to play together and play faster. We got better at some of the main concepts that we were going over in practice. One of our biggest achievements this past season was cutting down the turnovers and creating the other team to turn the ball over. I think that to take the next leap we must add more depth to our roster and continue to buy in and work hard.”
MEN’S AND WOMEN’S CROSS COUNTRY
The 2019 cross country season was one of team growth and individual success, while laying the groundwork for a successful track and field indoor season for the distance runners. Senior Quincy Amabile highlighted the men by earning 2nd-Team honors at the conference meet with a run of 26:20, finishing 17th. Amabile followed that up with an All-Region performance at the NCAA Atlantic Regional, placing 20th out of a field of 134 runners with a race of 32:29.5. On the women’s side, junior Lyndsey Payne capped off her third season by earning 1st-Team All-PSAC by finishing 12th in the 6K conference meet with a time of 23:12.
Several freshmen for each team gained valuable experience at the conference level during the fall and carried it right into the indoor track and field season. Freshman Lauran Ensminger was the second Mountie to cross the line at the championships, coming in at 25:10 for a finish of 87th. Shelby Alexander (26:30) and Carley Daniels (26:35) finished 139th and 143rd, respectively. Kevin Heeman was 68th at 27:39 and Christian Tanner 71st at 27:46 and both would go on to have break out indoor track and field seasons.
In his 18th fall as the leader of the program, head coach Mike Rohl emphasized the growth of the program and how great they were to work with.
Coach’s Corner: “The growth of this group is really the most impressive thing about them. They came in “pretty wet” behind the ears you might say. They all had a lot to learn about being disciplined and consistent. We worked hard to show how important that was and gradually
began to see the benefits. Their engagement grew over time as it became more and more important for them to do well in all aspects. We started the year talking about how it was important to treat each other with kindness and with gratitude and that grew on the team and as they adopted those beliefs they worked harder and supported each other even more. Hard work and gratitude that is our way.”
Although head coach Andrew Chalot’s first season in charge was cut short, the baseball program showed signs of commitment, improvement and energy through the early spring training trips. Just 15 games into the season, the Mounties were just two wins away from tying the entire win total from 2019. Senior Josh Kulina (.349) and Brittain Shander (.302) were two Mounties batting over the .300 mark, while senior Brady Mengel was second in RBI (seven) and belted the team’s only home run. Junior Ben Osborne was leading the club with nine RBI in his first season with the Mounties.
The duo of Kulina and Mengel also combined to have a glove in 15 double plays, while they both ranked in the top 15 in the PSAC.
The new-look pitching staff was a pleasant surprise in the early season. Junior Hunter DePrimo and senior Bryce Zaparzynski combined for 57 strikeouts in just eight games, while DePrimo was a cool 2-0 with a team low 1.07 ERA. Junior Jordan Cowen was 1-0 in six relief appearances in his first year as a pitcher, while junior Jake Manke was the club’s go-to reliever out of the bullpen, leading the team with 18.2 innings pitched.
Coach’s Corner: “I would say the thing I learned quickly in my first year as a head coach is that every day presents a different and unique challenge that you have to be ready to tackle and they aren’t always directly related to baseball. Guys need to continue and get better at believing in themselves. We will lay the foundations for them. I have what I consider to be the best coaching staff a head coach can have. I have good assistant coaches and I let them coach. We need to get to the point where losing becomes unacceptable because of the work we have put in. We have gotten better at that and we need to continue to get better at that.”