LATROBE – To be the best, you have to beat the best.
For the 11th time since 2000, Washington & Jefferson was selected to win the Presidents’ Athletic Conference in voting Tuesday afternoon by the conference’s assembled coaches, sports information directors and media members present at Saint Vincent College’s student union.
“It is our expectation to compete for the conference title,” W&J’s 17th-year coach Mike Sirianni said. “The preseason rankings are based on expectations and past results. We will have to earn it on the field each week. We will expect to be improved this season. With that being said, teams across the conference will be improved as well.”
The Presidents garnered 23 of 31 first-place votes and edged Case Western Reserve 298-277. Westminster (241), Grove City (219) and Carnegie Mellon (194) rounded out the top-5. After a winless 2018 season, Thiel was picked to finish last in the 10-member conference with 45 points
“It is an honor to be selected at the top of the conference in the preseason poll,” W&J senior running back Jordan West said. “It will take a lot of hard work and focus to finish as the PAC champions at the end of the season.”
Coming off a third place finish in the PAC in 2018, Westminster (6-2, 7-4) brings back 9 starters on an offense that has surpassed 300 points in each of the past 4 years, but has to retool its usually stout defense that lost 6 starters.
“We’ve been proud of what we’ve accomplished since we took over the program five years ago,” Westminster coach Scott Benzel said. “We’ve had some unparalleled growth over these past five years. I’m just as excited to be with the young men on this team as I was five years ago.
“Winning a championship isn’t easy. There’s nine other teams sitting in this room that have good players, good coaches and good processes. For us, that’s where it all starts – with our process. We can’t change who we are are or how we go about our business. We believe in what we do and in our process. We learn lessons every year whether it’s in victories or in defeats.
“The biggest thing for us is our growth and we’ve done that. We’re going to continue to do the best we can and give ourselves a chance to play in a championship game.”
Westminster opens its season at 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 5 when Capital (Ohio) visits Harold Burry Stadium in New Wilmington.
Meanwhile about 20 minutes east in Grove City, the Wolverines (6-3, 8-3) capped a resurgent 2018 season with seven straight wins – including the program’s first playoff win over Morris State in the ECAC James Lynah Bowl – and enter their historic 125th season with 19-of-22 starters and 47 lettermen returning.
“(The offseason) hasn’t been very different for us,” GCC mentor Andrew DiDonato said. “It’s always going to be the same for us. That’s continuing to build brick-by-brick. For us that involves three very important parts.
“It all starts with vision. I tell the guys all the time keep your focus on the vision and not our circumstances. We said that not too long ago when the circumstances weren’t too good for us. Now that the circumstances have improved, we’re not going to get caught up in that. It’s our job to keep building and keep laying bricks ... to stick with it.
“Lastly, it’s about love. We all need each other. We have to speak the same language. It’s our job to maintain that one language in all three phases and I think we have.”
The Wolverines open the 2019 season with a noon kickoff on Sept. 7 at Juniata.
Up in Greenville, the Tomcats (0-9, 0-10) have just one win in the past two seasons and welcome a familiar face back into the fold. Mercer County native and Thiel alumnus Mike Winslow is tasked to returning Thiel to its glory days and will do so with 13 returning starters in tow.
“I think all great organizations and businesses have a mantra or a rallying cry,” Winslow said. “Ours is built around the letters RYFP – Reach Your Full Potential.
“All we ask of our players is that they reach their full potential as people first, as students second, as athletes third and then to be good teammates. That’s our process and that process focuses on small daily improvements.
“Be a better person today than you were yesterday. Be a better student today than you were yesterday. Be a better football player next week than you were this week. So on and so forth. Some days are going to be great and you’re going to be 1-0 and other days, you may have a bad day. If you have a bad day, you have to put it behind you and RYFP the next day.
The Tomcats will look to snap their 17-game losing streak when they host Alfred at 1 p.m. on Sept. 7.
Notes: CWR (6) and Westminster (2) also garnered first-place votes. ... Westminster professor of broadcast communications and the chair of the School of Communication Dr. David Barner was awarded the 2019 Dow Carnahan Media Award. The award is presented annually to a distinguished member of the media or on-campus representative for his or her commendable service while covering and promoting the conference’s student-athletes, coaches and programs.