Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Local duo earn all-state honors

Peters Township senior Emily Correal and Washington High School senior Jocelyn Floyd earned selections to the Associated Press Pennsylvania girls all-state high school basketball teams on Tuesday.

Correal, a three-time Observer-Reporter Girls Player of the Year, made the Class AAAA first team. She scored 1,808 career points to go with more than 1,200 rebounds and 300 blocks. Correal, a William & Mary recruit, was a third-team all-state selection as a junior.

In only two years at Washington, Floyd established herself as one of the school's great basketball players and she was named to the Class AA second team.

A Duquesne University recruit, Floyd led all local players in scoring (20.8 ppg) and she nearly averaged a triple-double (points, rebounds, steals) on the year.

Wilson to Seton Hill

Washington High School junior basketball player Troy Wilson made an oral commitment Monday night to Seton Hill University, a Division II school located in Greensburg.

Wilson, a 6-4 forward/guard, averaged 13.7 points and was the leading rebounder for the Prexies, who finished 25-4 and advanced to the PIAA Class AA semifinals. Wilson was recently selected to the Observer-Reporter's All-District Small School first team.

Wilson received a full scholarship and selected Seton Hill over Akron, Buffalo, Wright State, Gannon and Fairmont State.

Seton Hill, coached by Tony Morocco, competes in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. The Griffins completed their inaugural season as a full-fledged Division II program with an 11-17 record. Among Seton Hill's players is former Ringgold player Kellen Holmes.

Putting on the foil, er, Leaf

On Tuesday the Toronto Maple Leafs signed forward Christian Hanson to a two-year, entry-level contract. Hanson helped the Peters Township hockey team win the 2002 Penguins Cup and state championship. He spent the last four years playing at Notre Dame.

Hanson, a Venetia native, might be more famous for his father, Dave, who formed part of the trio of Hanson brothers from the "Slap Shot" movies.

This season, Hanson posted career numbers of 16 goals and 15 assists in 37 games with the Irish.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Trio make all-state

Three area players earned spots on the Associated Press Pennsylvania boys all-state high school basketball teams, which were released Monday afternoon.

Nick Wilcox, the Observer-Reporter Boys Player of the Year, made Class AAAA third team and became the first local player to make the all-state team in the largest classification in over a decade. Wilcox, a senior, was also honored as an all-state soccer selection.

Nick Bryant, the leading scorer on Wash High's PIAA Class AA semifinal team, was a Class AA second-team selection and narrowly missed making the first team.

Mike Lamberti, the leading scorer and rebounder for South Fayette's WPIAL Class AA semifinal squad, was third team.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Players of the year, all-district basketball and final thoughts on hoops season

The Observer-Reporter ran its annual boys and girls all-district basketball teams in Sunday's edition with a slightly different look than years past.

To start, Peters Township senior Nick Wilcox is the O-R Boys Player of the Year, while classmate Emily Correal earned her third consecutive O-R Girls Player of the Year distinction. I feel very confident in both selections.

Wilcox performed at a consistently high level throughout the year, was the area's best offensive player in addition to being a strong rebounder and defender. His closest competition was Wash High senior Nick Bryant.

Correal is one of the most accomplished girls high school players this area has seen. Her offensive ability is what put Correal ahead of Wash High senior Jocelyn Floyd.

Here's a glance at the O-R All-District teams, which was broken into big school and small school for the first time in 12 years and without the honorable mention for the first time:

Big school boys
First team
Dave Bassi, Ringgold; Kiante Davis, Canon-McMillan; Steve Radke, Peters Township; Nick Wilcox, Peters Township; Craig Wolcott, Peters Township
Second team
Matt Czulewicz, McGuffey; Chad Hagan, Canon-McMillan; Phil Horensky, Peters Township; Sean McKnight, Trinity; Josh Valentic, Trinity

Small school boys
First team
Robert Anderson, Washington; Zach Bellhy, Fort Cherry; Nick Bryant, Washington; Mike Lamberti, South Fayette; Troy Wilson, Washington
Second team
Mike Burroughs, South Fayette; Ian McCombs, Carmichaels; Ryne Niemiec, Beth-Center; Eli Obade, Charleroi; Joe Silko, South Fayette

