Alle-Kiski Valley’s top 10 sports stories of 2022

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Saturday, December 31, 2022 | 10:01 AM


The year 2022 will long be remembered for many monumental happenings, from A-K Valley athletes’ accomplishments to championship performances and teams bringing home gold at the district, regional and state levels.

Athletes again were able to pay off many hours of dedication and determination to not only reach but to surpass their goals.

It is time to look back on a number of the top stories of the year in the A-K Valley.

10. The Burrell wrestling team was a model of consistency through a run of consecutive WPIAL titles which began with a 40-18 victory over Derry in 2007. But it is said that all good things must someday come to an end.

That end came Feb. 5 when Burrell suffered a 30-28 loss in the WPIAL Class 2A finals to a Quaker Valley team in only its fifth year of existence.

The Bucs reached the finals with wins over Montour (57-18) and Mt. Pleasant (33-24).

In the finals against the Quakers, Burrell held a 28-24 victory after senior Shawn Szymanski scored a decision win at 145.

But QV got a pin in the final bout at 152 to secure the upset win.

Burrell, led throughout the season by VND Wrestler of the Year Cooper Hornack, went on to compete in the PIAA tournament and went 1-2 with a victory over District 10’s Corry in the first round of consolations. The Bucs finished 12-7 overall.

9. Leechburg senior Bryalan Lovelace ran for more than 4,000 yards in his four-year high school career. He was a big part of the Blue Devils’ run to back-to-back WPIAL-playoff trips in 2021 and 2022. His talents on both sides of the ball caught the attention of Pitt coaches, who hoped to make the running back and linebacker one of the latest recruits from the WPIAL.

Lovelace gave a verbal commitment to the Panthers over the summer and finalize his decision Dec. 21 on the first day of the national letter of intent early signing period for football. He is the first Leechburg player to sign with a Division I school since his father, Dave, put pen to paper with Rutgers in 1993.

Lovelace is one of a number of A-K Valley student-athletes to sign with Division I athletic programs. Included in that group are Plum’s Kaley Simqu and Kaitlyn Killinger (Pitt women’s soccer) and Cam Collins (St. Francis women’s soccer), Kiski Area’s Parker Sterlitz (West Virginia swimming) and Levi Hansen (Cincinnati swimming), Highlands’ Jimmy Kunst (Eastern Michigan baseball), Apollo-Ridge’s Nick Curci (Duquesne football), and Fox Chapel’s Makayla Mulholland (Appalachian State women’s soccer) and Gabi Folino (Northern Kentucky women’s soccer).

8. New Kensington native, Shady Side Academy graduate and Western Michigan standout Skyy Moore had a big day in September 2021 at Heinz Field with 11 receptions for 124 yards and a touchdown in the Broncos’ 44-41 upset of Pitt.

The performance, one of several for Moore in his collegiate career, helped him get on the radar of a number of NFL teams. He finished his final Western Michigan season with 95 catches for 1,292 yards and 10 touchdowns.

In late April, the Kansas City Chiefs made the wide receiver their second-round pick and the 54th selection overall in the NFL Draft.

Through Week 16, Moore had caught 19 passes from Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes for 217 yards as he progresses in his rookie season.

In his pro debut against the Cardinals on Sept. 11, he hauled in a 30-yard reception.

Moore caught 10 passes for 99 yards in the span of two games, wins over the Chargers and Rams on Nov. 20 and 27.

He is the second New Kensington resident drafted by the NFL in the past 10 years. Toney Clemons (Valley, Colorado) was selected by the Steelers in the seventh round in 2012.

7. The youthful St. Joseph girls basketball team, featuring only one senior, improved as the 2021-22 season progressed, but still, not many people gave it much of a chance against three-time defending WPIAL Class A champion and No. 1 seed Rochester in the quarterfinals of the WPIAL playoffs on Feb. 24.

St. Joseph won three of four to end the regular season and topped Mapletown in the first round to enter the matchup with the Rams with a measure of momentum.

