Beaver Falls, PA – It was actually very impressive that Geneva College head men’s basketball coach Jeff Santarsiero honored his senior class at the final home game a year ago. With over 3000 points walking out the door at the end of the season, one would think Santarsiero would not be in a celebratory mood. The trio of Richard Colick, Bryan Hill and Brandon Sopko combined for 3166 points over the past four years including a combined average of close to 40 points per game a year ago. With all of that offense lost for the upcoming campaign, the question arises as to how the Golden Tornadoes will fill those voids heading into the first season as a full member of NCAA Division III and the Presidents’ Athletic Conference. “We have been looking forward to this season for a while,” says head coach Jeff Santarsiero. “It has been a long process for our program and for the entire athletic department to get past our provisional period. Now that we are eligible within the conference, we are looking to make an immediate impact on the PAC.”
In order for Geneva to make that intended early impact, there will be a few guys that need to step up and fill the void left by graduation. The Golden Tornadoes are left with only two starters from a year ago in seniors Lambros Svingos and David Phillips. Svingos has held down a starting post position for each of the last three years while Phillips has also been a three-year starter at the guard position. A year ago, Svingos averaged 10.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game while Phillips checked in with nearly nine points and four rebounds per game. Each will be looked upon to increase their offensive productivity in the upcoming campaign. “We have some experience returning in that both Lambros and Dave have started for us the past three years,” says Santarsiero. “They have done a great job as complimentary players but now the spotlight is shining on both of them to take their games to the next level.”
Santarsiero won’t have to look hard for his third starter with game experience. In fact, he won’t have to look past his own house. Drew Santarsiero will open the season as a starter for the first time in his Geneva career. Coming off the bench last year, he showed great promise as a shooter and as a solid defender. Geneva will need that three-point shooting threat to continue in the absence of probably the most prolific long range shooter in school history. “Nobody is going to step in right away and replace a shooter like Bryan Hill,” says Santarsiero. “That talent doesn’t come around every year. We are looking for several guys to fill that loss and Drew has worked extremely hard to get the opportunity to do just that in his senior season.” While Santarsiero will be looking to fill some big shoes on the perimeter, the post position will have a new starting face in the name of Matt Lorello. Lorello played in all 27 games a year ago and averaged close to ten minutes per game. He was money in the bank around the basket with a team best shooting percentage of nearly 60%. Lorello will also be asked to step up his offensive production to match his already impressive work on the defensive end of the floor. “Matt is solid defender and plays very long,” says Santarsiero. “We have to get him more confident on the offensive side of the floor and he could develop into a very solid player.”
Colick and Hill were the featured scorer’s for the Golden Tornadoes last year. But the glue that kept the whole thing together was Brandon Sopko at the point guard position. That is one of the most important question marks coming into the new season. DJ Damazo will be out for at least the first semester and may not be back until sometime in January. In his absence, it may be point guard by committee with two or three new faces vying for additional playing time. A couple early possibilities include sophomore Zach Kiger and freshman Brady Beech. “Our point guard is essential to our offensive success,” says Santarsiero. “We are not looking for a guy to put up 20 points a night, but we do need someone that understands the offense and can run things smoothly. We are lacking in experience right now at that spot but hopefully someone jumps up and takes command for us.”
The Geneva College sophomore class features a few guys that will also most likely play significant roles in the new season. Trevor York (6’7, Forward), Cameron Richardson (6’5, Forward) and Pat Johnson (6’2, Guard/Forward) will all see significant playing time off the bench and will need to produce on both ends of the floor.
“We clearly don’t have the offensive fire power that we have possessed in the last couple of years,” says Santarsiero. “We do have some very gritty, hard-nosed kids that will get after it on offense and defense. We are going to work hard every night and I am very excited to see how things play out.” Geneva will be faced with a challenging PAC schedule this year to go along with a non-conference slate that leaves nothing to be desired. “After four years in this conference we have a true understanding of exactly how challenging things can be,” says Santarsiero. “There are no cupcakes in this league and if we don’t work hard every night, we will lose and it’s really that simple.”
Jeff Santarsiero should certainly know what it takes to be successful after spending the last 23 years on the Geneva College sidelines. He is set to begin his 16th year as Geneva’s head coach and is just two victories shy of reaching the 250 mark for victories at Geneva. “We have enjoyed some nice success in the last four years but really we have been working toward this season for a while,” says Santarsiero. “Having the opportunity to compete in the PAC and in the post-season tournament is great incentive for our guys to work as hard as they possibly can. We know that the rest of the league will be gunning for us in this first year so we better be ready to match that intensity each and every night.”
When Richard Colick, Bryan Hill and Brandon Sopko picked up their diplomas last spring a golden era of Geneva basketball came to an end. With the start of the 2011-12 season upon us, a new era of Geneva basketball is set to begin as a full member of the Presidents’ Athletic Conference. Coach Santarsiero and the Golden Tornadoes have risen to challenges in the past and the new season should create much of the same excitement and success as year’s past.
Geneva College is a comprehensive Christian college of the arts, sciences and professional studies. Founded in the tradition of the Reformed Christian faith, Geneva prepares students to serve Christ in all areas of society: work, family and the church. Geneva College’s philosophy of education is based on the Foundational Concepts of Christian Higher Education. Geneva is a founding member of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU).