Shaler looks to learn lessons from losing streak

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Friday, August 12, 2022 | 11:01 AM


There was a real opportunity last season for the Shaler football team to get off to a 3-0 start. But after two double-digit wins to open the season, the Titans were tripped up by Hampton by three points.

What followed that loss is something Shaler coach Jim Ryan hopes another year of experience can fix. The Titans struggled down the stretch, finishing with eight straight losses and an 0-5 record in conference play.

“What they learned from it was how to compete and play,” Ryan said. “When you are down in situations, it can be difficult to come back from those deficits. They learned to compete and will keep buying into the system.”

The Titans hope to start strong when they open with former conference rival and current District 10 member Butler on the road. Shaler will be in a conference with Fox Chapel, North Hills, Penn Hills, Pine-Richland and Woodland Hills.

What will help Shaler is some key pieces returning in vital spots. Quarterback Keegan Smetanka will return. He passed for 1,384 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. Luke Cignetti and Nathan Rozzo will play at running back.

Up front, the Titans will be returning guard Anthony Mazza and center Zach Hartung. Shaler is breaking in three new starters on the offensive line.

“Really, it’s going to come down to toughness and assignments,” Ryan said. “As long as they are square with their assignments, they should be in good shape.”

Defensively, Shaler also returns a number of experienced players, especially in the linebacking corps and secondary. Linebackers Augie Tortorea and Carson Pierce will help anchor the center of the defense.

Joe DeSaboto, Luke Cignetti and Kaden Orga will also play in the defensive backfield.

“We have a lot of guys returning from last year,” Ryan said. “We have a strong core of leadership coming from the junior and senior classes. We had another good offseason under our belt and a lot of good things have been happening.”

Shaler is hoping to find a way to make its first postseason since 2019. However, the challenge this season will be a little more difficult.

The conference welcomed a traditional power, Woodland Hills, to the mix and there will only be two teams per conference guaranteed a playoff spot this year. Because the PIAA changed its playoff bracket, the Class 5A teams from the WPIAL will enter in the PIAA quarterfinals, meaning only eight teams can make the WPIAL postseason.

“We always look at ourselves as an equal opponent,” Ryan said. “Typically, the section we play in is a tough one to play in. We want to be right on par with the other teams. We just need to keep building the program.”

Shaler

Coach: Jim Ryan

2021 record: 2-8, 0-5 in Class 5A Northeast Conference

All-time record: 363-439-30

SCHEDULE

Date, Opponent, Time

8.26 at Butler, 7

9.2 Hampton, 7

9.9 at Plum, 7

9.16 Hempfield, 7

9.24 Franklin Regional, 1:30

9.30 at Woodland Hills*, 7

10.7 at North Hills*, 7

10.14 Pine-Richland*, 7

10.21 at Penn Hills*, 7

10.28 Fox Chapel*, 7

*Conference game

STATISTICAL LEADERS

Passing: Keegan Smetanka

Rushing: Josh Miller*

Receiving: Dylan Schlegel*

FAST FACTS

• Shaler traditionally plays its homecoming game on Saturday afternoon. The Titans will play host to Franklin Regional on Sept. 24 at Titan Stadium.

• Coach Jim Ryan played collegiately at Slippery Rock.

• Shaler’s 2-0 start last season was the first time since 2009 the Titans started with consecutive victories. Shaler went 9-2 and reached the WPIAL Class 4A quarterfinals that season.

• The Titans played three of the four teams that reached the WPIAL Class 5A semifinals last season — Penn-Trafford, Pine-Richland and Penn Hills.

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