MSA Sports Top 25 WPIAL Stories of 2016 Recap

Wednesday, January 4, 2017 | 5:42 PM

It case you missed it, here is a look at our annual end of the year countdown of top stories or events from around the WPIAL. As we begin 2017, we look back at some of the top stories from around the WPIAL in calendar year 2016 with the entire countdown.


For ten years, North Allegheny has sat on top of the WPIAL Class AAA Boys Cross-Country hill. The Tigers won teams crowns from 2006 to 2015, however that run of ten straight titles ended in November when Seneca Valley edged North Allegheny 55 to 62 as the Raiders won their very first WPIAL Boys Cross-Country Championship. The Tigers run of ten straight titles was two longer than the previous run of cross-country gold, also set by North Allegheny High School between 1990 and 1997.


While one championship run at North Allegheny High School came to an end this fall on the cross-country course, another continued this past February in the pool. The Tigers boys and girls swimming dominance continued as both teams swept WPIAL swimming championships for a fifth straight year. NA boys beat out runner-up Mount Lebanon in both boys and girls with the boys winning by 147 points and the girls by only 34 1/2 points. The crowns are the fifth in a row for the boys teams and eighth straight for the girls. The Tigers girls swim team can tie the all-time record of nine in a row set by Bethel Park from 1974 to 1982. The boys have a ways to go however to tie the Bethel Park record of 20 straight district titles from 1981 to 2000.


Ambridge has proven to be a giant in the WPIAL Class AA boys volleyball landscape with four straight WPIAL championships and seven crowns in the last eight years. As the top-seed in the Double-A postseason, it appeared the Bridgers were set for a fifth straight championship. However none of that seemed to matter to tiny Beaver County Christian, a small school with a male enrollment of only 33, or 12 more than the Ambridge varsity roster.  But when the dust cleared at Baldwin High School in late May, the Eagles were flying high with their first ever WPIAL championship after a sweep of the Bridgers by scores of 29-27, 25-20 and 25-23. Ambridge did rebound in the state playoffs, but lost in the PIAA Finals to Northeastern High School 3-0.


The fact that Riverside won a WPIAL baseball championship is not news. The Panthers have claimed four district diamond crowns since 1996 and this years title was their second this decade. But it was how legendary head coach Dan Oliastro and his team won gold that was eye-opening. Riverside edged Neshannock in the Class AA title game in a pitchers duel, 1-0 in eight innings for Coach Oliastro’s 800th win. That victory capped off four wins in the district playoffs by a combined score of 25-3 with three shutouts. The Panthers advanced to the state third round with two more shutouts before falling to Bishop McCort 1-0 in the PIAA Semifinals.


One of the highlights of the 2015-2016 WPIAL basketball season was a little freshman at a little school that put up big numbers on a regular basis. Cali Konek of Imani Christian ended her amazing first season of high school ball with 1,045 points and average a district record 45.4 points per game, becoming only the 11th girls high school basketball player in United State history to average over 45 points per game in a season. There will be no encore this season for Konek at Imani Christian as she transferred Riverdale Baptist High School in Upper Marlboro, Maryland in July.


When the WPIAL released the new football alignment in January in preparation of the new six classification expansion, it didn’t take long to figure out that a very good football team was going to be home of the Class 3-A playoffs. The newly formed Beaver Valley Conference was loaded with traditional powers Aliquippa, Beaver, Beaver Falls and Central Valley along with a couple of pretty good Quaker Valley and Hopewell teams. Problem is, only the top two teams were guaranteed a postseason berth with the possibility of a third through a wild card. After beating defending champion Aliquippa in Week Two, Beaver took over the top-spot in the 3-A rankings. They fell out of the top spot after a Week 5 loss to Central Valley, the Bobcats worked their way back to #1 going into a Week 9 showdown with rival Beaver Falls. But the 20-15 loss to the Tigers not only knocked Beaver from being number one on the state rankings, it also knocked the Bobcats into a tie for third place in the conference, a tie in which they did not prevail in the tiebreakers and left a very good 7-2 Beaver team home for the playoffs.

#19 – MATT MURRAY-esque

Matt Murray was an unlikely hero in helping the Pittsburgh Penguins win their fourth Stanley Cup this past spring. Murray was a young, reserve netminder playing behind franchise goalie Mark Andre-Fleury until an injury put Murray in a starting role in the postseason and he made the most of it. Franklin Regional used a similar recipe for success. Nicholas Paone was the starting goalie for most of the regular season, but the Panthers turned to freshman netminder Daniel Soltesz at the start of the Penguins Cup Playoffs. After helping his team to wins over Montour and Bishop McCort in the Quarterfinals and Semifinals, Soltesz starred in the Class A Finals with 44 saves on 45 shots as Franklin Regional beat South Fayette 4-1 for the teams first ever PIHL Penguins Cup high school hockey championship.


