Central Mountain Sports: 2017 Fall Season Review

Alyssa Laughner and Corbin Green pose after receiving their medals on Saturday at the District VI meet at Forest Hills High School. (Photo provided)

MILL HALL – The 2017 fall sports season is in the books. Well, at least for all except two XC runners that is. The season was a particularly interesting one for me as I attempted to keep tabs on all seven CM teams. It was not an easy task, but one that I enjoyed given that this was my first full season as a sports columnist, writer, reporter, photographer, etc. I don’t really know what I am in the newspaper business, but whatever they call me, I’m enjoying it and enjoyed covering the CM teams. Of the seven CM fall sports teams, just two posted winning records. Now while I’m not a moral victory kind of guy, I will say that not all was lost for the five teams that were sub .500. Some teams are at various stages in their development processes. Remember as I wrote in one of my earlier Walkin’ the Sidelines columns, sometimes the process of a team and program development is lengthy. Let’s take an individual look at all of the teams and their 2017 seasons.

Girl’s tennis shined bright. As a team and as individuals, there was a considerable amount of success realized for Coach Pete Wert’s squad. The Lady Cats finished off their campaign with a 15-4 overall record and were 13-1 in conference play, which was good enough to share the PHAC championship. Over the last two seasons, Coach Wert’s team has posted a 32-7 record. That is not too shabby. For a team to be collectively successful, there must be some impressive individual performances as well. The Lady Cats got just that from singles players, senior Jolee McCluskey (15-3), Sophomore Kendall McCluskey (16-3), Senior Katherine Strouse (13-5) and Sophomore Natalie Brown (2-0). In doubles, Brown teamed with Jess Piergallini and Zoe Horton, both underclassmen as well to post a 15-4 record in the first slot and a collection of four freshmen combined for a 7-12 record as the 2nd doubles team. While not exceptional in terms of winning and losing, that doubles team gained valuable experience for the future. Losing just the elder McCluskey and Strouse, the Lady Cats should continue to be a force next season. Overall, Coach Wert got exactly what he needed from his girls this season in order to be successful – solid leadership from his singles players and inexperienced doubles players who progressed. The recipe that Coach Wert designed worked and the team was successful.

John Lodek’s golf team had an exceptional season. The team won the PHAC championship with a 17-3 league record and were 32-5 overall. On the individual front, Matthew Storeman was outstanding with classmate Tyler Adair not far behind. In fact, the two seniors helped to lead the Wildcats to an 81-14 match record over the course of the past three seasons. Additionally, Storeman finished his final season as a district runner-up and regional qualifier. Going into this season, Coach Lodek knew that for his team to be highly successful, his seniors needed to lead and a number of underclassmen would need to show growth. He got just that and it led to a championship. Lodek was impressed by the growth shown by a talented group of freshmen. He had this to say about the season: “This season was a very successful year for the team. We won the PHAC Championship, and we were able to send a team to districts as well as an individual to districts. That individual (Matt Storeman) was then able to be a west regional qualifier. He was only 2 strokes short from reaching the state tournament. Seniors lead the team by example, and the underclassmen followed. Everyone improved his or her scores as the season progressed. We may be losing two great seniors, but the underclassmen will step up to continue the team’s success.” CM golf does appear to have a very bright future.

Girls Soccer posted a 5-13 record. There’s no question that it was rough at times. However, first year head coach Cole Black had a year to install his ideas and philosophies into the Lady Wildcat program. He expressed that he was very pleased with the progress made in that respect saying, “We have grown a lot this season and become a real cohesive unit.” Additionally, Black took the opportunity to play a number of underclassmen that he hopes will lead the program moving forward. This year, the Lady Cats found scoring a challenge at times as they averaged fewer than two goals per contest and were shut-out six times. Junior Sloane Tressler led the team in goals with 11 while senior teammate Sadie McCaleb was close behind with 9. However, despite this, it was the defensive side that Black felt was a serious team weakness as he said, “We need to figure out how not to let so many goals in next year.” The program has now suffered through multiple seasons with a losing record. No doubt there is some talent that will return. In fact, three of the five Lady Wildcats recognized by the PHAC with all-star status will return along with several other starters from this season. However, losing trends are difficult to reverse. Undoubtedly, Coach Black will provide opportunities for the girls to work toward reversing that negative trend as the off-season unfolds. Whether they seize those opportunities or not will be something that each of them must decide. Coach Black summed up the season with this: “Definitely not the number of wins we were looking for but the girls showed great growth over the season. We’ve put ourselves in a great spot to begin off-season work and start working towards next year.”

