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Thursday, August 24, 2006

New Face On Top Of PSAC-West Polls


CRANBERRY TWP. -- You can now officially consider the collegiate football season under way.
Tuesday afternoon, August 1, the Pennsylvania State Athletic Association held its annual kickoff luncheon for the 2006 season at the Regional Learning Center located in Cranberry Woods.
While the seven teams comprising the division remain the same, one major difference evolved during the get-together.
One of the big attractions of the luncheon is the announcing of the coaches pre-season poll. In many of the recent years, the team expected to be at the top of the standings when the season concluded was either IUP or Edinboro and sometimes either Slippery Rock or Shippensburg.
However, this year, a different program will be wearing the target on its back as the California Vulcans were tabbed as the "team to beat" in the PSAC-West.
"Being named as the top-ranked team in the conference is such a different perspective for California than it has been in the past," pointed out Cal head coach John "Lucky" Luckhardt. "Our goal each year is to be in that one or two mix and we want to be a competitor wherever we are picked. This is a very, very good league and I truly believe there are five teams that all have a chance to win and we just want to be one of those five. Our goal when we came here (to California) was to be in that mix so I guess we have reached that goal."
So what does it mean to Luckhardt and his Vulcans?
"We aren't going to out and change our practice schedule because of the ranking," quipped Luckhardt. "We are just going to go out and work real hard and if we perform well, we'll have a chance to be competitive. Frank's (former IUP coach Cignetti) teams always seemed to dominate things with Edinboro, Shippensburg and Slippery Rock finding their way in there from time to time. Five years ago, we weren't competitive in this league, but right now, we are a competitor and really, that is all you can ask for."
While the Vulcans are the top choice in the polls, the Lock Haven Bald Eagles are perched on the other end in the seventh spot. Having been there numerous times before, LHU head coach John Klacik hopes his kids are tired of hearing about that and go out and prove the pollsters wrong.
"I don't put much stock in them (the polls) and I never have," said Klacik. "What I hope is that sooner or later our team starts looking at it and says, hey we are tired of being picked last and we have to do something about it. Some guys might look at the rankings and say, hey, we are ranked number one so we must be pretty good, while on the other hand, the guys on the team picked to place last might say, hey, we are picked last so we must stink. I don't know if our team is in that mode any more. Maybe three or four years ago, but not now."
With California (8-2, 5-1) and Lock Haven (2-9, 0-6) located at either end of the spectrum, the other five teams that provide the filling for the sandwich in spots two through six are Edinboro (8-2, 5-1), Slippery Rock (5-5, 4-2), IUP (5-5, 4-2), Shippensburg (4-7, 2-4) and Clarion (3-7, 1-5) respectively.
While Luckhardt, Dr. George Mihalik (Slippery Rock), Rocky Rees (Shippensburg) and Klacik all return with their same programs, three other coaches have either different roles or positions heading into the 2006 campaign.
At Edinboro, Scott Browning, an assistant in the Fighting Scot program for 20 years, takes over for the departed Lou Tepper. On the other hand, Tepper remains in the conference by moving to Indiana County where he takes over the reins of the Indians with the resignation of Frank Cignetti. Completing the trio of "new" faces is Jay Foster who takes over at Clarion after serving as Mihalik's defensive coordinator for the past 17 seasons at SRU.
In addition to the six conference games on each team's schedule, the new format of the PSAC will feature four "crossover" games for each team against teams from the Eastern Division of the PSAC on a rotating basis.
The Bald Eagles will waste no time getting the season untracked as they travel to Southern Illinois to face the Salukis on August 31. Following a week off, the Bald Eagles will face three crossover teams in East Stroudsburg, Millersville and Mansfield before tackling the six tough divisional foes with Kutztown tossed into the mix in week 11.


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