Big school girls
First team
Emily Correal, Peters Township; Danielle Gilmore, Trinity; Samantha Higgins, Peters Township; Emily Schartner, Ringgold; Elise Schober, McGuffey
Second team
Jennie Affinito, Ringgold; Emily Hansen, Canon-McMillan; Chelsea McWreath, Trinity; Ashley Morran, Trinity; Marissa Pattison, McGuffey

Small school girls
First team
Jordan Duke, Carmichaels; Jocelyn Floyd, Washington; Marissa Miles, Fort Cherry; Megan Sowers, Beth-Center; Joelle Yamber, Avella
Second team
Chelsea Evans, Washington; Kaitlyn Novak, Mapletown; Aly Lee, Charleroi; Paige Uram, South Fayette; Sidney Walter, Fort Cherry

  • My starting five for boys would be Wilcox, Bryant, Lamberti, Wilson and Wolcott.
  • My starting five girls would be Correal, Floyd, Schartner, Miles and Gilmore.
  • Selecting the girls teams was a difficult process this year. Season-ending injuries to Ringgold's Alina Selby and Peters Township's Lexi Kamphaus before the first game took away two talented players and two previous all-district selections.
  • Had Niemiec played in more than nine games, it would have been interesting to see where he landed on the all-district team and where Beth-Center would have been seeded in the WPIAL Class A playoffs.
  • With Correal, Floyd and Schartner (all Division I players) graduating, who will become the area's next crop of great girls players? If I had to pick a frontrunner for next year's Girls Player of the Year, it would be Selby if she comes back healthy.
  • When it comes to Boys Player of the Year in 2010, the early favorites have to be Wilson and Lamberti. Count Wolcott among that group is Peters Township remains competitive and Davis if Canon-McMillan improves.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Past players of the year

With the Observer-Reporter Boys and Girls Basketball Players of the Year about to be published – don't even think I'm divulging before it hits the paper – I thought it would be neat to look back at the past players of the year.

Boys Players of the Year
2008 – Charles Murphy, Canon-McMillan
2007 – Jock Wells, Washington
2006 – Christian Goetz, Burgettstown
2005 – Dan Davis, Fort Cherry
2004 – Nate Stoner, Waynesburg
2003 – Paul Ruhmann, South Fayette
2002 – Javon Hines, South Fayette
2001 – Tom Lulich, Peters Township
2000 – Eric Lang, Peters Township
1999 – Aaron Ankrom, Waynesburg
1998 – Bryant Thomas, Bentworth
1997 – Henry Klinar, Peters Township
1996 – Justin Voithofer, Carmichaels
1995 – Mike Horan, Ringgold
1994 – Vince Graham, Belle Vernon
1993 – Chad Lechner, Carmichaels
1992 – Mike Maloy, Washington
1991 – Brian Miller, Ringgold
1990 – Yancey Taylor, Ringgold
1989 – Matt Jennings, Immaculate Conception
1988 – Wade Timmerson, Fort Cherry
1987 – Dan Conn, Bentworth
1986 – Ron Moore, Washington
1985 – Chris Popeck, Washington
1984 – Adam Sarson, Peters Township
1983 – Duane Johnson, Canon-McMillan
Tony Conn, Bentworth
1982 – Jeff Conn, Bentworth
1981 – Lance Spernak, Mon Valley Catholic
1980 – Ray Natili, Immaculate Conception

Girls Players of the Year
2008 – Emily Correal, Peters Township
2007 – Emily Correal, Peters Township
2006 – Vanessa Davison, Washington
2005 – Rachel Phillips, West Greene
2004 – Vanessa Davison, Washington
2003 – Amber Harris, Washington
2002 – Emily Briggs, Chartiers-Houston
2001 – Emily Briggs, Chartiers-Houston
2000 – Kristen Lancas, Ringgold
1999 – Lauren Hull, West Greene
1998 – Kristin Polosky, Mapletown
1997 – Amanda Burchett, Trinity
1996 – Gina Naccarato, Monessen
1995 – Gina Naccarato, Monessen
1994 – Gina Naccarato, Monessen
1993 – Gina Naccarato, Monessen
1992 – Elizabeth Proudfit, Washington
1991 – Elizabeth Proudfit, Washington
1990 – Elizabeth Proudfit, Washington
1989 – Pam Noble, Fort Cherry
1988 – Jamie O'Donnell, Burgettstown
1987 – Jamie O'Donnell, Burgettstown
1986 – Kim Spencer, Washington
1985 – Michelle Bazzolli, Chartiers-Houston
1984 – Lynette Schwartz, Peters Township
1983 – Lynn Bazzolli, Chartiers-Houston

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Props, ranks and randomness

One week has past since Washington lost to North Catholic in overtime in the semifinals of the PIAA Class AA boys basketball playoffs and the sports focus is shifting toward the spring sports season.