It was a one-of-a-kind day for Dom Perretta back in late May. The senior pulled off an unassisted double and triple play. Perretta made history at the PIAA individual track and field championships at Shippensburg University. His double play came when he won the Class AA 800-meter and 1,600-meter runs. His triple play was that he won both events for the third year in a row. The effort put Perretta into the record book. He became the first runner in PIAA history to win both the 800 and 1,600 three consecutive years – in any classification. But Perretta did more than win both events again. He set a Class AA championship meet record in the 800 with a time of 1 minute, 50.10 seconds, breaking the mark of 1:51.96 set 29 years ago.


Bailey Cartwright helped lead Greensburg Central Catholic to a pair of WPIAL championships and one PIAA title and one state runner-up in her first three years as a Centurions. However GCC did not win gold in her senior year this fall after they were upset by Shady Side Academy in the WPIAL Finals and the PIAA Semifinals. But that doesn’t take away from the tremendous career she had in becoming the all-time leading goal scorer in WPIAL girls soccer history. The Notre Dame recruit scored 64 goals and 41 assists this fall in leading the Centurions to a 21-3 record and finished her career with a record 230 goals and 159 assists.


There has never been a football season like this past season at Derry High School. The Trojans won the Class 3-A Interstate Conference with a perfect regular season record of 10-0. Derry knocked off Central Valley in a home Quarterfinals game 33-20 before the season ended in the Semifinals with a 46-20 loss to defending champion Aliquippa. It was the first undefeated regular season since Derry Township was unbeaten in the 1930’s.  To put the most successful Trojans campaign since 1983 in perspective, consider the recent past of the program. 
* The playoff appearance was the first for the team since 2009
* The 11-1 final record along with the 5-4 mark from 2015 were the first two winning records for Derry this century
* The 11 wins for the Trojans was three wins shy of their combined total from 2005 through 2013
* The Trojans suffered through three 0-10 seasons in the last ten years


Several times this past decade, including the three previous years, the Beaver Falls football team finished second behind Aliquippa in the old Class AA Midwestern Conference. Three times this century, the Tigers made it all the way to the WPIAL championship game in Class AA only to settle for silver. That ‘oh so close’ mindset disappeared in 2016. Beaver Falls started the season ranked #1 in the MSA Sports Class 3-A rankings, but the Tigers fell hard from the top spot and off many peoples radar when they were smacked by rival Aliquippa 44-13 in Week One this past September. The Tigers quietly regrouped and ended up tied for the conference title and the #2-seed heading into the postseason. After wins over Mount Pleasant and Keystone Oaks in the district playoffs, Beaver Falls tasted sweet revenge by beating the Quips 35-22 at Heinz Field for the schools first football title in over 30 years. Three weeks later, Beaver Falls added to their golden autumn on the gridiron by beating Middletown 30-13 to capture the Tigers first ever PIAA state championship.


Brenna Wise capped off a perfect career at Vincentian Academy in 2015 by helping the Royals to a fourth straight WPIAL crown and a second straight PIAA state title. But would the Royals fall off with Wise graduating and taking her hoop taltents to the University of Pittsburgh? The answer was not so much. Vincentian Academy finished as co-Champs with Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic in Class A Section 2, beat Fort Cherry, Rochester and Quigley Catholic to earn a third meeting with rival CWNC in the WPIAL Finals, where they earned a fifth straight district crown with a 68-54 triumph. Kiersten Elliott led all scorers with 24 points. Lexi Griggs recorded a double-double with 16 points and 13 rebounds. Also, Marissa Muth and Torrieonna Cash scored ten points apiece for the Royals. The five consecutive WPIAL girls basketball championships is the second most in WPIAL history, trailing only the seven straight titles captured by Penn Hills from 1986 through 1992.


It has been a decade of dominance on the wrestling mat for Burrell High School. The Buccaneers grappling dynasty continued in January when the Bucs defeated Freedom 48-17 to capture their tenth straight WPIAL Class AA Championship. Burrell has been guided by four coaches over this ten year title run as Josh Shields won his third crown as head coach, tying him with Chris Como (07-09) and putting him one ahead of both Ryan Yates and Bud Sines. The old record for most consecutive district wrestling championships was six straight titles shared by Canonsburg (1936-1941) and Waynesburg (1959-1964). While Burrell is the king of district Double-A wrestling since 2007, they have only captured one PIAA Class AA state crown, back in 2011. Meanwhile, the WPIAL saw its run of five straight Class AAA state wrestling crowns end in February when Bethlehem Catholic won the PIAA team championship. Canon-McMillan (2011, 2012, 2013) and Franklin Regional (2014, 2015) had won state gold the previous five years.


