IUP BASKETBALL: Hawks men picked first in PSAC preseason poll; women voted third
The IUP men’s and women’s basketball teams are sitting in familiar positions as they prepare to start their new seasons, but there are things about both teams that are not so familiar.
The IUP men have been voted first in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference West Division preseason coaches’ poll for the fourth straight season, and the women have been picked third for the fourth time in the past five seasons.
Coach Joe Lombardi’s men’s team has won three of the past four conference championships and four straight division titles. The Crimson Hawks return two starters and two other players from last year’s regular rotation from a 26-6 team, but there are seven new players in the program. IUP also has two new assistant coaches, Matt Hahn and Steve Piotrowicz, after Chris Fite took the head coaching job at Shippensburg and coach Kevin Funston left to coach high school basketball closer to his hometown of Philadelphia.
“We’re rebuilding,” Lombardi said. “With the turnover in the staff and with half the team being new in the program, it’s sometimes back to taking baby steps, but that’s the reality of where we’re at right now. My biggest challenge is that I have to work on being patient and not try to compare this team to teams in the past and how good they were in October and November. We have to keep the focus on getting better every day. If we can do that, we’ll give ourselves a chance to possibly be good in January and February.”
Returning starters and seniors Marcel Souberbielle and Mathis Keita were named to the preseason all-conference team. They will be joined in the starting lineup by junior point guard Devante Chance, redshirt sophomore forward Devon Cotrell and Jeremy Jeffers, a 6-foot-6 redshirt junior forward and transfer from Division I Drake. The only other player familiar to the program who will see substantial playing time is redshirt freshman guard Manny Yarde.
Joining Jeffers as newcomers are Brandon Norfleet, a 6-4 sophomore guard and transfer from Division II Cheyney; Kalusha Ndoumbe Ngollo, a 6-8 sophomore and transfer from Division II Franklin Pierce (N.H.); Jesse Bosnik, a former standout from Elk County Catholic High School who played collegiate baseball at St. Bonaventure and played pro baseball the past three years; Nathan Lemke, a 6-10 freshman center from Australia; Stefan Osborne, a freshman guard from Australia; and Daniel Vigus, a redshirt freshman walk-on guard. Norfleet, a projected starter and PSAC East Freshman of the Year last year, is not eligible until the end of the fall semester, and Osborne will redshirt.
“I’ve always said every year is a rebuilding year because it’s a different year and you have to build a different team,” Lombardi said. “Some years you’re rebuilding a little more than others, and I guess this will be one of those years. After having five seniors last year, you can’t get around it.”
There are plenty of familiar faces on the women’s roster, with nine players who played double figures in minutes per game last season. The new faces are on the bench, where Tom McConnell takes over as head coach, joined by assistants Rebecca Tillett and Ryenn Micaleti.
“The first order of business for me when I took over in June was to try to establish relationships with the players, getting to know them, them getting to know me,” McConnell said. “One of the things we’ve done is to really make a conscious effort in terms of team building and we’ve done things together to get talking and sharing and getting to know each other better. I think that’s gone a long way toward building a culture of unity and togetherness.
“The second priority was putting together a staff of not only good basketball coaches but two people that will be a good influence and good role models, and I feel fortunate that we hit a home run with Rebecca and Ryenn.”
McConnell has 20 years of coaching experience on the Division I level, most recently at Old Dominion.
His players have plenty of experience at IUP. Marita Mathe, Amy Fairman, Melanie Todd, Ashley Stoner, Talen Watson and preseason all-conference selection Lindsay Stamp combined for more than 150 starts last season on a 23-9 team, and Marina Wareham, Zhan￩ Brooks and Lisa Burton saw significant action. In addition, Leslie Stapleton returns after missing all but two games last season with a broken ankle.
IUP was picked behind Gannon and Edinboro and tied for third with California.
“For us, being tied for third, people look at IUP basketball and see a good returning nucleus of players who have had a good level of success,” McConnell said, “so I think it fits when you look at it.”
The IUP men play exhibition games at La Salle on Saturday and at Michigan State on Monday. The regular-season opener is Nov. 13 at West Virginia Wesleyan, and the home opener is Nov. 16 against Notre Dame College.
The IUP women play an exhibition game at American on Sunday and open the regular season at home against Bluefield State on Nov. 10.