By John Perrotto
Reprinted with permission from the Beaver County Times
BEAVER FALLS — A sheet of paper with the official letterhead of the Presidents Athletic Conference is tacked to the bulletin board in the Geneva College women’s basketball team’s locker room.
It is not exactly a letter of welcome from the PAC to Geneva, which joined the conference this season while switching affiliations from the NAIA to the NCAA.
Instead, it is a copy of the PAC preseason coaches and media poll. Because Geneva is a provisional member of the PAC, it is ineligible for the conference title, so instead of a predicted order of finish for the Golden Tornadoes, those participating in the poll were asked to pick a record.
Geneva was projected to go 9-9 inside the conference.
“That was an insult,” Geneva senior forward Allyson Clarke said. “We knew we were better than that.”
“We've been using that as motivation all season,” Golden Tornadoes junior forward Renee Rawding said. “We see it in the locker room every day and it gives us something to prove.”
With one game left in the regular season, Geneva has proven its point. The Golden Tornadoes are 19-4 overall and 14-3 against teams from the PAC with two of the losses coming against unbeaten Thomas More, ranked No. 5 in the nation in Division III.
While Geneva is ineligible for the PAC or Division III playoffs this season, it will compete in the National Christian College Athletic Association tournament next month.
“I couldn't be happier with the way this season has played out,” Geneva coach Ron Galbreath said. “If you would have asked me at the beginning of the season if we would have been 19-4, goodness gracious there was no way I could have predicted that.
“Our girls have worked so hard, come together as a team and accomplished more than anyone had a right to expect coming into this season.”
Clarke, a South Side High School graduate, and Rawding, a Blackhawk High School graduate, were the only two starters returning from a team that went 24-5 last season and won the American Mideast Conference championship. Geneva capped its final season in the NAIA by competing in the national tournament at Sioux City, Iowa.
Yet, Geneva has put together another banner season with Clarke and Rawding leading the way. Clarke is averaging 18.1 points and 10.7 rebounds a game while Rawding is scoring 17.3 points a game with a team-leading 55 three-point field goals.
However, Geneva’s success goes beyond the two veterans.
Junior guard/forward Michawn Rich is averaging 8.7 points, 8.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.0 steals a game. Senior guard Bridget Beachy has spearheaded a strong defense that is allowing just 51.1 points a game.
Geneva also has five freshmen on the roster and has been getting contributions from a number of them, notably Megan Hartwig (3.7 points a game) and Christine Carugati (3.5), a guard from Beaver who moved into the starting lineup at midseason.
“The freshmen have really made a difference,” Clarke said. “You could tell from the first day of the practice that they were going to be able to contribute this year and they've really jelled with the upperclassmen.”
Putting it all together is Galbreath, the veteran coach with 632 wins. He has gone 110-46 in six seasons at Geneva, transforming the program from an also-ran into a power.
“It all starts with Coach G,” Rawding said. “He’s a great coach and always has us prepared to play.”