Boy’s Soccer posted a 5-11-2 record. Again, while I’m not a moral victory guy, I will say that this could very easily have been a team with a winning season had the ball bounced their way here or there. It didn’t and they ended up with the record that they did. A deceiving record it was indeed. A number of close losses hindered the Wildcats opportunity to get to the playoffs for the second straight season. However, Coach Jeff Brinker had this to say of his team’s season: “Even though the total amount of victories did not go our way, the boys’ positive attitude in practice, game competitiveness, and desire to compete was always there,” said Brinker. “This was a great group of guys to coach.” Just as with the girls’ team, Brinker’s squad will lose some key pieces. However, Brinker will also return some kids with solid abilities next season. CM soccer is hoping that with more work in the off-season and a few more fortunate bounces of the ball next season, they will boast a record that will land them in a playoff position once again.

Lady Wildcat Volleyball had a challenging season. Coach Megan Ulsamer’s squad finished the season 6-12. Coach Ulsamer knew heading into the season that for her squad to win consistently, communication would be key. Unfortunately, that was a weakness that remained throughout the season. The coach had these thoughts on her team’s weaknesses this season: “I feel my team struggled in a couple of areas. There was the lack of communication in most games. The game of volleyball is built on communication and without it, we can struggle. We struggled with the ability to “turn the page,” and we dwelled way too much on the mistakes we made. We also struggled with what I like to call “playing not to lose.” We played too conservative many times, meaning instead of attacking the ball, with the fear of making a mistake, we would push or tip the ball over the net, thus giving the opposing team an easy return. We need to focus on being more aggressive in this area and “play to win, not to lose.” These are the areas we will focus on improving next season.” Despite the weaknesses mentioned, there were also a number of areas where the Lady Wildcats showed growth in 2017. Among those were improvements in the mental side of things as well as the fact that they consistently played hard. On that, Ulsamer commented, “There were many matches where both the referees and coaches from the opposing team had complimented our team on our strong defense. We played many teams that brought a very good offense, and we put up a very strong defense, increasing the intensity of the game. Our strongest area of the game was in our defense.” Moving forward to next season, Ulsamer will need to replace some key pieces from this year’s squad. However, it is key to remember that the addition of a Middle School program this year is likely to give the varsity team many more options in the years ahead.

Terrence Green’s cross-country squads were in action on Saturday at the district championships at Forest Hills High School. Senior Alyssa Laughner became the first CM runner in school history to become a district champion. Corbin Green also became a state qualifier for the Wildcats as he crossed the finish line in 8th place on the boy’s side of the event. Next up for Laughner and Green will be the state competition in Hershey next Saturday, November 4th. For the season, both the girls (7-12) and boys (5-14) teams posted losing records but that doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story in a sport like cross-country due to the successes turned in by a number of individual runners. Laughner certainly was a success story and Green is an individual to watch out for next season. There are a number of younger runners on both the boys and girls side that gained valuable experience this season that will be key in the future. Look for CM XC to be solid in the future.

The Wildcat football team completed its 2017 season with a 1-9 record. It was a tough campaign. The lone victory on the season came over the Shamokin Indians during a homecoming game at Malinak Stadium. Coach Jim Renninger’s squad was never able to gain much consistency at any time during the season. Renninger knew going into the season that his team would need to find some offense after having lost a considerable amount of production with the loss of Justin Neff. The Wildcats were able to move the ball at times but lacked consistency in doing so. In fact, the Cats did improve their overall offensive production from last season. Where the Cats really struggled throughout was on defense, an area that those in Wildcat pre-season camp predicted could be strong. Unfortunately, that strength never materialized. In fact, the Wildcats surrendered 38.6 points per contest and gave up 40 or more on five occasions. The Wildcats will lose some productive players to graduation but there are a few younger kids that will return who showed some promise in 2017. A couple of key names to watch for in 2018 will be Rocco Stark who got some carries and broke some big runs this season, and Zane Probst who is a prime candidate to take over the quarterback position from current senior, Austyn Carson. There are a few hard-nosed kids that will need to be replaced on the defensive side of the ball as well including Tanner Weaver and Mason Campbell. Unfortunately in order for a football team to be successful, many pieces of the puzzle need to be in place and fit together correctly. Knowing Coach Renninger and his staff, I’m sure they will soon begin the process of assessing what the team and program as a whole needs moving forward and will start the process of addressing those issues in the very near future.

So, as we close out the fall sports season, we recognize that there were some teams that had some success and some that had little. Regardless, along the way, each team provided opportunities for memories that will last a lifetime for many.

Now as we move on to the winter sports season, I encourage all of us in Wildcat Nation to prepare to support all of our teams. Thanks for reading my weekly updates. I look forward to covering Wildcat Boys and Girls Basketball, Wrestling (a little bit) – thank you Tom Elling, and Swimming. See you soon.