Curt Cignetti held up his right hand and spread his thumb and index finger apart a few inches.
“We were that far from being 9-1,” Cignetti said, summing up his first season as IUP’s football coach.
Curt Cignetti finished his first season as football head coach 7-3 but still hungry to do better next fall. Photo: Keith Boyer
Indeed, the Crimson Hawks were awfully close to a sparkling season. Instead, they settled for a respectable 7-3 mark that included narrow losses to Bloomsburg and Slippery Rock in games they had a very real chance of winning.
The Crimson Hawks achieved a lot in the fall of 2011. They went 5-2 in the tough Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference West Division and stayed in the playoff race until their last few games.
Considering the program had won only half of its 22 previous games, winning seven out of ten might seem like a good year. But Cignetti doesn’t want his team to think it has achieved anything yet.
“You work every day to be the best you can be, and it’s good to see the results,” he said. “But at the same time, I think as a football team we need to be hungry to take another step. We’re starting a new year. Whatever happened in the past is in the past. There’s a lot more to achieve out there.”
When the season ended, a handful of players earned all-star honors—most notably punter Grant Schallock, who was named to the All-PSAC team, as well as Don Hansen’s All-Region and All-America teams. Also named to the all-region squad were tackle Byron Dovales, running back Harvie Tuck, safety Johnny Franco, and kicker Brett Ullman.
Aside from the awards and the wins, Cignetti said the lasting impression of his first season will be a change in identity for the program. The team that had fallen on hard times is back to prominence, and that’s what the rookie coach is most proud of.
“I thought we had great buy-in from the kids,” he said. “They worked extremely hard. We played well, extremely well, especially the last two-thirds of the season. I think we changed the culture and the mind-set.”
Frank Cignetti Jr. ’89 made a move back to the NFL in January when he was hired as the quarterbacks coach by the St. Louis Rams. He spent the last three years in the college game, most recently as the offensive coordinator at Rutgers.
After several years as an NFL assistant, Tony Marciano ’78 has become a staple in the college ranks. This fall, he’ll serve as the offensive line coach at Incarnate Word University, an NCAA Division II school in Texas.
Former standout defensive lineman Matt Scott ’08 is an assistant coach at Division I Albany.
Two former IUP assistant football coaches received promotions in February. D.K. McDonald, who coached defensive backs from 2006 to 2010, was hired for the same job at Toledo. He coached in 2011 at William & Mary. Also, Nick Sirianni, who was the Crimson Hawks’ wide receivers coach from 2006 to 2009, was promoted by the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs from offensive quality control coach to wide receivers coach. McDonald and Sirianni were brought to IUP by former head coach Lou Tepper, who went 36-18 in five seasons. Tepper, who did not coach in 2011, is back in the game after being named defensive coordinator at the University of Buffalo in February.
Akwasi Owusu-Ansah is the last remaining former IUP player in the NFL. A defensive back coming out of college, Owusu-Ansah spent part of the 2011 season with the Dallas Cowboys as a wide receiver before being released. He was quickly snatched up by the Jacksonville Jaguars, who made him their return specialist.
The Crimson Hawks’ quest for a third straight PSAC title fell just short, but that didn’t keep the team from reaching new heights. Behind seniors Julian Sanders and Ashton Smith, IUP went 23-6, won the PSAC West crown, and earned spots in the PSAC and NCAA Division II Atlantic Regional tournaments. Sanders and Smith became the only IUP players to end their careers with at least 100 victories, finishing with 104. Smith was named the PSAC West Athlete of the Year, marking the third straight year an IUP player earned the honor, while Sanders was named first-team All-PSAC West. Additionally, Joe Lombardi was named the division’s Coach of the Year.
