MSA Sports Top 25 WPIAL Stories of 2016 – #5 through #1
Sunday, January 1, 2017 | 11:35 PM
It has become a tradition like no other…at least during the holiday season here at the MSA Sports Network. As we close out 2016 and another great high school sports year, we look back at some of the top stories from around the WPIAL in calendar year 2016. We conclude our countdown with #5 through #1.
#5 – YOUNG AND OLD FINAL FAIRWELLS
WPIAL fans lost a couple of house hold names in 2016…one icon who’s legendary career helped put his sport on the map while the other young athlete who’s courageous battle against cancer inspired us all. The great Arnold Palmer passed away in September at the age of 87. Palmer literally grew up on a golf course as his family lived right off the fifth hole at Latrobe Country Club. He had his first set of clubs when he was 4 years old and won the WPIAL and PIAA individual titles as a junior and senior at Latrobe High School in 1946-47. He ended up having great success as a pro, winning seven major titles and was one of the most popular golfers on the tour long after his prime. He always kept in touch with his Western Pennsylvania roots and was a guest at the WPIAL Boys AAA Individual Golf Championships earlier this decade. Meanwhile, DiMantae Bronaugh did not get a chance to finish his high school playing career that was filled with great promise, but his fight for his life was legendary. The Aliquippa star rushed for over 1,200 yards as a junior in 2014 when he was first diagnosed with leukemia right before his senior year in 2015. He fought that battle while sitting out the season and the cancer went into remission early this year. The WPIAL granted Bronaugh an extra year of eligibility and it looked like he would be set to take the field again when shortly before camp opened this summer, the terrible news that the cancer was no longer in remission. After leaving his hospital bed to visit his Quips teammates at Heinz Field prior to the WPIAL Class 3-A championship game in November, Bronaugh lost his battle less than two weeks later.
#4 – SO LONG COACH
The only football coach and athletic director that Woodland Hills High School had ever known stepped aside in November. George Novak, Pennsylvania’s 14th all-time winningest high school football coach, resigned after an illustrious 30-year career. Novak, 66, has won six WPIAL Championships while guiding the Wolverines to 306 wins along the way, the third best mark in WPIAL history. Only former Blackhawk coach Joe Hamilton and current Upper St. Clair coach Jim Render have won more games. But beyond wins, Novak has been a tremendous example in the Woodland Hills community, as stories of his mentorship run deep amongst those he has impacted. Under his leadership, Woodland Hills has had eleven graduates play in the NFL. Those players were Jason Taylor, Steve Breaston, Rob Gronkowski, Quinton Jefferson, Rontez Miles, Darrin Walls, Ryan Mundy, Terrence Johnson, Lousaka Polite, Shawntae Spencer and Chris Edmonds. This season, Woodland Hills finished 9-3 and lost to West Allegheny in the WPIAL 5A Semifinals.
#3 – AIR JORDAN
Is it really a 12-pound shot put in Jordan Geist’s hands? The way it sails on his throws, you’d swear it was a softball. Geist was a junior at Knoch High Schoolthis spring when the #1 high school shot putter in the country added some distance to his reputation as the best shot putter in Pennsylvania history. Geist set a meet record when he threw 74 feet, 3 ½ inches at the PIAA track and field championships at Shippensburg University in May. He broke the 11-year-old Class AAA record of 70-0 set by Central Dauphin’s Ryan Whiting, who made the U.S. Olympic team in 2012. Not only was it a state championship meet record for Geist, it was the best throw of any meet in the history of Pennsylvania high schools. Who threw the previous best? Geist, of course. He threw 73-0 ¾ at the Penn Relays back in April. At Shippensburg, Geist had his winning – and record breaking – throw on his first attempt. He fouled on four of his next five attempts, but there was no one to touch him. The next-best throw was more than 10 feet behind. Geist became only the fourth athlete to reach 74 feet in a shot put throw in U.S. Track & Field history.
#2 – NATION OF DOMINATION
There have been several WPIAL football teams that went on to win a PIAA state championship with a perfect undefeated record. But none of them enjoyed the kind of dominant season that Steel Valley assembled this past fall. It has been well-documented how the Steel Valley Ironmen were a machine this year. They went 15-0 and are believed to be the first team in Pennsylvania history to win every game by the mercy rule. The mercy rule has been in effect in Pennsylvania football since only 1998. But what also is impressive are the points scored, and the points allowed by Steel Valley. The first-team defense allowed only three touchdowns all season. The Ironmen scored 806 points. That is the third-most ever by a WPIAL team. Clairton’s 2014 team scored the most with 958. Jeannette’s 2007 team is second with 860. Then comes Steel Valley’s 806, followed by 2013 Clairton (771) and 2012 Aliquippa (760). The Ironmen had plenty of talent, but the dynamic duo in maroon and gold was the tandem of DeWayne Murray and Paris Ford. Murray ran for 2,094 yards on 163 attempts this season, good for a yards-per-carry average of 12.8. For his career, Murray finished as the sixth-leading rusher in WPIAL history with 6,503 yards. He is the third leading touchdown-maker in WPIAL history with 114. Ford played a gigantic role in helping Steel Valley beat Neshannock for the schools first WPIAL title since 1989 and the school’s first PIAA championship with a rout of Southern Columbia. The Ironmen were 15-0 and beat every team by the mercy rule, which had never happened before with a WPIAL team. Ford transferred from Seton-LaSalle for his senior year. He scored more than 20 touchdowns for Steel Valley, but scored them five different ways – running, receiving, interceptions, punt returns and a fumble recovery return. He was the Ironmen’s leading receiver and one of their top defensive players from his safety position.
#1 – THE SEASON OF CHANGE BEGINS
For the second straight year, the top story involves the PIAA classification expansion that began this past fall. Football received most of the discussion and headlines with the move from four to six classifications. That state wide expansion forced the WPIAL to alter its four class, 16-team playoff format in each class that had been in affect since 1980. Change is never easy, as only four of the six football title games could be played at the traditional home for the WPIAL football finals, Heinz Field. Thus, the Class 2-A and Class 1-A championships were played eight days later at Joe Walton Stadium at Robert Morris University. While those two classifications were able to keep the 16-team, four-week playoff format, Class 6-A, Class 5-A, Class 4-A and Class 3-A fields were sliced in half to 8 and went from four to three weeks in length. Boys and girls soccer and girls volleyball also expanded from three to four classifications and girls field hockey grew from two to three. The results were mixed through the fall sports season as now the winter sports and later the spring sports will go through their respective ‘growing pains’. It remains to be seen if this on-going story will continue to make headlines this new year. Check back in for the MSA Sports Countdown of Top 25 WPIAL Stories in 2017 to find out.