Oakland Catholic, area student-athletes honored as 2021 Positive Athlete award winners

Saturday, June 26, 2021 | 5:12 PM

Positivity wasn’t the easiest character trait to maintain over the past year.

The plights of the coronavirus pandemic tested even the most jovial high school student-athletes.

Still, many persevered and went above and beyond the call of duty in leading their teams and making an impact in their school and community.

More than two dozen student-athletes were recognized as the 2021 “Most Positive Athlete in their Sport” in Western Pa. by the Positive Athlete organization.

“To say the least, the 2020-21 school year has been the most challenging for everyone,” said Scott Pederson, president and CEO of Positive Athlete, which honored student-athletes for the ninth consecutive year.

“But even in a global pandemic, we’re still amazed with the incredible number of nominations we get from close to 150 high schools. The student-athletes all over Western Pennsylvania are amazing in their resilience and their commitment to the schools and communities.”

Positive Athlete, which features former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward as a spokesman, recognizes student-athletes who have high character and are team-oriented leaders who experienced winning and losing and have shown passion and caring for the school and community.

Student-athletes can be nominated by parents, coaches, teachers, administrators or fans.

In addition to the honors for athletes in individual sports, Positive Athlete also recognizes scholarship recipients.

Fox Chapel’s Samantha Dunlap received the Knichel Logistics Title IX award, which is awarded to an athlete who has shown amazing leadership to her entire school.

Dunlap was a four-year standout for the Foxes soccer team and also played basketball and was a member of the unified track and field team.

She also is the club president for Best Buddies and part of numerous other school organizations. She received the Fox Chapel Soccer Humanitarian Award.

“She encompasses everything a positive athlete should be. … Her dedication to her peers is unbelievable,” said Kristy Knichel of Knichel Logistics, which sponsors the $1,000 scholarship.

“I have no doubt that she’ll make an even bigger impact on her life and others as she continues down her path to success.”

Obama Academy’s Reggie Branson received the Jeff Boynton Memorial Scholarship, which recognizes athletes who have overcome obstacles and taken action in their community.

Branson was a soccer and basketball player at Obama Academy who dealt with hip surgery and a bone deformity in his heel. He worked through the injuries to continue his playing career and also made mission trips in his community.

“These are the types of qualities we seek to recognize to memorialize our Plum High School hero, No. 22 Jeff Boynton,” said Dave Derry, executive director of the $2,200 Jeff Boynton Memorial Scholarship fund.

Also recognized were the UPMC Male and Female Comeback Players of the Year: Greenville’s Jonah Lentz and Blackhawk’s Morgan Wissner.

Lentz was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease during soccer season in the fall and spent months hooked up to an IV. He still returned to play basketball and was a leader on both teams.

Wissner endured five wrist injuries, a torn thumb ligament and two torn ACLs, but the soccer and basketball player battled back to become a third-year captain and soccer MVP.

“We look for students who remain dedicated to their team and are determined to return to play while recovering from injury or medical condition,” said Mike Koyack, an athletic trainer with UPMC Sports Medicine.

Koyack added that Lentz and Wissner exemplified “courage, determination and positivity in the face of adversity.”

Here’s a look at the 2020-21 Western Pa. Positive Athlete Award Winners:

Baseball: Anthony Sciulli, Penn Hills

Boys basketball: Reiker Welling, Freedom

Girls basketball: Emily Simms, West Greene

Cheerleading: Sydney Linhart, Plum

Boys cross country: Joseph Wolfe, Elk County Catholic

Girls cross country: Kailey Karas, Burgettstown

Field hockey: Cameron Kulbieda, Oakland Catholic

Football: Zachary Taylor, Keystone Oaks

Boys golf: Jude O’Bryan, Canon-McMillan

Girls golf: Sidney Julian, Hempfield

Gymnastics: Samantha Alexander, Pine-Richland

Hockey: Matthew Gentile, North Allegheny

Boys lacrosse: Ethan Bell, Mt. Lebanon

Girls lacrosse: Alaina Metal, Mars

Boys soccer: Reggie Branson, Obama Academy

Girls soccer: Samantha Dunlap, Fox Chapel

Softball: Maya Borghol, Freeport

Boys swimming and diving: Ryan Miller, South Fayette

Girls swimming and diving: Bella Stefanowicz, Seneca Valley

Boys tennis: Nathan and David Clark, Gateway

Girls tennis: Cindy Obiero, Thomas Jefferson

Boys track and field: Nathan O’Savage, California

Girls track and field: Ashley Shea, Slippery Rock

Boys volleyball: Hunter Hanna, Upper St. Clair

Girls volleyball: Kaya Skinner, Oil City

Wrestling: Oleg Melnyk, Carlynton

Alternative sport: Elizabeth Brassart, Penn-Trafford

Boys multi-sport: Jonah Lentz, Greenville

Girls multi-sport: Morgan Wissner, Blackhawk

Boys coach: Bruce Blackburn, Trinity Christian

Girls coach: Diane Pesarsick, Norwin

Most positive school: Oakland Catholic

Bill Hartlep is the TribLive sports editor. A Pittsburgh native and Point Park graduate, he joined the Trib in 2004, covering high school sports. He held various editing roles before assuming his current position in 2019. He can be reached at bhartlep@triblive.com.

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