Over the past week, the Observer-Reporter has several stories on four of our top baseball programs – Canon-McMillan, Trinity, Peters Township and Carmichaels. There will be more, as well as stories on softball and track, in the near future.

Until then, I'm compiling the annual boys and girls all-star basketball teams. There are a few obvious selections like Nick Wilcox and Emily Correal of Peters Township, Nick Bryant and Jocelyn Floyd of Washington and Ringgold's Emily Schartner. There's also been plenty of room for debate about many others. Just wondering what you think.

* Speaking of Correal, she belongs among the great girls players in the history of Washington County and, arguably, the best.

My all-time starting five from Washington County would be Correal, Elizabeth Proudfit (Washington), Amber Harris (Washington), Emily Briggs (Chartiers-Houston) and Brittany Warren (Ringgold).

* It still is difficult to comprehend that, in 2008, Canon-McMillan won the WPIAL Class AAA boys track and field championship yet athletes from Washington and Greene counties produced only two medals – nothing higher than fourth place – at the PIAA championships.

One of those medalists, Bentworth senior Amanda Kennedy, is off to strong start in the javelin.

* Anyone notice that the top two singles players on the Chartiers-Houston boys tennis team are sisters Karli Timko and Tanya Timko and that they're beating the boys?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

APB, Where are they now?

With a highly anticipated high school baseball season underway, the Varsity Letters felt it was only appropriate to track down one of the area's great players.

In that spirit, we're issuing an All Points Bulletin for former Peters Township standout Brian Simmons.

Drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the second round of the 1995 draft following his playing days at the University of Michigan, Simmons spent the 1998 and 1999 seasons with the White Sox and the 2001 season with the Toronto Blue Jays. On Sept. 26, 1998, Simmons hit home runs from both sides of the plate.

Simmons played on the same Peters Township team as pitcher Chris Peters, who pitched for the Pirates from 1996-2000.

Anyone knowing of Simmons' whereabouts is urged to contact the Varsity Letters.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Another look back

Take a look at the photo to the right. Take a good look.

Yes, that's Canon-McMillan boys basketball coach Rick Bell. Anyone recognize the man a couple people to the right of Bell? Anyone?

That's former NBA star Doug West, who spent the 2001-02 and 2002-03 seasons as a volunteer assistant at Canon-McMillan following a 12-year NBA career. Nine of those seasons were spent with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Well, West, after a short stint as athletic director at Mount de Chantal in Wheeling, is back in coaching and is on the staff at Villanova, the No. 3 seed in the East bracket. Villanova plays Duke Thursday night, 30 minutes following the conclusion of the Pitt-Xavier game.

West, an Altoona native, ranks fourth on Villanova's all-time scoring list with 2,037 points.

In an interesting sidebar, should Pitt and Villanova win, two members of those Canon-McMillan teams would be reunited and one would make his way to the Final Four. C-M grad Sean Brown is a senior walk-on at Pitt, having joined the team a few weeks into the season. Brown played on the Big Macs' teams when West was an assistant.

OLSH to add football

While some schools struggle to keep football teams on the field, one WPIAL school will be adding the sport.

Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, a Class A private school, located in Coraopolis will begin play in 2010. Overseeing the project will be former Pitt head football coach Foge Fazio, a Coraopolis native and a radio analyst for Pitt football.

