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Ryan Uhl

The Seattle Mariners drafted IUP’s Ryan Uhl in the seventh round of the amateur baseball draft in June. Photo: Keith Boyer

Just months ago, Ryan Uhl thought he had his future mapped out. He was going to play his final season on the IUP baseball team, finish his degree in finance, and find a job in the insurance field.

Then a funny thing happened: On his first swing of his first at bat of his first game of the season, Uhl hit a home run. It was the first of many home runs he would hit, and it proved to be life changing for the slugging first baseman. Four months later, Uhl became a professional baseball player and headed to the Pacific Northwest to fulfill his childhood dream.

“It was pure joy,” he said of his final semester of college. “I’m now living out my fantasy. It’s all been awesome.”

With a monster season on the diamond, Uhl went from being an ordinary college student with modest dreams to an extraordinary talent receiving major attention. The journey culminated in June, when the Seattle Mariners made him their seventh-round selection in the amateur baseball draft.

“It's been a lot to take in,” he said. “But it’s been great.”

During his senior campaign with the Crimson Hawks, Uhl had a season for the ages. A year after hitting only one home run all season, he clubbed a stunning 29 of them, 16 more than any player in IUP history. He also finished with 74 runs batted in, 12 more than the previous season high. And when the season ended, Uhl won a slew of awards in the conference, region, and nation.

Along the way, he had some batting lines that leaped off the stat sheet: Against Slippery Rock in March, he went three for four and hit two home runs; a day later, also against the Rock, Uhl went three for four with two more homers and six RBIs. In April, against Pitt-Johnstown, Uhl went three for three, clubbed three home runs, drove in eight runs, and was intentionally walked twice. And in a doubleheader against Bloomsburg, he went a combined four for seven, crushed four home runs, and drove in 10 runs.

Uhl’s batting average actually went up as the season progressed, from .290 through 21 games to .415 after 44. “My confidence was just growing as the season went on,” he said. “When you have success, you start to expect success, and that’s what happened to me.”

Uhl’s monster season gave him all sorts of media attention, and pro scouts started to take notice. Many teams dispatched their staffs to check out the 6-foot-6, 230-pounder and his prodigious swing. In the days leading up to the draft, a handful of teams invited Uhl to work out at their home facilities. Along with IUP coach Jeff Ditch, he visited with the Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Royals, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, and finally the Mariners. He took swings in major league ballparks and hit several balls over the fence in front of those teams’ scouts and front office staffs.

Then came the draft in June, and Uhl watched as the name of each selection popped up on his computer screen. In the sixth round, the Mariners called and said they would pick him during their turn in the next round.

“It was really hectic,” he said. “I was watching with my family, and it was nerve-racking. I knew [the Mariners] were interested, but I didn’t know where I’d end up.”

When Uhl saw his name appear on his computer screen, he knew his life would never be the same. Less than a week after being drafted, he signed his professional contract and was shipped to the Mariners’ Class A affiliate in Everett, Washington.

That’s a long way from where he started. In high school at St. Marys, Uhl wasn’t that highly recruited, but he caught Ditch’s eye. After a campus visit in the spring of his senior year, he knew where he wanted to go to college.

“I really liked the campus. It was a beautiful place to be,” he said. “But Coach Ditch was the deciding factor. He meant everything. He’s a great leader, and he laid the groundwork for who I am today.”

Uhl doesn’t know where his baseball journey will take him. But for a guy who had never been west of Illinois before this spring, playing minor league baseball in Seattle seems to fit right in with the other surprises this year.

“I’m just trying to go out and enjoy it all,” he said. “I just want to take it all in and play good baseball.”

Spring Highlights

Lindsey Stamp

Lindsay Stamp led the women’s basketball team to one of its best seasons in school history. Photo: Keith Boyer

A year after a disappointing finish under new coach Tom McConnell, the women’s basketball team bounced back with one of the best seasons in school history. Led by PSAC West Player of the Year Lindsay Stamp, the Crimson Hawks won the PSAC West title, advanced to the NCAA tournament, and finished with a 25-4 record.

Last spring was another spectacular season for the women’s tennis team. For the fifth straight year, IUP played in the PSAC championship match and advanced to the round of 16 at the NCAA tournament. Senior Tanya Timko was named PSAC West Player of the Year, as well as a College Sports Information Directors of America and Capital One academic All-American. She also set the IUP career record for wins, with 189.

The men’s golf team completed another solid season under longtime coach Fred Joseph. At the Atlantic Regional tournament, Kenneth Sames claimed top individual honors, and the Crimson Hawks placed second in team standings. IUP went on to place 13th in the NCAA tournament. At the end of the season, Joseph was named the region’s Coach of the Year, and Sames was named PSAC Player of the Year. 

Hall of Fame

Tanya Timko

An academic All-American, Tanya Timko set the IUP career record for wins, with 189. Photo courtesy IUP Sports Information

The IUP Athletic Hall of Fame will honor 14 former student-athletes at the annual induction ceremony September 12 at the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex. The reception will start at 10:45 a.m., followed by the ceremony at 11:30.

The inductees represent eight varsity sports, with careers spanning the 1950s to the early 2000s. It is one of the youngest classes to go into the hall of fame, with six honorees graduating after 2000.

They are Jason Bullock ’96 and Wes Layton ’02, men’s basketball; Sarah Zdesar McKinney’05, M’10, women’s basketball; Robert Green ’54, Barry Lippencott ’67, Darren Cottrill ’88, Stan Celich ’90, Scott Woods ’94, and Jeff Turnage ’95, M’96, football; Ryan Sikora ’01, golf; Angela Hileman ’02, softball; Julie Bober Moore ’01, swimming; David Medvetz ’86, track and field; and Lacey George Gibson ’05, volleyball. 

The honorary Bell Ringer Award will be presented to Gene Bicego M’13, a former volunteer football coach who spent 24 seasons at IUP.

The group will also be honored at halftime of IUP’s football game against Kutztown.

Rubbing Elbows

Marita Mathe

Marita Mathe took part in a spring program for aspiring coaches. Photo: Keith Boyer

Marita Mathe’s basketball playing career ended in March, but her coaching career is just beginning.

Mathe, IUP’s starting point guard, was chosen for the program So You Want to be a Coach, held in Tampa in conjunction with the women’s NCAA Division I Final Four in April. Run by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association, the program allows aspiring coaches to learn the ropes from those already working in the business.

“I just don’t want this to be the end of my career,” Mathe told the Indiana Gazette. “I want to still be a part of basketball.”

Alumni Notes

A former draft pick of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, Akwasi Owusu-Ansah ’14 has landed in the Canadian Football League after signing a contract with the Montreal Alouettes. Brock DeCicco, who transferred to IUP before last football season, made the most of his one year of eligibility, turning enough heads to earn tryouts in May with the Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars. A three-time finisher in the U.S. Olympic marathon trials, Mary Alico ’89 was inducted into the Pittsburgh Marathon Hall of Fame. Now living in Colorado, she continues to compete and placed fourth in the over-40 division of the 2012 US Cross Country Championships. Former women’s basketball player Jessica Wallace ’14 landed a spot as assistant coach at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia. A native of Vanderhoof, she was a graduate assistant coach with IUP last season.