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Hear from winter teams as they begin their seasons.
“Last year, it was about taking the first step of building a program, getting a few wins and improving our cohesiveness,” said junior Connor Savoye of the team’s 6-19 season.
Much of this cohesiveness will have to be reconstructed this season, with five seniors having graduated in May. Arguably the most prolific of them was Kenny Sydness, the starting small forward who was the conference’s leading scorer. Sydness will be missed on the court, but he will have plenty of opportunities to contribute on the sidelines as the assistant to head coach Mike Bushong, who is now in his fourth season.
A number of returning players, along with a crop of new talent, are all working to collectivize their individual contributions. Senior Larry Patterson, a point guard, is a prolific scorer who runs the offense. Savoye is a shooting guard who naturally finds his place along the three-point arc. Sophomore Justin Ball, a center, racks up rebounds on both ends of the floor and converts many into points. Junior Steve Hammond will continue to contribute in the forward position, and senior Dorian Watkins is productive as a forward on the boards and in the paint.
Two of the most exciting freshmen this season are guard Parker Davidson and forward Jeff Ross. Davidson led his Texas high school team to a 25-2 record last season, and he is expected to be a shooting and rebounding machine. Ross will certainly use his 6-6 height to be a producer on offense and defense. Junior Joey White will be joining the squad, along with freshmen Jeff Lewis and Austin Sheldon.
Savoye and Patterson are the Panthers’ two captains this year. They have been organizing fall ball and coaches meetings, developing on-court leadership, and “representing the team morals,” Savoye said. This is also reflective of the team’s long-term goals. “We want to usher in a new era of great basketball being played by good guys that are unselfish,” Savoye said. “Our theme is ‘step by step.’”
A deep roster of multi-sport athletes, complemented by the hire of a new assistant coach, give the women’s basketball team some much-needed hope after last year’s 4-20 season.
Colie Bushong is in her fourth season as the Lady Panthers’ head coach. The outgoing and incoming assistants have, and will, continue to aid her and the players this season. Todd Zimmerman, assistant coach for the past three seasons, “had very extensive knowledge of the game, very talented at player development and in-game vision, as well as acute attention to detail,” Bushong said. This year, then, marks the start of Blaine Johnson’s time at Principia. “She brings a lot of dedication and work ethic, positive energy, and again, a great attention to detail,” Bushong said of the Western Colorado State University graduate. “So excited to have her as a part of our program.”
Although 2014 grad Hayley Cooke’s contributions at guard will be missed, there are still a number of role model multi-sport athletes who will continue her tradition this season. Seniors Becca DeNicholas and Karina Olsen are entering their second years as captains, and they have “proven to be a very strong foundation for our team to build upon,” Bushong said. DeNicholas is a defender on the women’s soccer team, and these guarding skills translate seamlessly from the pitch to the court. DeNicholas is also a devastating outside shooter with a quick first step. Olsen, a member of the waterski team, has the paint on lock, contributing with rebounds and glass shots.
Two other multi-sport athletes returning this year are senior Summer Switzer and sophomore Rachel Perea. Switzer of the volleyball team is a small forward who started every game in her first season as a junior, and Bushong says her competitive intensity “has proven to be a vital part of the team.” Perea is a squadmate of DeNicholas’ on the pitch, earning the conference’s Newcomer of the Year Award in both soccer and basketball last year. She is certainly a presence on offense and defense. And senior Mac Wilgus, although solely a member of the basketball team, rounds out the returners as a shooting guard posing deep threats in the mid- and three-point ranges.
Four newcomers join the team this season. Junior Kara Johnson and freshman Alex Weitman are also trading in their cleats for their kicks, playing the power forward and shooting guard positions, respectively. Freshman Megan Selby is a small forward who possesses a “natural scoring ability,” Bushong said, and freshman Yulia Marquardt will also contribute at guard.
Swim & Dive
The swimmers and divers’ annual goal of expressing their concept of “Best Team” might translate into them being a best team this season with its strong depth of old and new athletes.
“Our No. 1 goal every year is to be the Best Team,” said head coach Carl Erikson, who is in his eighth season at Principia. “The Best Team is one that places the expression of integrity, charity and unity as the key to any success. It takes a commitment by each athlete to live these qualities for the betterment of the team. When that happens, it brings success.”
