IUP, WCU atop PSAC coaches poll
As the countdown to kickoff rapidly approaches zero, Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference teams are starting to get a feel for how they’ll perform this season.
Based on the results of a poll released Friday, PSAC coaches expect to see the same teams sitting atop the East and West divisions when the season closes in November.
The 2017 PSAC Championship game participants, West Chester and Indiana University of Pennsylvania, were picked to win the East and West, respectively, again this season in the preseason coaches poll. Both teams received all but one first-place vote.
Despite the high praise from his peers, second-year IUP head coach Paul Tortorella isn’t dwelling on what happened in 2017.
“When we start practice on Monday, last year is done and over with,” Tortorella told iupathletics.com. “It’s a whole new season, new team, new players. It’s nice to be respected, but in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t mean a whole lot.”
This may be a new team in some ways, but the Crimson Hawks return key contributors on both sides of the ball from a team that went 11-0 en route to its fourth PSAC title.
IUP advanced to the NCAA playoff semifinals and finished third in the American Football Coaches Association Top 25.
California University of Pennsylvania was picked to finish second in the PSAC West, and garnered the lone first-place vote that didn’t go IUP’s way. The Vulcans are coming off a 9-3 campaign and are just two years removed from a PSAC title of their own. Cal will have 10 starters returning, though the most experienced players are on the defensive side of the ball.
“I think offensively, it’s going to be interesting to see how this group comes together,” Cal head coach Gary Dunn said to calvulcans.com. “Defensively, we’re a little more upperclassmen oriented on that side of the ball.”
Slippery Rock, Edinboro, Gannon, Mercyhurst, Clarion and Seton Hill rounded out the West poll.
West Chester returns 16 starters from a 9-4 team, eight each on offense and defense. Long-time Golden Rams head coach Bill Zwaan is planning on a “defense wins championships” strategy heading into the season.
“I would be disappointed if this defense wasn’t as good as some of the best defenses we have had,” Zwaan said, courtesy of wcupagoldenrams.com. “Last year, we were young in the secondary, and our defensive front was hurt. Therefore, we weren’t a ‘take-the-game-over’ kind of a unit. We were a ‘hang-on-and-keep-us-in-the-game’ unit. We will be that ‘take-the-game-over’ defense this year.”
Despite having a better overall record, 10-2, than West Chester last year, a mid-season loss to the Golden Rams kept Shippensburg out of the PSAC title game. They finished second to West Chester again in the coaches poll. Shippensburg returns 14 starters and the reigning AFCA Division II Region I Coach of the Year in Mark Maciejewski. Getting to 10 wins again will be tough for the Red Raiders as their crossover games are against the top three teams in the West (Slippery Rock-Week 2, Cal-Week 3, IUP-Week 11).
“The schedule this year is a tough one, but we welcome those tough schedules, and we’re going to take it one game at a time,” Maciejewski said at shipraiders.com.
Kutztown-also receiving a first-place vote, Bloomsburg, East Stroudsburg, Millersville and Lock Haven finish up the East poll.
Regardless how the season shakes out, former District 9 and 10 players will make an impact as the conference boasts dozens of former D9 and D10 standouts.
The season kicks off Aug. 30-Sept. 1.
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PSAC Coaches Poll results
(first-place votes in parentheses)
1. West Chester (7)
3. Kutztown (1)
5. East Stroudsburg
7. Lock Haven
1. IUP (7)
2. California (1)
3. Slippery Rock
8. Seton Hill