MIDDLETOWN, Pa- Penn State Harrisburg's men's basketball team is coming off one of the most successful seasons in the program's history. The Lions finished the season 15-11 overall and 14-4 in conference play on their way to the team's first ever regular season North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) championship. With four starters back for the 2011 campaign and a strong group of newcomers joining the squad, Penn State Harrisburg looks poised to defend its conference crown and earn the team's first ever NCAA tournament berth.
Heading up the list of returnees is senior forward Kenton Alston (Harrisburg, PA/Steel-High). Alston, a Steel-High grad and the team's leading scorer last season, was a NEAC all-conference first team selection in 2010 and finished the year ranked ninth nationally in Division III in blocks with 74. He also became the first Penn State Harrisburg student-athlete to appear in Sports Illustrated when he was listed in the July 4th issue's "Faces In the Crowd" section.
Also back are starters Jordan Gatchell (Manheim, PA/Manheim Central), Steve Jones (Harrisburg, PA/Harrisburg) and Dave Reisinger (Harrisburg, PA/Central Dauphin East). Gatchell started all 26 games at point guard a year ago, averaging just under 11 points per game and leading the team in steals with 58. Jones, a Harrisburg native, led the team in rebounds per game last season with 8.4 and added 15.4 points per contest. The speedy junior will be called upon to play an even bigger role in 2011. Reisinger, a Central Dauphin East alum, will once again be the Lions' anchor in the post. The senior forward was the team's second leading scorer with 15 and a half points per game. The big man collected 4.9 rebounds per contest and earned NEAC all-conference third team honors in 2010.
Reigning NEAC Coach of the Year Mike Gaffey is also excited about the group of first year Lions joining the squad this season. Randolph College transfer Will Doyle (Franklin, VA/Tidewater Academy), along with incoming freshman Joey Farthing (Lancaster, PA/Hempfield), Ethan Strayer (East Petersburg, PA/Hempfield) and Alberto De Los Santos (Enola, PA/East Pennsboro) were all players pegged by Gaffey as being able to make an immediate impact this season.
With the losses of senior guard Shane Woodman (Marietta, PA/Donegal) and the team's best shooter in Nick Liddell (Lewisberry, PA/Red Land), these youngsters and others like Amani Glenn (Harrisburg, PA/Central Dauphin East), another CD East grad, Julius Brown (McComb, MS/McComb), a guard from Mississippi, and a versatile guard/forward in Louis Crozier (Washington, DC/McKinley Tech) will be called upon to fill some pretty big shoes.
Penn State Harrisburg will find out quickly what this year's squad is made of and just what kind of chemistry the players developed in preseason practice when the team heads to Elizabethtown for the first non-conference matchup of 2011. Other tough non-conference opponents include the 2002 national champion Catholic University and last year's Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) champs from Lebanon Valley. Fans can also circle the January 14, 2012 showdown with Wells. The Lions will have revenge on their minds after Wells spoiled Penn State Harrisburg's 2010 NEAC championship tournament run in the finals and snatched away a berth in the D3 tourney field.
Despite a difficult schedule, Gaffey said the outlook for the upcoming campaign is promising. With three all-conference selections in Alston, Reisinger and Jones returning, the point guard spot held down by Gatchell and momentum from last year's conference title run fresh on everyone's minds, the coach thinks another NEAC championship is a realistic goal.
The Lions' season gets underway on Tuesday night, Nov. 15 when they head to Elizabethtown for their first test of the 2011 season. Tip-off is set for 7:30 p.m.