Column: Standout athletes show excellence amidst mediocrity

The year before Jake Evans started wrestling at Waynesburg University, Yellow Jacket sports were flying.

The football team capped off a three-year stretch in which it went 25-8, culminating with an overtime win over Washington & Jefferson that will always be remembered as one of the greatest days in Waynesburg sports history.

The men’s basketball team was a force in the Presidents’ Athletic Conference, making it to the championship game and having a legitimate chance to win before falling six points short at St. Vincent.

In baseball, the Jackets were led by Brian Resnik, arguably the greatest pitcher in PAC history, fell one-run shy of the title game, losing in extra innings to Thomas More. So, while Waynesburg couldn’t quite close the deal on a conference title, all of its major sports programs were among the PAC’s elite.

Today, things don’t seem quite as glamorous.

The football team hasn’t had a winning record since that 2014 campaign, suffering through consecutive 2-8 seasons in ’15 and ’16.

Men’s basketball hasn’t won a PAC tournament game since that near-championship season.

The baseball team hasn’t made the playoffs in almost four years, and although women’s basketball experienced a fair amount of success led by one of the best overall athletes in Waynesburg history (more on her later), it, like the rest of the PAC, was largely background noise for the Thomas More Saints, who ruled the league for more than a decade before departing after last season.

So, most people assume, with good reason, that Yellow Jacket athletics are suffering. Over the past three years, however, while the overall quality of Waynesburg athletics has slipped, there have still been some fantastic team and individual achievements. Now, this is where Evans comes in.

The two programs that have risen to new heights over the past three years are wrestling and women’s cross country teams. Ron Headlee’s squad, led by Evans, won its third straight PAC championship Friday, Feb. 8, and the women’s cross country team did the same this past October under the direction of Michelle Cross.

Waynesburg, in particular, has a long-standing tradition that Headlee has resurrected over the past decade, and with all due respect to other great wrestlers Headlee has coached, without question, Evans has been the most successful.

Since arriving at Waynesburg as a 26-year-old, Evans has placed himself among the elite in school history and that says a lot, as the university and Greene County, in general, have a rich tradition in wrestling. He’s won four PAC championships in the heavyweight class and last March became the school’s first NCAA National Champion, a feat he could very well repeat next month.

In cross country, Julie Gerber became Waynesburg’s first national qualifier in 2015, and the Jackets sent two more to nationals the next year with the Latimer twins, Katie and Emily, both qualifying. All three of those members were part of the 2016 team that ended Grove City’s 27-year run as PAC champions.

Like Evans, Addy Knetzer established herself as one of the best in Waynesburg history, picking up 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds for the women’s basketball team, and placing fourth in nationals for track in shotput in 2017. It’s hard to think of an athlete in recent memory that has excelled in multiple sports the way Knetzer did, and most of her success came at a time where Waynesburg sports, overall, were going down.

In men’s basketball, a player who saw just 22 minutes of playing time on the team that nearly went to the NCAA tournament turned into a 1,000-point scorer; Jon Knab’s work ethic got him into the Waynesburg history books.

Thinking about my almost three and a half years at Waynesburg University, I do feel cheated in a sense because I missed out on some pretty good teams and pretty electric moments.

I would have loved to have been at John F. Wiley Stadium when Scott Lewis’ field goal beat W&J.

I’ll never know how loud the Rudy Marisa Field House was when BJ Durham’s floater at the buzzer upset St. Vincent, and it would have been a blast to overtake SVC’s Cary Center with my classmates when the PAC title game conveniently fell on St. Vincent’s spring break.

Instead, all I know of those moments are videos and stories from my friends who are now graduated.

In life, however, it’s always better to look at the glass as half-full, not half-empty, and Waynesburg students have seen a lot of fantastic achievements from their peers. That is worth being thankful for.