WPIAL grads come to grips with PSAC’s decision to suspend sports for fall semester

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Wednesday, July 15, 2020 | 6:22 PM


Michael Marisco walked the golf course as often as possible over the past couple of months.

The Fox Chapel graduate built a measure of momentum with successful results and made the field for the West Penn Amateur at Allegheny Country Club with a first-place finish in a qualifier last month.

But Marisco, a rising senior on the men’s golf team at Gannon University, didn’t get a chance to compete in the tournament when it was postponed after an increase in covid-19 cases in southwestern Pennsylvania.

On Wednesday, hundreds of athletes across the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference knew exactly how he felt.

The PSAC announced it has suspended all competitions and championship events for the fall semester in response to the pandemic.

“For me, it was almost the worst-kept secret that I was just waiting to hear but obviously didn’t want to hear,” said Marisco, who competed at the 2019 NCAA Division II Men’s Golf Championship.

“More than likely, we knew it eventually was going to happen, just from hearing what other conferences were doing and talking to other coaches in the PSAC and our coach. We were cautiously optimistic we would get a chance to play, but in the back of our minds, we knew there was a chance this could happen.”

The decision impacts all fall sports teams, as well as the schedules for winter sports teams through the end of 2020. The conference said it intends to move all competitions to the spring semester if conditions allow.

“We’re talking about whether or not we’re going to be able to practice together this fall or what we can do as far as individual competitions,” Marisco said. “That’s all up in the air. Given the ability to practice in the fall, we’re going to work hard so if we have the opportunity to compete in the spring, we will be ready.

“I am sure that all of the fall athletes in every sport would welcome the chance to compete in the spring if that is something that can be done safely.”

In addition to Gannon, the schools affected are Slippery Rock, Mercyhurst, Clarion, Seton Hill, Cal U, IUP, Edinboro and Pitt-Johnstown, as well as Lock Haven, Millersville, East Stroudsburg, Bloomsburg, Shippensburg, Mansfield, West Chester, Kutztown and Shepherd (W.Va.).

“It was sad to hear the news,” said recent Burrell graduate Megan Malits, an incoming freshman on the women’s soccer team at Edinboro. She is one of nearly three dozen from the WPIAL and City League who will be freshmen on PSAC women’s soccer rosters.

“I know I will continue to do all the summer workouts that my coaches sent me, and when we go to campus, we will keep conditioning and keep in shape so we will be ready for the next possible season. Hopefully, that will be in the spring.”

Playing safety

Slippery Rock football coach Shawn Lutz said the decision was the right one for the health and safety of his players, staff, the families and the campus. Multiple starters return for The Rock after producing the best single-season record (13-1) in school history, a PSAC championship and a trip to the NCAA Division II semifinals.

“Our players and coaches were already talking this morning about using this extra time to keep getting better and improving our football team,” Lutz said. “That’s one of the things that makes our program so special. These guys won’t let this be a negative. We’re going to turn this into a positive and come out of it even stronger.”

Twenty-nine WPIAL players were on the SRU spring football roster and more were expected to join for preseason workouts.

“I know it was a tough decision for those in the PSAC to make,” said Jermaine Wynn Jr., a Woodland Hills alum and rising redshirt senior wide receiver at Slippery Rock.

“If this will ensure safety for my teammates, myself and everyone on campus, I can’t really say anything. I just have to control what I can control and stay focused on getting better and reaching my full potential regardless if there is a season at some point.”

Wynn, one of the conference’s top receivers, caught 95 passes for 1,339 yards and 15 touchdowns last season.

“There’s so much uncertainty right now,” Wynn said. “If you asked me a month ago if they would have made this decision about the (fall) season, I would’ve said no.”

Looking for a bright side

Abby Skatell is a rising senior midfielder on the Seton Hill women’s soccer team. Her boyfriend, George Coyle, is a pitcher on the Griffins baseball team which had its season canceled in the spring due to covid-19.

That soccer could be played later in the school year is a reprieve spring athletes were not as fortunate to get.

“I know they are diehard for their team and were very disappointed they were not able to show all of their hard work on the field,” Skatell said of the baseball team. “I know all of our athletes train and work so hard to be able to compete for our school.”

Skatell is a Greensburg Central Catholic graduate.

“Knowing that our season is not canceled enables me to respond better to the decision,” she said. “Our girls are eager to get back together and train as we have been looking forward to doing so since the remainder of our offseason games were canceled last spring. Also, knowing that we have something to work for in the spring motivates each of us to work harder and have good attitudes when returning back to campus in August.”

Coming to grips

Anna Billey, a rising senior defender on the Cal U women’s soccer team, said she was heartbroken when rumors of a postponed season turned into reality.

But she tried to put herself in the shoes of PSAC officials. The decision to play in the spring softened the blow.

“With all the factors involved, I soon realized that it was the best decision to both keep everyone healthy, as well as have an opportunity to get a complete season in,” said Billey, a Mt. Pleasant graduate. “It will be a different experience for everyone, but I am excited for the chance for our new team members to mesh before we step on the field for conference games in the spring.”

Billey made 12 starts last season for the Vulcans.

Double duty

It potentially could be a busy late winter and spring for cross country athletes who also compete for their school’s track and field teams. Those runners have been logging a lot of mileage in preparation for what they hoped was a fall season.

“As always, anything is possible,” Daniel Caulfield, the head men’s and women’s cross country and track and field coach at Cal U, said about the potential for a double play of sports seasons in the spring.

“How we would lay out those schedules, that is something to be considered in the weeks and months to come. Right now, we’re more waiting on the NCAA to see what they will do. For instance, if all conferences in Division II follow the PSAC, will the NCAA move the regional and national cross country championships to the spring?

“As of right now, that is not the case. That would affect things in a specific way, so it’s almost pointless worrying about what we’re going to do until we find out what the NCAA will decide.

“Our kids are pretty motivated, and they want to race. Any opportunity to race, I’m sure they won’t turn it down. It’s just how those opportunities will present themselves.”

Tough times

IUP Director of Athletics Todd Garzarelli put forth the sentiment of what everyone connected to athletics in the PSAC is feeling right now.

“These are uncertain and challenging times, but as we move forward, it is vital that we continue to take care of our student-athletes,” Garzarelli said.

“We will commit to do our due diligence on all things related to the covid-19 pandemic and provide for our student-athletes to ensure their long-term success.”

Staff writer Bill Beckner contributed.

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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