Former members of the women’s basketball team, pictured, and the men’s team were honored during the basketball home openers November 12, 2011, in the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex. Photo: Keith Boyer
Many questions surrounded head coach Jeff Dow’s team as it entered the season with largely a new roster. But it didn’t take long for the Crimson Hawks to answer. IUP won its first 13 games and rolled up a 23-7 record that included a trip to the PSAC playoffs and the NCAA Division II Atlantic Regional. Led by seniors Vianca Tejada and Arika Ullman, plus the efforts of junior Sarah Pastorek, the Crimson Hawks were easily the most pleasant surprise in the league. Pastorek was named to the first-team All-PSAC West, while five freshmen—Lisa Burton, Amy Fairman, Marita Mathe, Leslie Stapleton, and Ashley Stoner—contributed to what looks like a bright future.
Led by the 12th-place finish of Victor Costello, the IUP men’s and women’s cross country teams each placed 10th at the NCAA Atlantic Regional meet in November.
Costello finished the 10-kilometer race in 32 minutes, 54 seconds, which earned him all-region honors. Alyssa Taddie was IUP’s top female finisher, running the 6-kilometer race in 23:38, good for 31st place.
At the PSAC meet earlier in the month, the IUP men placed 9th out of 14 teams, and the women were 8th out of 10 teams.
Five members of the field hockey team earned individual honors after the Crimson Hawks capped the season with a 12-7 record that included a run to the PSAC semifinals.
Shannon Sullivan and Anouk Sickman were named second-team All-Americans, and Casey McGowan was tabbed the Freshman of the Year by the PSAC and was named to the national freshman team. In addition, Erin Shirk and Sarah Lemieux joined Sullivan, Sickman, and McGowan on the all-conference team.
The Crimson Hawks finished with a winning record for the first time since 2008. They lost in the conference semifinals to Bloomsburg, the top-ranked team in the country.
Four was great, but five is even better, the golf team will attest.
Nine strokes back at the end of the first round of the PSAC Championships, the Crimson Hawks rallied behind Brad Boyle’s individual title to claim their fifth straight conference championship in October at the Hershey Links.
Boyle fired a 68 in the second round, 10 strokes better than his first-round total, to win the individual title by 3 strokes. IUP ended up winning the team title by 13 strokes over California and 21 over first-round leader Clarion. Zack Kempa and Derek Baker each shot a 153 to tie for fifth place overall.
The women’s soccer team finished another standout season with a trip to the PSAC quarterfinals. At the conclusion of the season, three members raked in honors, including seniors Melissa Kornock and Heather Robbins, who were named to the Daktronics All-Region team. Kornock and Robbins were also picked for the all-conference team, as was Tonya Fabian, a sophomore. The Crimson Hawks advanced to the PSAC playoffs for the eighth straight year and finished with an 11-4-2 record.
In another note, former IUP head coach Eric Bell, who guided the team in 2000, was named the head women’s coach at Texas Christian University in December.
Maybe no team on campus was on a hotter streak than the tennis team, which was unbeaten in three matches when the fall season ended in October.
Last spring, the Crimson Hawks went 21-7 and advanced to the PSAC team tournament for the first time in school history. Those benchmarks helped Larry Peterson earn honors as the United States Tennis Association Middle States Coach of the Year. Additionally, Tabtip Louhabanjong was named the PSAC West Freshman of the Year and Intercollegiate Tennis Association Atlantic Region Rookie of the Year.
Senior Danielle Ostendorf capped her season with a special honor when she was named a recipient of the PSAC Fall Top 10 Award, which recognizes success both on the court and in the classroom. Every semester, the PSAC honors five female and five male athletes for their combined academic and athletic success.
Ostendorf was named to the all-conference team for the Crimson Hawks, who finished 11-22 overall. She led IUP in kills and was third in blocks. Meantime, she maintained a 4.0 cumulative grade-point average and was a Fulbright Scholarship finalist.
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More from the Spring 2012 Issue of IUP Magazine
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As David Werner's tenure as IUP’s interim president nears completion, his focus turns to welcoming IUP's new president, Michael Driscoll.
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