These commitments have been reinforced every year, but particularly by this year’s two captains, juniors Jesse Dehnert and Dani McKenzie. Dehnert, a a Principia record holder who qualified for diving nationals last season, “brings a calm thoughtfulness and leadership to the role of captain,” Erikson said. “He strives to bring every member of the team together to allow them to experience the joys of being the Best Team. We expect he will continue to improve as a diver and earn an invitation to the national meet this year.” McKenzie, one of Principia’s best-ever sprinters in the freestyle and butterfly events, “brings an excitement and energy to the role of captain,” Erikson said. “She is friendly and fun and strives to include everyone in that fun. We expect she will continue to lead the team in the sprint events and move up on the all-time list.”
There are seven other returners to the team as well. Senior Josh Harmon is a sprinter who holds records in the 50- and 100-meter freestyle events, along with being a valuable asset to relays. Junior Connor Walton, Dehnert’s diving partner, holds Principia records and also qualified for nationals last year. Two sophomore men, Hunter Mehring and Zacher Lewis, are workhorses who produce in both individual events and relays; Mehring is looking to qualify for nationals in breaststroke after just missing the cut last season. And there are three sophomore women – swimmers Shelby Barner and Bailey Bischoff, and diver Annika Erickson – who are emerging as leaders both in and out of the pool.
Seven new members of the team with a variety of swim and dive experiences round out the Best Team. Junior Nick Boyd is in his first year of competitive swimming, but Erikson says he will “improve rapidly and add depth to the team in a variety of events and ways.” Three other sophomore women – Adriana Lopez, Caroline Morales and Hannah Schlomann – are all swimmers who have taken time away from the sport but seek to compete again. Two freshmen women, Caidi Gillett and Elizabeth Hagenlocher, are first-time athletes with strong desires to contribute, and freshman Brett Huntley had a successful high school career he hopes to extend into college.
Track & Field
Head coach Chuck Wilcoxen has helmed the track and field program since 1997, and since then his runners and athletes have seen much success that will surely continue into this season.
In recent years, Wilcoxen’s graduate assistant coach has attended Principia – Drew Clark in 2012, Casey Powell in 2013 – but this year, a non-Principian has joined the staff. Nathanael “Nano” Litwiller, older brother of track senior Sarah Litwiller, is a recent graduate of Sacramento State, along with being a nationals qualifier. And there are, of course, long-time assistant coaches Phil Green and Geoff Hinchman. “All three are people of great integrity,” Wilcoxen said. “I think they’ll be great models for the athletes to look to. They are also fun to be around; true lunatics.”
Last year saw the graduation of six seniors who all made their marks on the program. Wylie Mangelsdorf was an All-American, placing third at indoor nationals in the mile run – just two seconds off the winner. And Derrick Fleming, Haley Morton, Emily Osborne, Adam Rolph and Kynan Witters-Hicks have all made it onto Top 10 lists at Principia.
There are several returning athletes on the cusp of qualifying for nationals. The female Litwiller, who Wilcoxen said “really hit her stride at the end of last season,” is hoping to continue this momentum into the 5,000-meter run. A field athlete likely to have a back-to-back appearance is junior Conrad Bollinger, Principia’s record holder in the pole vault. He placed fourth at nats last year with a height of 15 feet, 11 inches – 1.75 inches off the winner – and with a self-reported improvement in technique, Bollinger is hopeful he will have a better performance this season. And senior Lyssa Winslow is Principia’s record holder in the shot put who might finally make the trip to nationals.
The rest of the track and field program has plenty of depth, too. The middle- and long-distance runners continue their consistency, with many carrying over from cross country. Four of the women – juniors Shontee Pant and Kyla Pelletier, along with seniors Savanna Sprague and Abbie Steckler – “all come back strong,” according to Wilcoxen. The same applies to the male runners in these events, too. One of these best includes sophomore Nate Richards, who won this season’s conference cross country meet and was also named Runner of the Year. Following very close behind are senior Andy Crump, sophomores Shane Witters-Hicks and Gavin Goodsell, and freshmen Josh Keeley, Zach Matthiesen, and Mason Switzer.
Someone to watch for in the shorter events is junior Molly Dixon, a Principia record holder in the sprints. A long-awaited partner in freshman Deirdre Wright will be joining Dixon. Freshman Lee Tarnow will be a thrower along with Winslow, and freshmen Austin Sheldon and Chaz Wilcoxen will compete in the indoor heptathlon, a contest comprised of six events: 60-meter sprint, long jump, shot put, high jump, 60-meter hurdles, pole vault and 1,000-meter run.
“Our goals are determined by the athletes; the coaches simply direct them in their efforts to accomplish them,” Wilcoxen said. “Track is a great lab for personal growth, regardless of your background.”