New conference brings tough foes


Nate Bottiger, Sports Editor

University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown’s athletes are to finish their fifth and final season in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, after nine universities left the conference in June.

Athletic Director Pat Pecora said he walked into his office, and did not expect to hear their time in the West Virginia Conference would come to an end.

“It was in the newspapers before we even got word of it.”

The teams that left the conference were all football-playing schools. Those schools’ officials announced in August that they would create a new 12-school conference called the Mountain East.

Men’s soccer head coach Eric Kinsey said he was in disbelief when he first heard about the conference’s disbandment.

“No one had any inclination that move was coming, so we were all caught off-guard by the announcement.”

In place of the former conference, Pitt-Johnstown accepted an invitation into the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference, and athletes are to begin competition in the new conference next fall.

Pecora said he is thankful for the time Pitt-Johnstown’s athletic program spent in the West Virginia conference, but is excited to move forward.
“We treasured our days in the (West Virginia conference),” Pecora said. “One door closed, and another door opened.”

With the addition of Pitt-Johnstown and Seton Hill University, the Pennsylvania conference is to grow to an 18-team organization, making them the largest NCAA Division II conference.

Including the two new additions, every conference school conference is in Pennsylvania, which could provide Pitt-Johnstown and Seton Hill with less hassling travel than they may have become accustomed to.

The Pennsylvania conference is considered to be one of the better conferences in Division II, and has accrued 45 NCAA team titles and 254 individual titles in its 61 years.

On top of their successes in athletics, the conference has been noted honoring numerous “scholar-athletes” among its member colleges.

Pennsylvania Conference Commissioner Steve Murray said Pitt-Johnstown was a natural choice due to its location in Pennsylvania.

Murray said they anticipated a move like this, and that the West Virginia conference’s swift disbandment only sped up the process.

Murray said he feels that Pitt-Johnstown will compete well in some sports.

He said the depth in the league gives Pitt-Johnstown a good opportunity to show their skills and improve, but that every victory will have to be earned.

“There won’t be any ‘gimme’ games.”

According to the Pennsylvania conference’s website, “over one-third of the (the conference’s) estimated 6,300 participants are honored each year as ‘Scholar-Athletes’ for maintaining a grade-point average of 3.25 or better.”

Senior Kelsey Kohler, a volleyball player, said she is excited and glad that her final year of competition at Pitt-Johnstown coincides with the West Virginia conference’s final year.

“I’m glad I had the chance to stay in the same conference all four years, although it would be a good experience to be challenged by some of those (Pennsylvania conference) teams.”

Kohler said the Pennsylvania conference is advantageous to Pitt-Johnstown’s teams when it comes to travelling for away games and matches.

Kohler said the level of competition is subject to change in the new conference. She said the teams in the Pennsylvania conference are competitive, and will bring Pitt-Johnstown volleyball to a whole new level.

Kohler listed California University of Pennsylvania, Clarion University of Pennsylvania and Mercyhurst University of Pennsylvania as some tough volleyball teams in the new conference. California University’s team was the 2011 Pennsylvania Conference Champions.

Kinsey said that California University of Pennsylvania is also competitive in men’s soccer, and that they were ranked 16th in NCAA Division II. Pitt-Johnstown lost 0-1 to this team last season.

Kohler said the volleyball team is focusing solely on this year’s competition, regardless of the conference change that is to occur next season.

Kinsey said his team also will also focus on this season alone. Kinsey said he believes in the strength of his system, but said significant changes in off-season are to be made in the weight room.

“The biggest difference about the (Pennsylvania conference) is that it is a bigger, stronger, faster.”

Kohler said she has high hopes for her younger teammates who are to compete in the new conference next year, but she is uncertain of the result.

“I’m not exactly sure what the outcome will be, although it will be a challenge to play against teams we are unfamiliar with. We will still be able to hold our own.”

Kinsey said he was happy with the West Virginia conference, but is excited about the new challenge. He said the conference member colleges could provide other advantages as well.

“This affiliation will hopefully bring out more fans to the games, as we will now be playing schools that many of the students are familiar with.”

Pecora said Pitt-Johnstown’s President Jem Spectar was critical during the process of joining the Pennsylvania conference.

Spectar’s work contributed to Pennsylvania conference members’ unanimous decision to invite Pitt-Johnstown to the PSAC.

Pecora said it also came down to being on the same page as Seton Hill. If Seton Hill would not have joined the conference, it may have been an entirely different story, he said.

The conference needed one football playing school and one non-football playing school in order to balance their membership, and could not take one without the other.

Pecora said this conference looks like the best fit possible for the university, and this move could be permanent.

“I think we found our home, and this is where we’re staying.”