OLSH currently has a co-op with nearby Cornell for football.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

North Catholic loses in Double OT

STATE COLLEGE (AP) — After a miserable start, Imhotep Charter surged ahead at just the right time.
Sam Prescott scored 21 points, including four foul shots in the second overtime and a layup that tied the game in regulation, as the Panthers (32-1) rallied from 12 down to defeat Pittsburgh North Catholic 75-67 to take the state Class AA title on Saturday.
Jesse Long’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer over the outstretched arms of Ivory Wells tied the game at 63 to send the game into the second overtime.
But the Trojans (28-3) seemingly ran out of energy to keep up with the athletic Panthers.
Prescott’s two free throws with 1:58 left gave Imhotep Charter the lead for good at 69-67, while North Catholic missed its last six shots.
Long finished with 20 points, while Henry Pwono added 16 points and eight rebounds.
Erik Copes had 11 rebounds and blocked seven shots for the Panthers.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Looking back

Robert Morris made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1992 when the Colonials defeated Mount St. Mary's for the Northeast Conference Tournament title. Robert Morris, a 15th seed, plays Michigan State a few hours from now.

The 1992 Robert Morris teams has a local connection in former Fort Cherry High School standout Wade Timmerson, shown here in a photo from a Robert Morris media guide.

One of the great players in Rangers' history, Timmerson helped Robert Morris to the tournament in 1990, 1991 and 1992. The Colonials lost first-round games to Arizona, Kansas and UCLA. Timmerson, a 2007 inductee into the RMU Athletic Hall of Fame, ranks second in Colonials' history in assists (484) and 23rd in points (868).

Avella football saga

Last year, Avella football made headlines for gutting out the 2008 schedule with a bare-bones roster. At times the Eagles played games with 11 players and it drew a wide variety of reactions from the sports community.

Frank Gray, who coached last year, is attempting to add an additional assistant coach for the 2009 season. Things aren't going so well.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Price named Ringgold football coach

Already one of the hardest-working athletic directors in the WPIAL, Ringgold's Lloyd Price is taking on some extra responsibilities. At Wednesday evening's school board meeting, Price was approved by a unanimous vote to become the Rams' next head football coach. Price, a Ringgold graduate, becomes the seventh coach in 11 years at his alma mater.

He replaces Jeff Petrucci, who resigned after two seasons and two playoff appearances with a 9-11 record. Overall, Ringgold has reached the postseason three straight years.

“My goal is to get these student-athletes to excel academically. I want them to improve as young men,” Price said. “I want them to get to a high level and achieve success.”

Live – Wash High vs. N. Catholic

We've got wireless at Hempfield High. So, as long as I have battery power, the PIAA Class AA boys semifinal between Washington and WPIAL champion North Catholic will be updated live.

NC arrived late, so tipoff will not be until 6:10 p.m., at the earliest.

Big crowd already in attendance from the High.

End of one quarter – North Catholic leads 12-10. NC not quite as athletic as I thought but the Trojans look like they can rebound with the Prexies. One developing storyline is fouls – Wash High's Robert Anderson has two.

5:57 2nd – Wash High timeout after turnover. NC leads 17-12. The Trojans have made three three-pointers.

3:25 2nd – Anderson steal and layup trims Wash High deficit to 17-14.

Halftime – After Wash High creeps within 19-18, NC scores five straight poin6ts and leads at halftime, 24-20. NC has five three pointers and has limited the Prexies to three offensive rebounds.

Robert Anderson leads Washington with 10 points, while Troy Wilson has six rebounds. Jesse Long leads the Trojans with seven points. Henry Pwono has six points and four rebounds.

2:01 3rd – Wash High on a 14-3 run. Takes 34-27 lead on Anderson fast-break layup.

End 3rd – Wash High leads 36-27. NC no field goals in third and only one rebound final 4:30.

5:01 remaining – Wash High ahead 40-32 with Pwono at line attempting to complete three-point play. Battery power very low.

1:27 remaining – Wash High clinging to 46-44 lead. Has the basketball. NC on 11-4 run. Gym is very loud.

Under 1 minute – Pwono bank, game tied, 46-46. Wash High has the basketball.


51.8 left – NC 55-54 with ball.

Final score – NC 58-54.


There was a time when David Jeffries was an up-and-coming running back on the Monessen High School football team. I saw him play a couple times and he had skills. He was also pegged to be a key contributor in basketball. Looks like his playing days are over.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Rood named Bentworth football coach

The Bentworth School Board approved the hiring of Lou Rood as varsity football coach for the 2009 season on Monday night. Rood replaces Randy Walters, who coached the last two seasons.

Rood, a 1972 Belle Vernon Area graduate who attended Marietta College and California University of Pennsylvania, has a wealth of football coaching experience.

