A Trailblazing Spring Sports Season

Brandon Jaces '18, Journalism Communications Major

Gannon University athletics closed the books on a historic semester this spring. From the mats of the acrobatics and tumbling and wrestling teams, to the softball diamond, the Knights made waves across the nation.  

History was made when Gannon ushered in its 22nd sport, women’s wrestling, and became the first college in Pennsylvania with the program. Slated to begin in Fall 2018, Christen Dierken was announced as the team’s head coach and is excited to help female student-athletes on and off the mat.  

Women's Wrestling Coach and Administration

(L-R) Don Henry, Men’s Wrestling Head Coach; Lisa Goddard McGuirk, Director of Athletics; Christen Dierken, Women’s Wrestling Head Coach; Brian Nichols, Vice President of Student Development & Engagement; Keith Taylor, Ph.D., Gannon University President

“They have a future after wrestling,” she said. “I had my dreams and my goals as a young person, too, that so many people helped me get to and it’s time for me to give back in that sense.” 

The addition of the new sport for Gannon is great for the University and female wrestlers. According to the new team’s first signee, Caleeann Blarr, two-year colleges were the closest option to home before Gannon came along. Blarr will be taking her wrestling talents from Girard High School in Girard, Pa., where she went 3-3 this season. She said Gannon was a great fit for her academically and athletically.  

“I was pretty much set on this school since junior year because of the physical therapy program, it’s a very great program, and it’s local, which I also enjoy,” Blarr said. “I came here and I loved the campus, so it’s all together a great match.” 

The women’s team also received a $5,000 donation from Ann Peery Ritter, a newly inducted member of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. Ritter said she is excited to see women’s wrestling come to Pennsylvania. 

“It thrills me because I grew up in a wrestling family,” she said. “This excites me that young women today can wrestle.” 

Along with this major announcement in April, Gannon also hosted the National Collegiate Acrobatics and Tumbling Association (NCATA) National Championships in the Hammermill Center for the first time with the help of the Erie Sports Commission. 

The Acrobatics and Tumbling team won its third national title, the Inversion Pyramid Title, which consisted of student-athletes Lisa Wagaman, Chelsea Cowan ’18, Brittney McNiff, Sarah Guarriello, Ashley Barrish, Danielle Samuel, Sydney Pouliopoulos, Elizabeth Martin ’18, Hayley Nejman ’18, Jocelyn Scott, Nikki Pizzi and Zeina Ellamei. 

Acrobatics and Tumbling NCATA Championship

View a video from the 2018 NCATA championship hosted at Gannon University.

Individual achievements included Cowan, who was named a 2018 All-American; Scott, who was named to the 2018 Acrobatics and Tumbling All-Conference First Team; while both Cowan and Nejman received honorable mentions. 

Nejman said it was her first time winning a championship title, which she claimed was the perfect way to end her senior year and acrobatics and tumbling career. 

“I know for a fact that in seasons to come Gannon is going to be the team that everyone will be watching,” Nejman said. “This team only gets better with time, and I think they have showed that. We had come so close in previous years to winning a title, and this year our dreams came true. It was such an amazing feeling being a part of that element, and that was definitely an amazing way to leave the program. 

According to Mark Jeanneret, CSEE, Events Director for the Erie Sports Commission, a local group that helps bring tourism through competition to Erie, the NCATA Championships brought in over $1 million, making it a huge success for both the Erie and Gannon communities. 

Gannon’s softball program saw a first and a last season. The team made it the farthest it has in the program’s history. The Knights won the NCAA Division II Atlantic Regional, winning three of four games. They then continued on to compete in the NCAA Division II Super Regional, where they later fell to West Chester University. 

Gannon Softball Team

Gannon’s softball team celebrates it’s graduating seniors at Senior Day.

The team won its first-ever Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) title, sweeping the four-game series. Pitcher Madi Beining was also named PSAC Pitcher of the Year, finishing 15-7-1 from the stripe. 

The Knights said farewell to longtime head coach Thomas Jakubowski, who led the team for a decade. 

Jakubowski plans to move to Florida with his family and hopes to stay involved in the sport, and he is sure the next coach will have a great team to lead. 

“Someone will inherit the best softball talent ever at Gannon and I will be their biggest fan,” he said. “Now I get to spend some much-needed time with my beautiful wife, beautiful and talented daughters, two beautiful grandchildren, with number three on the way, and my two terrific sons-in-law.” 

The all-girl and co-ed competitive cheer teams traveled to Daytona Beach, Fla., for the NCA Collegiate Cheer and Dance National Championship. Both took sixth place in the competition.  

Gannon’s baseball team concluded its season after falling in the PSAC Championship and came out with a record of 31-18 overall. 

The women’s water polo team finished their spring 2018 campaign 7-12 after falling in the Women’s Water Polo Association Championships. 

The women’s lacrosse team finished 4-10 for the season. Senior Leilani King ’18 received All-Region Honors being named to the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association second team. 

Men’s golf senior Matt Barto ’18 capped his career as a three-time academic all-district first team selection and was named to the Google Cloud Academic All-District II men’s at-large first team. Barto was also named to the All-PSAC First Team. 

The women’s golf team finished their season placing second in the Gannon Spring Invitational with senior Manuela Quevedo placing second individually.  

To honor the athletic teams for all they have done this year, the athletic department hosted a ceremony for the athletes and their accomplishments in April at the Bayfront Convention Center. 

Athletes of the Year

Gannon Director of Athletics Lisa Goddard McGuirk (middle) presents Kelsey Ansec ’18 (left) and Zay Jackson ’18 (right) with the Gannon Senior Student-Athletes of the Year awards.

Two of the biggest awards of the night are the male and female athletes of the year, reserved for senior student-athletes. 

This year’s female athlete of the year was Kelsey Ansec ’18, an outside hitter on the volleyball team and education major. The male athlete of the year was Zay Jackson ’18, a guard on the basketball team and criminal justice major. 

This article is reported as of May 22, 2018. To keep up with all things Gannon athletics visit gannonsports.com.

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