The longest running current dynasty in the WPIAL has become a teenager. The Sewickley Academy boys tennis team cruised to a 13th consecutive WPIAL Class AA championship with a 5-0 sweep of the Indiana Little Indians. The Panthers never dropped a game in the district postseason with 5-0 wins over Neshannock, Blackhawk, Quaker Valley and Indiana. Sewickley Academy then went on to defeat Brockway, Moravian Acadeny and Scranton Prep before defeating Wyomissing 5-0 for only their second state championship and first since 2006. The 13th consecutive WPIAL boys tennis crown ties the Panthers with the Norwin girls volleyball team from 1974 to 1985 for the second longest consecutive district title run only behind the Bethel Park boys swim team that won 20 straight from 1981 through 2000.


The McKeesport High School football team went through a wide range of emotions in a one week span in the district playoffs in November. Like the old Wide World of Sports opening video, one Friday, the Tigers were enjoying the thrill of victory like the race car driver in victory lane, the next they were feeling the agony of defeat like the out of control skier crashing down the snowy slope. In a WPIAL Class 5-A Semifinals game that could go down as one of the best WPIAL playoff games, McKeesport defeated Gateway on a Hail Mary/Hook ‘n Ladder as time expired, 41-38. Tigers QB Jayvaun Shears passed the ball down the field to Layton Jordan, who executed a lateral back to John Harper at the 5 yard line. Harper ran in untouched and McKeesport booked a trip to Heinz Field. For a team that runs the ball all game, the Tigers hit a pass when it was needed. The following week in the Finals, West Allegheny made sure there was no miracle for McKeesport at Heinz Field, but the Indians may be the team believing in magic after defeating the Tigers 38-37 in dramatic fashion in overtime at Heinz Field in a thrilling game to become the first 5A WPIAL champion. With West A’s D.J. Opsatnik back in punt formation, the snap from the Indians 30-yard line sailed over his head and the Tigers tackled the senior in the end zone for a safety that put McKeesport in front 24-14 with 10:23 left in the game. On the ensuing kickoff, the Indians pulled off a successful onside kick by Opsatnik that was recovered by Kolbe Stout. West Allegheny turned that into a touchdown with 5:23 remaining  when Ross found sophomore tight end Mateo Vandamia at the near pylon for a 23-yard TD pass to make the score 24-20. But the Opsatnik extra point attempt was blocked by McKeesport’s Jehrod Gregory. On the touchdown catch by Vandamia, the Tigers were flagged for pass interference which was enforced on the ensuing kickoff. Once again, the Indians went for the onside kick. This time Stout kicked the ball forward and it was Stout who again recovered the kick. Once again, West Allegheny turned the special teams play into a touchdown. The big play of the drive came on fourth down and three. Acie intercepted a Ross pass in the end zone, but the Tigers were called for defensive holding on the play, which set up the Indians with a first and goal from the three-yard line. Two plays later, junior running back Willy Weber found the end zone from a yard out and West Allegheny had its first lead of the game. Opsatnik’s extra point was partially blocked but snuck through the uprights to give the Indians a 27-24 lead with 3:03 left in the fourth quarter. The drama continued on the next drive after a squib kick by West Allegheny. Shears began the series with a spectacular 28-yard run to the West Allegheny eight-yard line. Shears would end the drive with his second touchdown run of the game with: 58 left and McKeesport regained the lead. But, on the extra point attempt, the snap was high and the pass for the two-point conversion failed and the score was 30-27 McKeesport. But the excitement was far from done.  West Allegheny drove to the Tigers 33-yard line and spiked the football with: 01 remaining. Opsatnik, who had 33 career field goals before the attempt, came up short on a 50-yard attempt as time expired. However, McKeesport was flagged for roughing the kicker and the Indians had another chance. This time, Opsatnik was perfect from 34-yards out and the game was tied 30-30 at the end of regulation. The game headed to overtime, where the rollercoaster ride continued. McKeesport got the ball first and relied on Zellars, who carried the ball on three of the four plays. On fourth down from the one-yard line, the fullback bulled into the end zone for his second touchdown run of the game. Schork added the extra point to give the Tigers a 37-30 lead. It took West Allegheny three plays on their possession to score. After Ross ran for five-yards, Weber picked up three yards and then scored his second touchdown of the game from two-yards to pull the Indians to within a point. West Allegheny decided to go for the win and after a timeout, Ross rolled right and danced into the end zone for the two-point conversion to give West Allegheny the 38-37 win. Additionally, with the victory, West Allegheny head coach Bob Palko captured his eighth WPIAL title as the head coach at West Allegheny. Palko becomes the only coach in the history of the league with eight championships, passing Phil Bridenbaugh from New Castle who captured seven titles.


