LOCK HAVEN - If the connection between student-athletes from the Juniata Valley and Lock Haven University isn't a pipeline, it has to be very close.
During this academic year, there are no less than 10 student-athletes from Mifflin and Juniata counties involved in six different sports.
Leading the way in terms of sports is soccer with Trent Burris and Katie Eichman from East Juniata High School, along with former Juniata athletes Joanna Swartz, Kyle Winey and Colt Brackbill.
"That is a hotbed of soccer and it wasn't until our first practice that we sort of realized how many of them there were," Lock Haven soccer coach Doug Moore said. "The guys have four or five and there are two or three on the girls team as well. There seems to be a shift from the Lancaster and Philadelphia area so maybe we should spend more time taking a good look at the Juniata and Mifflin County areas.
"We have teachers out there who are Lock Haven grads and they recommend their players and when they get here. It is sort of the same surrounding here as the one they came from. They are central Pennsylvania kids, good as gold and really nice young people," he said. "They are really down to earth and they give you everything they have to give. They are just good country kids who are going to die for you out there (on the field)."
Baseball is represented by Colton Spade (Lewistown) and Jay Hartman (Indian Valley), Hartman having completed a very successful career in football before making his way to the diamond sport.
"That kid is so athletic," baseball coach Paul Stover said of Hartman. "In the outfield, he has made plays that you normally don't see at our level. He leads off for us and he showed all-conference ability to do that right away. Off the field, he is just a top-notch quality person. If you learn to know him, you will quickly realize that he is one of those top kids you'll ever get in your program.
"On the field, he just quietly goes about his business, gets the job done and he always has a smile on his face. When his smile is gone, you know that he is upset with himself and nobody else. He loves the game so much that he's smiling all the time and his is a true smile."
Not only did LHU football coach John Allen have the privilege of coaching Hartman for a year, but he also had the good fortune of having Jarrett Kratzer as a key member of his program in his two seasons at The Haven.
"Jay was with us last year as a senior football player, and when you look at the last two years moving ahead with our program, Jay was very instrumental in many of those positive things happening," Allen said. "He gave us a lot of catches and a lot of production in our first year and really helped immensely in establishing what we wanted to be offensively. We kind of missed that playmaking ability this year and he has had a tremendous role in this program. He is a confident, young man and he gave us great leadership. The other guys on the team knew they could trust Jay to make a play and that was extremely important in our trying to turn this program around."
In Kratzer's case, Allen saw him go from special teams to backup quarterback to a starter under center for the final year-and-a-half of his LHU career.
"Jarrett has gone through the ups and downs, you know being a starter and not being a starter, never pouted or hung his head and those are the types of kids we enjoy having here," Allen said. "He and Jay are both examples of what central Pennsylvania produces in football. Hard-nosed kids who love to compete and have a little bit of a chip on their shoulder. Kids like Jarrett and Jay didn't get the looks from the bigger schools and they showed their appreciation of being given the opportunity to improve and display their skills that we gave them here."
Just because Hartman had finished his eligibility with the conclusion of the 2011 season, that didn't keep him from remaining close to the athletes in the program.
"To this day, Jay was still around," Allen said. "Even though his playing days were over, he would stop in during pre-season workouts and at regular practices to encourage the guys to keep working hard. I want our alumni and previous players to continue to be around and he (Hartman) has taken that to heart. We are going to go and watch him play (baseball) this spring because we are very appreciative of what those young guys meant to our program. Jarrett has spent a lot of time working with and talking to our two young quarterbacks we brought in this year and that is the kind of guys we want to have in this program."
Moving trackside and over the hills, there are two athletes from the area led by three-time All-American runner Alex Monroe. Joining Monroe in cross country on the women's side of things is Erin Harklerode. Both are Indian Valley products.
"Alex Monroe has obviously had a major impact on our program from the very day he set foot here," LHU cross country and track coach Aaron Russell said. "Bronze medalist in the Pan Am games as a freshman and a three-time All-American with another year left. It (Mifflin-Juniata county area) is definitely a hotbed of cross country and track and field athletes and we hope to keep getting the athletes from that area. In addition to Monroe, we have a freshman Marissa Long, who we are red shirting this year and she will join Erin on the women's side of things next season. They are just great, hard-working kids from that area and we hope to continue to get some of them into our program."
Nate Walters (Indian Valley) chose to attend LHU for what he felt were all the right reasons, and if he had to make the choice again, he would do it in a heartbeat.
"It was a smaller school, close to home and I wanted a chance to walk-on and play basketball," Walters said about his choice of LHU. "It is a small campus, they have my major and it just seemed to be the right fit for me. I enjoy being here, it is a small town, the professors are all nice, I have a great coach who let me walk on to give me a chance to play and things have worked out great for me."
The quick start for LHU also makes things easier to deal with for Walter and his teammates.
"To start off 2-1 is probably more than we could have asked for," he said. "We are looking to get started in conference play now which will be better competition and we are ready to go."