Franciscan coaches happy with school’s switch to new conference

STEUBENVILLE –Tuesday morning’s announcement that the Franciscan University of Steubenville’s athletic programs would be joining the Presidents’ Athletic Conference had quite an impact on the school’s coaches.

The Barons, who compete in NCAA Division III, will join the conference as a full member in the 2020-21 academic year, while finishing out its time in the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference.

One of those excited coaches is men’s basketball head man Joe Wallace, who sees the move as an extension of what his program has already been working toward.

“For the men’s basketball program, this really fortifies our foundation in this region,” Wallace said. “When I came here two and a half years ago, we tried to make it a point to emphasize being in the region. We are Franciscan University of Steubenville, and we have always looked at it that way. Now, we get to compete in a conference that will have natural rivalries with the likes of Bethany, W and J. Our local athletes and students growing up in this area can identify with those schools. It gives us a competitive advantage playing against known schools and playing against schools that have the same ideals academically and as faith-based institutions.

“It is an exciting day for us. The competition is going to be a step up, but we are ready for it. Our program has taken off in the last year and we are ready to take that next step.”

Franciscan already got a small taste of the PAC, with its lacrosse teams being affiliate members for the current season. Pete Rosaschi, who coaches the mens team and is the assistant athletic director, is excited about the jump from both points of view.

“Administratively, this makes things so much easier,” Rosaschi said. “Now, we are all in one conference. It is awesome, and we’re excited. It is going to elevate everything. A lot of the schools, institutionally, are similar to what we are. They are also more local, so in competition some natural rivalries will take place. Recruiting will change, because I think it will give us more exposure to the local high school talent.”

“It’s a tough conference. Athletically it’s a step up. It’s not to diminish anything about the AMCC. We have our work cut out for us and it is great to have that challenge. I think all of the coaches here are excited.”

Outgoing athletic director Mike Holmes and PAC commissioner Joe Onderko cited the geographic advantages of the move during the announcement. For softball coach Jim Walker, the reduced travel is what excites him most.

“I think it is great,” Walker said. “It gives us competition with teams that are a lot more like us than what we play now. For us, to not have to travel to Buffalo is a great thing. The kids will just get to stay in class, and that is what is important to us. We are student-athletes here first. We miss so much class with the conference we are in now. Right now, we leave at noon for a 4 p.m. game because it takes so long to get there. Playing closer will allow the girls to stay in class longer. We are really excited about getting to play against the teams in the PAC.”

He also noted how it will add to existing rivalries and affect his team.

“The girls are really excited about it. We have a young team, so the majority of our team will actually get to see this through,” Walker said. “We play a lot of the teams in the PAC right now, so we already have a little bit of a rivalry with them, more so than some of the teams we currently play in conference. It is nice having teams that are local because the girls will see that they played high school with that kid, or high school against this kid or travel ball with another kid. As to now, we got to Buffalo and we don’t know anyone. So, it will add to the rivalries.”

Rick Carver, who was tasked with bringing back the school’s baseball program last summer, is no stranger to the PAC after spending a large portion of his career in it at Bethany. He could not be happier to be rejoining the ranks.

“I’m ecstatic,” Carver said. “The PAC baseball coaches are phenomenal men. Everything they do is first class. It is an honor for me to rejoin them. Top to bottom, the PAC is very competitive in baseball, so we are going to have to up our game a little bit, but that is a good thing. I hope (experience in the conference will help). I think from an academic perspective with shorter trips and the way the PAC works, I think it is a very good move. It is going to be very good for Baron baseball.”

The process of reviving the program has gone well, according to Carver.

“This university sells itself,” he said. “I am very excited about the incoming class. Everything is moving better than I had hoped.”

(Grimm can be reached at agrimm@heraldstaronline.com)