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RMU football gets few seniors back

| Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2008

Armed with a two-year contract extension, Robert Morris football coach Joe Walton has begun the task of taking on another season.

Football is, of course, a passion of Walton, who spent a lot of years coaching in the NFL.

Since he started the Robert Morris program in 1993, Walton has enjoyed his share of success. He led the Colonials to back-to-back NCAA Division I FCS mid-major championships in 1999 and 2000 and has compiled an 85-55-1 career record.

Walton is hoping to take a team that finished 4-6 last season and mold it into a contender again. But it may not be that easy.

Quarterback Erik Cwalinski, one of the few returning seniors, will try for a breakout year. He'll need help from the backfield and offensive line, two areas of inexperience during his college career.

Walton also figures to be counting on former Sto-Rox star Alex DiMichele, who played fullback for one season at Temple, for an instant boost. Walton expects to use DiMichele at middle linebacker this year.

Duquesne joins Robert Morris in the Northeast Conference this season after dominating the defunct Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Football League over the years.

Among the new players Duquesne coach Jerry Schmitt expects to lead on this season are a pair who helped to lead South Park High School to a state title in 2005. Quarterback Connor Dixon has transferred from Michigan State, and running back/linebacker Tyler Scruggs comes from West Virginia, where he did not play football but was a member of the baseball team.

Coaching carousel

Pitt has elevated softball assistant Holly Aprile to the position of interim coach. She takes over for Michelle Phalen, who had been the Panthers' coach since the program started in 1999.

Phalen resigned to pursue other interests after Pitt posted a 31-25 record last season, including an 11-inning loss to DePaul in the first round of the Big East Conference tournament.

Aprile served as a Pitt assistant to Phalen during the past five seasons, working mainly with pitchers and catchers.

Elsewhere, Indiana (Pa.) named Mindy Richmond as its new women's lacrosse coach. She spent the past two seasons as an assistant at Gannon, which was ranked both years among the top 10 teams in the Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Coaches Association NCAA Division II poll.

IUP also filled its vacant top assistant's position in women's basketball by hiring Dustin Odum, who served the past six seasons at Division II Washburn, which won a national championship during that time.

And former Olympic medalist Michelle Burgher has joined the IUP track and field staff as an assistant coach. Burgher, a 400-meter specialist for the Jamaican national team, won a silver medal in the 1,600-meter relays at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and a bronze medal in the same event at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Musings

The defending national champion Penn State women's volleyball team opened preseason practices over the weekend as it began preparations for its opener Aug. 29 at Hawaii. Seven starters return to the Nittany Lions, including four All-Americans.

• First-year Seton Hill football coach Joel Dolinski, a former Cincinnati offensive lineman from Ambridge High School, will have available a full senior class. Twenty-five players have been with the NCAA Division II program since the school began football in 2005.

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