One of the most highly anticipated moves in the history of Pitt-Johnstown athletics became official Monday when the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference opened its doors to the Mountain Cats’ sports programs.
UPJ, along with Seton Hill University of Greensburg, accepted an invitation on Aug. 21, 2012 to join the conference, which boasts well-known state universities IUP, California (Pa.), Clarion, Slippery Rock and West Chester among others.
The additions give the PSAC 18 member schools for the 2013-14 school year, making it the largest conference among all NCAA classifications.
“Adding Seton Hill and Pitt-Johnstown will undoubtedly bolster the PSAC’s reputation on a regional and national scale,” PSAC Commissioner Steve Murray said in a released statement.
Competing in a conference with the athletic success of the PSAC presents a large challenge for Pitt-Johnstown athletics, which supports six men’s sports and seven women’s sports. An announcement is expected as early as today regarding the addition of several sports programs at Pitt-Johnstown.
“This is a big step forward into one of the premier conferences in NCAA Division II,” said Pitt-Johnstown athletic director Pat Pecora, who also serves as the Mountain Cats wrestling coach. “It’s our footprint. This is where we belong.”
The move gives UPJ several natural rivalries. IUP, Seton Hill, Shippensburg, Clarion and California are all short drives from the Richland campus.
“It’s exciting getting a chance to complete against the best and, geographically, it’s going to be better on the budget,” Pecora said. “The name recognition of the PSAC and the name recognition of schools along with IUP, California, Seton Hill and a few others being relatively close to us, it’s a very big day for UPJ athletics in terms of moving forward.”
Pitt-Johnstown competed in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference with Seton Hill the past seven years. The two schools were accepted into the PSAC following unanimous consent by the conference’s board of directors.
It marks just the second time in the PSAC’s 61-year history that the conference expanded its full-time membership. Gannon and Mercyhurst joined the conference for the 2008-09 school year.
“The conference coaches, student-athletes and administration continue to raise the bar of competitiveness each year, and I’m convinced our league will develop even further with the addition of these two exceptional institutions,” Murray said.
The impact of the move was immediate at Pitt-Johnstown, which will make its PSAC debut when the women’s soccer team plays at IUP on Sept. 5.
Coaching openings, like the ones UPJ experienced in women’s basketball and women’s soccer, drew significant interest and several incoming freshmen, like men’s basketball signee and Tribune-Democrat Boys’ Basketball Player of the year AJ Leahey of Penn Cambria, cited the move as a key reason for picking Pitt-Johnstown.
“We noticed the impact right away,” Pecora said. “Coaches and athletes want to be able to compete in the largest and one of the most respected conferences in the nation. The potential for recruits in basketball, volleyball, soccer, it has a definite identification to it.”
Add wrestling to the programs which the move figures to positively impact.
Twelve members of the PSAC support wrestling, Four – Edinboro, Clarion, Bloomsburg and Lock Haven – compete at the Division I level.
That quartet competes in the PSAC individual championships, which gives Pitt-Johnstown an opportunity to wrestle Division I talent. It also provides an opportunity to wrestle for a conference championship.
“This is the first time our program has a conference title to compete for and I like it. The team likes it,” Pecora said. “It’s a chance for us to do something special for the school in terms of the conference.”