It was another championship winning season for Clairton and the end of an era for one of the top Bears in program history. Lamont Wade was not only one of the best players in the WPIAL, he was rated by scouting services as one of the top defensive backs in the country. Wade was a star at running back and defensive back and even played some at quarterback this year. Wade finished his career as the third-leading rusher in WPIAL history with 7,079 yards. He also tied former Clairton star Tyler Boyd for the WPIAL record for touchdowns scored with 117. This season, Wade averaged 13.3 yards a carry. He rushed for 2,368 yards. Meanwhile, Clairton ended up with another perfect 9-0 regular season and won a pair of playoff games before knocking off Jeannette for a second straight year in the district championship game. That win gave the Bears their 9th WPIAL championship in 11 years. But for the second time in two years, Clairton made it to the state finals only to lose to three time PIAA champion Bishop Guilfoyle.


What a year is has been for the girls at Norwin High School. In the winter sports season, the defending champion Knights were a perfect 21-0 in the regular season before beating Gateway, Pine-Richland, Mount Lebanon and then North Allegheny in the WPIAL Quad-A Finals 63-57 for a second straight district crown and a 25-0 mark heading into the PIAA playoffs. After two more wins, the season ended in the state Quarterfinals with a loss to the Tigers of NA in a rematch of the WPIAL title game. Then this past fall, the Norwin girls soccer team ended the regular season with a 16-0-1 record. The Knights beat Penn Hills, Upper St. Clair and Fox Chapel to advance to the district finals where Norwin defeated Canon-McMillan 3-1 for a second straight WPIAL championship. The season ended though in the PIAA Quarterfinals with a loss to the Big Macs in a rematch of the district finals. Very similar endings to a pair of championship teams that won WPIAL crowns with a combined record of 45-0-1.


After coming so close to a perfect boys basketball season in 2014-2015 in which they won a WPIAL title and reached the state finals before losing to Conwell-Egan and ending up 29-1, Aliquippa followed up strong and was able to finish the job to conclude two of the most dominant back-to-back basketball seasons in district history.  The Quips ended the regular season 21-0 and knocked off East Allegheny, Washington and Greensburg Central Catholic before edging Lincoln Park for a second straight WPIAL championship. Aliquippa then beat four teams on the Road to Hershey to reach the state finals for a second consecutive season, however this time the Quips capped off a perfect 30-0 season with a PIAA championship after a 68-49 win over Mastery Charter North. The undefeated state crown marked only the 13th time in 97 years that a WPIAL boys basketball team won a PIAA title with a perfect record.


Armstrong running back Zane Dudek had a regular season for the ages as he set WPIAL rushing and scoring records. Dudek had the best season of any running back in WPIAL history. He set a WPIAL record for single-season rushing yardage with 2,955 yards on 291 carries and set a single-game record with 492 yards. He also broke the regular-season scoring record with 254 points, including 42 touchdowns. He finished his career as the WPIAL’s fourth-leading rusher with 6,977 yards rushing and scored 102 career touchdowns. In addition, he was an outstanding defensive back. Dudek wasn’t recruited much by big-time colleges. His only offer from a Division I-A school came from Kent State. But Dudek was recruited heavily by Ivy League and Patriot League schools and made a verbal commitment to Yale. Dudek helped the River Hawks win the 5-A Big East Conference, but in the River Hawks first playoff game, Dudek was injured on the first series and didn’t play the rest of the game. Armstrong’s season ended with a 38-20 loss to Gateway.


It might not be an overstatement to call Kirilloff one of the best baseball players to ever come out of the WPIAL. He was a first-round draft pick of the Minnesota Twins this past June, the 15th overall selection. He is only the fifth WPIAL player to ever be selected out of high school in the first round. He signed with the Twins and the slotted signing bonus for the 15th pick is just over $2.8 million. At Plum High School, Kirilloff was worth a lot also.  He was a four-year starter and was a tremendous hitter. But Kirilloff also was a top pitcher for the Mustangs, leading them to a 25-2 record this season. Their only losses were in the WPIAL Quad-A Finals to Norwin and in the PIAA Class AAAA Championship Game to Boyertown. For the season, Kirilloff hit .524 with a slugging percentage of 1.036. He had 16 doubles, five triples and four home runs. As a pitcher he was 6-1 with a 1.48 ERA. His only loss came in the WPIAL final.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

click me