NEW KENSINGTON, Pa. — With a 3-4 record and in seventh place in the Penn State University Athletic Conference (PSUAC), the Penn State New Kensington soccer team has two league games remaining to secure a berth in the conference playoffs. Winning both games — 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 22, at home against Penn State Brandywine (5-0, second place) and 4 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 25, at Penn State Greater Allegheny (5-1, fourth) — will assure the New Kensington Lions the fifth seed in the six-team playoffs.
A split keeps the team’s playoff hopes viable but necessitates Penn State Hazleton (6-1, third) knocking off Penn State Mont Alto (4-4, fifth) on Oct. 22. This scenario would result in a three-way tie for the final two spots with New Kensington, Mont Alto and York all sharing a 4-5 mark. The first tie breaker is head-to-head match-ups; however, New Kensington beat Mont Alto, which defeated York, which bested New Kensington. The other tiebreakers were not available when this story was published.
Under the direction of second-year head coach Sam Lauris, the soccer team is looking to make the postseason for the fifth time in the six-year existence of the program. The Lions are led by junior striker Pascal Bikanura (Brashear High School) with nine goals, six assists and 24 points, all team highs. The Congo native is the sixth-leading scorer in the PSUAC. Sophomore midfielder Cole Wilson (Riverview), a second team all-conference selection a year ago, is second in scoring with six goals. Freshman goalkeeper Josh Zakrzewski (Ringgold) has posted a 4-2 record in the net.
The single-elimination playoffs begin Oct. 29 at the home of the lower seed: six at three and five at four. The top two finishers in the league earn byes into the Final Four, which is slated for Oct. 31 at the University Park campus. The championship match is set for Nov. 2. Penn State Beaver is the defending champion.
The New Kensington soccer program, which began intercollegiate play in 2010, made the postseason in each of its first five seasons. The Lions advanced to the Final Four three times, and reached the finals in the inaugural year. Last season was the outlier.
Smith earns all conference in golf
Fourth-year head coach Tom Crombie’s men’s and women’s golf team played recently in the 36-hole PSUAC and United States Collegiate Athletic Association (USCAA) golf championships at the Penn State Blue Course in State College. Twenty-six teams and 109 players competed for conference and national honors.
Freshman Daniele Smith (Central Catholic High School) shot 80-85-165 to finish fifth in the conference and 32nd in the nationals. Smith’s efforts earned him a spot on the All-Conference team. The Plum Borough native averaged 80 on the season, which included his collegiate best 73 to win the Penn State New Kensington Invitational at the Links at Spring Church. The victory earned him PSUAC Player of the Week honors.
As a team, the New Kensington Lions finished in the middle of the pack — fifth in the PSUAC and 15th in the USCAA. Bobby Piskar (93-93-186), Zach Butler (100-87-187) and Grant Rutkat (96-94-190) rounded out the scoring.
Prospects for next year look good as the core of the young squad returns. Smith, Piskar and Butler are freshmen. Rutkat was the lone upperclassmen. With a year’s experience under their belts, the trio can help the Lions make a run at the conference team title, an honor that has eluded the golf team for nearly 40 years.
New Kensington has not won a team conference title since the late 1970s when head coach Bernie Guss, professor emeritus of engineering at the campus, led the squad to four consecutive Western Pennsylvania Collegiate Conference championships from 1976 to 1979. Intercollegiate golf at the campus went on a 20-year hiatus the following year. The best finish since the golf program was revived in 1999 by Jason Bush, director of business and finance at the campus, was runner-up in 2007. That team was led by freshman John Hook who captured the PSUAC individual title with a 75-76-151. Hook was the campus’ first individual golf champion. Two other players from that Lions squad joined Hook on the all-conference team – Jeff Mangone (77-81-158) and Bubby Brezincan 78-87-165
Smith will be one of the favorites to capture the campus’ third individual PSUAC golf championship. Adam Stawski (78-74-152) turned the trick in 2012. Stawski came from six shots back after the first day to win by three strokes. His eagle on the par-5 18th hole (his ninth hole) provided the impetus for the comeback. The former WPIAL champion finished second in his freshman season (2009).
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Smith personifies student-athlete
Smith is as adept in his engineering course work as he is in his work on the golf course. A civil engineering major, Smith is the recipient of numerous campus scholarships, including Chancellor’s Award, Provost’s Award and Ganassi Family Scholarship.
‘I came to Penn State New Kensington because of the academic interactive opportunities that otherwise would not be available at (Penn State) University Park,” Smith said. “Everybody here is nice and down to earth.”
Smith will spend two years at the New Kensington campus before moving on to the University Park campus to finish the final two years of his civil engineering studies. He is a part of the campus’ 2+2 Plan, the most common path to a Penn State degree. More than 50 percent of Penn State students choose this path, and it is available for the vast majority of majors.