Julie Spinelli, a sophomore last season, led the Spartans with 15 points. Anna Kreinbrook and Gia Richter each tallied 11 in the 57-54 upset win.

Richter scored nine points in the fourth quarter as St. Joseph outscored Rochester 20-10 to complete the comeback.

The win put the Spartans in the WPIAL semifinals for the second time. They fell to Aquinas Academy at North Hills, but the quarterfinal victory put them in the PIAA playoffs.

St. Joseph lost to Shanksville in the first round of the state tournament to finish its season at 10-15, but the Spartans had momentum on their side, which has carried over to the current campaign.

6. The A-K Valley is home to some of the top high school bowlers in the state of Pennsylvania, and Burrell’s Lydia Flanagan was the cream of the crop in March.

Flanagan finished second in the girls singles qualifying and bowled in the bracket finals, where she topped No. 4 Mareana Pilyih from Plum, 247-173, in the semifinals before topping Warwick’s Taylor Miller, 223-156, in the finals.

She rolled 200-plus scores in six of her eight games, recording a 197 and 199 two qualifying-round games.

Apollo-Ridge’s Mia Ament also qualified for the bracket playoffs.

Pilyih earned a spot at states by taking second to East Allegheny’s Skyy Nichols in the Western Regional qualifying round, while Flanagan was third.

Pilyih and Deer Lakes’ Kaylee Lipp met in the regional playoff finals with Pilyih taking the title, 191-172.

On the boys side, Plum’s Nicholas Daniels finished tied for second in the WPIBL singles tournament qualifying round with Freeport’s Colin Cummings behind North Allegheny’s Jeb Jorden.

Daniels rolled past Cummings in the playoff semifinals, 219-147, before defeating Jorden, 234-191, in the championship match.

5. The WPIAL swimming championships returned to Pitt’s Trees Pool after a one-year covid hiatus, and girls from Fox Chapel and Freeport stood at the top of the podium after gold-medal swims March 3-4.

In her WPIAL debut, Freeport freshman Kira Schrecongost followed in the footsteps of older sister Alexa and claimed WPIAL gold. She won the girls Class 2A 100-yard butterfly title with a time of 56.09, edging South Park sophomore and 2021 WPIAL 50 and 100 freestyle champ Katie Jackovic at the wall.

Alexa Schrecongost, now a freshman at Toledo, won the 2021 WPIAL Class 2A 100 breaststroke crown.

Kira Schrecongost also finished runner-up in the 200 individual medley and helped the Freeport 200 medley relay and 200 free relay take second and third.

In Class 3A, a 38-year WPIAL record fell as Fox Chapel senior Sophie Shao captured the 100 fly – her third in as many years – with a time of 53.85 seconds.

It surpassed the longstanding Class 3A mark of 54.16 set by Melanie Buddemeyer at WPIALs in 1984.

Shao also won the 200 IM in a winning time of 2:02.51 and helped the girls 200 medley relay of Talia Bugel, Ariana Pasquella and Rei Sperry secure gold in a school-record time of 1:43.90.

Shao, Pasquella, Sperry and Payton O’Toole wrapped up the two-day WPIAL event with a win in the 400 free relay in a school-record time of 3:29.23.

Fox Chapel’s four titles, along with 10 other medal-winning swims, landed the Fox Chapel girls in second place in the final team standings with 314 points, 30 behind team champ North Allegheny.

4. Carson McCoy enjoyed a strong first season with the Eastern Michigan University men’s cross country team this fall, just a few short months after capping a standout high school career on the track.

At June’s PIAA track and field championships at Shippensburg, McCoy made a surge towards the end of the boys Class 2A 1,600-meter run to claim gold and defend his 2021 title in the event.

He edged Schuylkill Valley senior Luke Seymour by less than two seconds as the duo battled for the title for the second year in a row.

McCoy’s time of 4 minutes, 13.14 seconds was a personal best by five hundredths of a second and was three seconds better than his winning time in 2021.

