After a season during which first-year coach Ian Scheller’s Pennsylvania College of Technology women’s soccer team reached the United East Conference semifinals, Scheller has one expectation for this year’s players: Do your job.
“Everyone on the team prides themselves on their ability to work hard and also possess the ability to impact a game in many ways. It is important to not try to do too much, trusting your teammates to handle their responsibilities,” Scheller said as his squad prepped for its nonconference season opener at 6 p.m. on Friday at Mount Aloysius College.
Among the Wildcats returning from last year’s squad that went 9-9-1 overall and 6-3 in all UE matches are senior forward Kaelynn Sheetz, of Elizabethtown; and juniors Billie Gean Hennessy, of Holtsville, New York, a defender; midfielder Sara Darlington, of West Chester; and midfielder Cassie Johnson, of Richland.
Sheetz led the team in scoring with 21 goals and eight assists; Darlington had 12 goals and eight assists; and Johnson had a conference-high 13 assists and became the first Penn College player in modern program history (since 2014) in the 10/10 club as she also netted 10 goals. At the end of the season, Sheetz and Darlington received all-conference first-team honors and Hennessey was named to the UE second team.
Two freshmen who could make an immediate impact are midfielder Piper Minier, of South Williamsport, a two-time high school all-state, one-time all-region honoree, and defender Makayla Bucks, of Palmyra, a President’s Cup National Champion.
“Practice to this point has been great. I am over the moon with the progress of the returners from one year to the next, and also excited about what some of the freshmen have shown in such a short time. The standard of play has been great and I am looking forward to seeing what we can do against other opposition,” Scheller said.
“Our team has a healthy balance of new players and a good bit of experience from our returners. We only graduated two seniors from last year’s team and are hoping we can use this cohesion and experience to facilitate growth for our young players while also trying to build program stability and compete for a playoff position each year,” Scheller said.
“Our biggest strength comes from our team’s dynamism. We have a number of players who can operate in a handful of positions on the field. This allows us to be tactically flexible and also can help us make changes on the fly to adapt to situations that may occur over the course of the season,” the coach said.
“One area we have stressed since last season is finding consistency early on. We hit a good run of form at the end of last season, picking up some large wins down the stretch, but we know the importance of finding our feet early and using that to hopefully pick up a few wins early in the season,” Scheller said.
“We loaded our first few days of the season (five matches in nine days, including back-to-back matches the first two days), giving us plenty of opportunities to see a number of player combinations and make adjustments to our team. This will benefit us, allowing us to answer some of our questions early in the season, setting us up for long-term success,” Scheller said.
“We have a difficult list of nonconference opponents on the schedule this year. We are looking to challenge ourselves with teams that will allow us to get better each day and see where we truly stand. We also believe that competing with these teams will allow us to be better prepared for our conference matches while also testing ourselves against some great sides from other conferences,” Scheller said.
“Our goal is to solidify ourselves as a top-four team in the United East, year in and year out. We have plenty of stiff competition, with the likes of St. Mary’s, Lancaster Bible and Abington, without even mentioning the top two teams from last year (Harrisburg and Berks). We are always optimistic about our chances but understand that nothing is given in any of these matches, and we will need to be at our best to get a result from these very good teams,” Scheller said.
Over the summer, the United East’s merger with the Colonial States Athletic Conference culminated, and this season’s playoffs will have a new look. In the Volt Division are former UE teams Penn College, St. Mary’s (Md.) College, Penn State Berks, Penn State Harrisburg, Lancaster Bible College, Gallaudet University and Penn State Abington; while in the Skye Division are former CSAC teams Bryn Athyn College, Cairn University, Cedar Crest College, Clarks Summit University, Keystone College, Notre Dame (Md.) University, Rosemont College, St. Elizabeth University, the University of Valley Forge and Wilson College.
After the regular season, the top six teams will earn a spot in the postseason, which begins with the divisional first round on Oct. 28 (the top two teams get byes). The first-round winners will play in the divisional semifinals on Oct. 31, with division champions crowned on Nov. 2.
On Nov. 5, the two division champions will square off to determine the overall conference champion, with the winner earning the conference’s automatic qualifier into the NCAA Division III Championship tournament.
Last year’s conference champions were Penn State Berks in the UE, and Bryn Athyn, which captured the last two consecutive CSAC titles.
“I am a huge proponent for getting more teams involved. I have always advocated for expanding playoffs. I believe it is better for the players, giving them more opportunities to play postseason soccer, and anything that suits the players is great in my book,” Scheller said.
“We hope that this year, after getting to the semifinals last year, we can approach any potential playoff situation with a bit more composure and understanding of the environment. We know that if we were lucky enough to get to playoffs, any team we play would be a tough task, but we look forward to the challenge and are hopeful of possibly getting the opportunity to host a game at some point in the future,” Scheller said.
Also helping out with the team is volunteer assistant coach Jakob LeMay.
Friday, Sept. 1 — at Mt. Aloysius College, 6 p.m. (Penn College leads 1-0-0)
Saturday, Sept. 2 — at Geneva College, 2:30 p.m. (Geneva leads 1-0-0)
Tuesday, Sept. 5 — host Clarks Summit University, 5 p.m. (Penn College leads 4-0-0)