by Joel Nelson
The Penn State Altoona Lady Lions are set to begin their 21st season as an NCAA Division III program coming off an 11-12 overall season that saw seven wins and 11 losses in Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference play. The team enters 2018-19 in search of its first winning season since 2009-10, when it reached the AMCC playoffs and beat Penn State Behrend in the first round before losing to Medaille College in the semifinals.
Head coach Casey Wilt enters her sixth season with the team, and she is assisted by Dustin Martin, Janelle Nardozza, John Nardozza, and Lindsey Port.
Penn State Altoona was the top offense in the AMCC last season, averaging per-game totals of 71.6 points and 15.6 assists, while also leading in free throw percentage (74.2%). Facing the Lady Lions also means a "block party" for opponents, as Altoona averaged over four blocks per game, second-best in the conference. But despite the numerous blocks, the team finished eighth in defense, allowing 68.9 points to opponents.
The team returns junior Finnley Christine (Tyrone, PA/Tyrone), their top scorer from last season. She deposited 17.6 points per game and recorded 2.5 steals per game, which each ranked top-5 in the AMCC. Christine and junior Paige Burk (Claysburg, PA/Claysburg-Kimmel) each averaged over three assists per game, with Burk also averaging 5.5 rebounds per game. Alexis Cannistraci (Tyrone, PA/Tyrone) returns for her sophomore season after leading the team in rebounds with 6.9 per game and tying for the team lead with 1.3 blocks per game. Kaley Strittmatter (Williamsburg, PA/Penn Cambria) returns for her junior year after shooting 36.7% from downtown to lead the team and place fourth in the AMCC last season. Strittmatter and Cannistraci were two of the top three free throw shooters in the conference, each shooting over 82.5% from the charity stripe. The team's only senior, Ijonana Laster (Niagara Falls, NY/Niagara Falls), recorded per-game totals of seven points, two assists, and one steal last season.
Coach Wilt and her assistants welcome a large group of freshmen this year in Alivia Borlie (Belsano, PA/Bishop Carroll), Megan Faught (Cherry Tree, PA/Purchase Line), Chloe Inman (Annville, PA/Annville-Cleona), Emily Lehman (Tyrone, PA/Tyrone), Sunny Paul (Clarksburg, MD/Clarksburg), Makenna Snyder (Muncy, PA/Muncy), and Jessica Stevens (Altoona, PA/Altoona). The team also brings in sophomore transfer Sydney Snyder (New Enterprise, PA/New Bedford) from Division II Davis and Elkins College.
The Lady Lions open their season at home with non-conference opponent Geneva College on Friday, November 16 at 5:00 p.m. They will hit the road to face non-conference opponent Shenandoah University the following day before a pair of consecutive home games after Thanksgiving break. On Monday, November 26, the Lady Lions face Division II Lock Haven University at 6:00 p.m., then open AMCC play when rival Mount Aloysius comes to town on Wednesday, November 28 at 6:00 p.m.
Penn State Altoona will host three of its seven December games. They welcome AMCC foes Pitt-Bradford on Wednesday, December 5 at 6:00 p.m., as well as Medaille College on Sunday, December 16 at 2:00 p.m. They will close out the 2018 calendar year hosting non-conference Chatham University on New Year's Eve at 1:00 p.m.
The Lady Lions look to begin 2019 with a bang with nine conference games in January. They begin with a home game on Special Olympics Night against Franciscan University on Thursday, January 3 at 6:00 p.m. Next, they play host to Pitt-Greensburg the evening of Wednesday, January 9 at 6:00 p.m., then Hilbert College on Saturday, January 12 at 1:00 p.m. The final January home game is against Penn State Behrend on Saturday, January 26th at 2:00 p.m.
In February, the team plays five more games, four of which are against conference opponents, including two at home. The Lady Lions host their annual Pink Zone game on Saturday, Febuary 9 against D'Youville College at 1:00 p.m. before Senior Day against La Roche College the following Saturday at 2:00 p.m.