He then added PIAA gold in the 800, again passing Seymour down the stretch to claim the title with personal-best time of 1:51.02.

McCoy’s title at the PIAA championships followed a trio of titles at the WPIAL finals at Slippery Rock a week earlier.

He raced to wins in the 1,600 and 800 runs, while also anchoring the WPIAL champion 1,600 relay with senior Fletcher Hammond and juniors Nathan Buechel and Aidan Herman. The Lancers 1,600 relay went on to finish sixth at states.

3. The Fox Chapel boys basketball team averaged 63.9 points through a 29-game run in the 2021-22 season. But the defense and just enough offense helped the Foxes claim the program’s second WPIAL championship March 5 and their first since 1977.

Fox Chapel, the No. 2 seed in the Class 6A tournament, captured a low-scoring 37-32 win over Central Catholic in the WPIAL semifinals at Peters Township.

The Foxes then stunned No. 1 North Hills, 43-36, in the finals at the Petersen Events Center. Senior Eli Yofan, the team’s leading scorer throughout the season and the VND Player of the Year, scored just one basket in the game, but it was a big 3-point shot in a close fourth quarter.

JP Dockey led the way for the Foxes with 10 points, and Colin Kwiatkowski and Russell Fenton scored eight points each in a balanced attack that also saw Jake DeMotte tally seven points.

Fox Chapel denied North Hills its first WPIAL title in program history. The Indians were held 30 points under their season average. North Hills had won by 30 in a December matchup.

The Foxes went on to make a similar run in the state playoffs, beating Cumberland Valley, Allderdice and Northampton in the first three rounds.

Fox Chapel saw its state-title hopes dashed in the finals in a 56-54 loss to District 1 power Archbishop Wood. The Foxes capped their season at 27-2.

2. The Deer Lakes boys soccer team captured its first WPIAL championship in 2020 as the Lancers navigated the uncertainty of a season affected by covid changes and cancellations throughout the WPIAL landscape. Deer Lakes outlasted Shady Side Academy at North Allegheny.

This year, with several members of the 2020 team still in the lineup, the goal was to get back to the finals and bring home another title trophy.

That’s just what the team did. After rolling to a Section 2-2A co-championship with Shady Side, the Lancers used stellar defense and just enough offense in producing a quartet of 1-0 results in the WPIAL tournament. The highlight of the four was the title clash with Beaver at Highmark Stadium.

Two of the youngest member of the team connected for perhaps the biggest goal of the season as freshman Peyton Kushon found fellow freshman Jacob Orseno in overtime for the game-winning score.

Senior captain Ryan Hanes, the VND Player of the Year, led the team in scoring, while senior keeper Nick Braun helped provide a wall of defense for Deer Lakes, which qualified for the PIAA playoffs and finished 20-3 overall.

1. When the Freeport girls volleyball team captured its 18th consecutive section championship in October, it was the first step in a list of goals the Yellowjackets hoped to achieve in the 2022 season.

Freeport earned the No. 1 seed for the WPIAL Class 2A playoffs and swept past OLSH, Neshannock and Quaker Valley into the championship game at Robert Morris, where it lost just one game in defeating Shenango for its second straight WPIAL championship and seventh since 2010.

But the Yellowjacket weren’t finished. Led by all-state selections Cassidy Dell, a senior setter, Josie Russo, a junior middle hitter, and Sydney Selker, a junior outside hitter, Freeport began a run that ended with a game for all the marbles at Cumberland Valley.

The Yellowjackets made quick work of Corry, 3-0, in the first round of the PIAA tournament before sweeping Quaker Valley in a rematch of their meeting from the WPIAL semifinals.

Freeport then survived District 6 champion Philipsburg-Osceola, 3-2, in Punxsutawney to set up the title match with District 3 champion York Catholic.

The Yellowjackets battled in Game 1, winning 25-21, before gaining momentum and finishing off a 3-0 sweep with 25-15 and 25-18 victories.

The state championship is the second in program history, and it came five years and one day after the team captured the 2017 Class 2A crown.

HONORABLE MENTION

• Last year, the Springdale girls soccer team fell short of its goal of a trip to the WPIAL championship game. This fall, that goal was realized as the Dynamos, the Section 1-A champs, defeated Sewickley Academy, Mohawk and Waynesburg en route to a spot in the Class A title game against Freedom at Highmark Stadium.

With the WPIAL runner-up finish and trip to the state playoffs, Springdale finished its season at 17-5 overall.

Plum finished its season 19-3 overall, surrendered just 17 goals in 21 games and was one of just three teams to score a goal against WPIAL and PIAA Class 3A Moon (24-0) in the 2022 season.

The Mustangs finished third in the WPIAL tournament and made the PIAA quarterfinals. They capped a four-year run which included a 72-10-1 overall record, four section titles, three trips to the WPIAL finals and three appearances in the state playoffs.

• A 50-year section-title drought ended when the Knoch girls basketball team captured the Section 1-4A title with a 12-0 record, outdueling runner-up Highlands (10-2) for the crown.

Led by senior Maddie Boyer and junior Nina Shaw, Knoch finished the regular season 19-2 and defeated Montour and Southmoreland in the WPIAL playoffs en route to its first-ever WPIAL title game appearance.

The Knights fell to Blackhawk at the Petersen Events Center but continued in the PIAA playoffs, where they beat District 9 champion St. Marys before concluding their season in the second round.

• It was a strong spring season for A-K Valley teams as 11 of them qualified for the WPIAL playoffs. Deer Lakes, Burrell and Springdale won section titles, with the Bucs and Lancers qualifying for the state tournament.

Deer Lakes defeated Waynesburg and South Allegheny to reach the WPIAL Class 3A title game. The Lancers also defeated District 10 champion Corry in the PIAA first-round and finished its season 14-6.

Burrell, behind the pitching exploits of all-state hurler Katie Armstrong and a young lineup with just one senior, outlasted Freeport , Highlands and Knoch in section play, qualified for the WPIAL semifinals and made it to the state quarterfinals. It was the Bucs’ 16th straight season in the postseason.

Springdale topped Leechburg for the Section 3-A title and made the WPIAL semifinals and PIAA tournament, while the Blue Devils qualified for the playoffs for a WPIAL-record 32nd straight season.

• The Freeport football program’s first game was Oct. 6, 1922, and the Yellowjackets celebrated their 100th anniversary Oct. 14 with a win over rival Knoch.

Freeport also celebrated throughout the season as it captured its first conference title since 2015, sweeping its Allegheny 6 opponents and going 9-1 overall in the regular season.

Freeport, the WPIAL Class 3A No. 4 seed, received a first-round bye and routed No. 5 West Mifflin, 42-6, in the quarterfinals before running into eventual state champion Belle Vernon in the semifinals at Gateway.

• Interest in girls wrestling at Plum had developed in recent seasons with individuals competing in scholastic and club tournaments throughout the state. The ball got rolling for a girls program in early 2022, and in June, the school board voted to make it all official.

At the time, Plum was the seventh WPIAL school to start a girls program, joining Kiski Area and the likes of North Allegheny and Canon-McMillan, and the 47th school in Pennsylvania to do so. A total of 100 schools are needed for the PIAA to sanction girls wrestling as an official varsity sport, and as of Wednesday, 90 schools have joined the party.

• In May 2022, the Alle-Kiski Valley Sports Hall of Fame returned to enshrining area athletic greats after a two-year absence because of the covid pandemic.

It was a celebration of the great and historic moments in area sports as those in attendance reunited and reminisced with this year’s class: Rich Kriston, Harry Crytzer, Lizzie Suwala Sheaffer, Dianne Haney, Bob White, Terry Preece, Robert Foster, Frank Phelps and Jeff Cortileso.

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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