Rood coached Belle Vernon from 2006-08, guiding the Leopards to WPIAL Class AAA playoff appearance in 2006 and 2007. Belle Vernon finished 4-6 in 2008, but 1-5 in the Big Seven Conference. Rood also serves as a consultant for the Pittsburgh Passion, a women's professional team. He was the Passion's head coach in 2004.

The hiring leaves Washington and Ringgold as the only remaining area schools with openings.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Prexies to play at Hempfield

The Washington High School boys basketball team will resume postseason play in the PIAA Class AA semifinals Wednesday night against North Catholic at Hempfield High School in Greensburg. Tip-off is 6 p.m. Washington has a 25-3 record. North Catholic is the WPIAL champion and is 27-2.
The winner advances to the state championship game Saturday at the Bryce Jordan Center to face either Imhotep Charter (30-1) or Hughesville (23-5).
The Washington-North Catholic game is part of a doubleheader at Hempfield. At 7:30 p.m., the North Catholic girls play Bishop Guilfoyle in a Class A semifinal.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Wash High vs. Beaver Falls

WEXFORD – Senior Mark Wise and sophomore Zach Barnes finished with double-doubles as all five starters scored in double figures for Washington in a 69-51 victory over Beaver Falls in Saturday’s PIAA Class AA quarterfinal at North Allegheny High School.
Wise finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds, while Barnes added 10 points and a game-high 14 rebounds for the Prexies (25-3), who play WPIAL champion North Catholic (27-2) in Wednesday’s semifinal.
Nick Bryant led Wash High with 17 points, while Troy Wilson added 15 points and six rebounds. Robert Anderson chipped in 12 points for Washington, which never trailed after tying the game 15-15 early in the second quarter.
Beaver Falls (21-6) got 20 points and 12 rebounds from Todd Thomas but the Tigers were dominated inside despite a decided size advantage. Kevin Nesmith, a 6-7 center, did not score, while 6-6 B.J. McBryde scored two points.

  • While driving away from North Allegheny High School, I began thinking about a post-game interview with Washington coach Ron Faust following the Prexies' loss to South Fayette in the WPIAL quarterfinals. Faust was pleased with how hard his team played that day and said he thought the Prexies would be just fine in the state tournament. Correct again Coach.
  • Washington has dominated Quaker Valley and Beaver Falls in successive games. The Quakers and Tigers were possible the two most hyped teams coming into the season.
  • The Prexies are winning because everyone is finding ways to make key contributions. Against Beaver Falls, I thought Zach Barnes was the player of the game, followed closely by Mark Wise. The way those two controlled the inside was why the margin of victory was so large.
  • Beaver Falls' senior Todd Thomas is one seriously gifted athlete. I didn't really like the way he jawed at the officials when he came out of the game late in the fourth quarter. It wasn't the refs fault. It was Beaver Falls' inability to rebound that ultimately doomed its season.
  • Then again, it shouldn't be a surprise Thomas mouthed off. His coaches did not let the officials alone and it eventually led to a technical foul. Again, I go back to rebounding.
  • Finally, a couple other local teams (South Fayette and Monessen) should be taking notes. The Lions are Greyhounds are as talented as Wash High. The Prexies' mental toughness is what has Washington in the Western Final for the first time since 1990.

Friday, March 13, 2009

APB, Where are they now?

With Washington and Beaver Falls set to play in Saturday's PIAA Class AA boys quarterfinal at North Allegheny, it's appropriate to look back at the March, 6 2005 first-round state game between the two powers.

Beaver Falls defeated Wash High, 72-70, on a last-second shot by Jack Anderson to end the Prexies' season.

The Varsity Letters issues an All Points Bulletin for one of that game's former stars – Wash High's Romone Barnes.

Against the WPIAL champs, Barnes was a monster and his floater with six seconds left tied the game, 70-70. He slashed his way to 24 points in his final varsity basketball game and Barnes drew considerable praise from the opponent following the game. Barnes ended up a third-team all-stater that year and was runner-up to Fort Cherry's Dan Davis for Observer-Reporter's Player of the Year honors.

Anyone knowing of Barnes' whereabouts is urged to contact the Varsity Letters.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Live – Wash High vs. Quaker Valley

The Varsity Letters is blogging live from today's PIAA Class AA boys second round playoff game between Washington and Quaker Valley at the Palumbo Center.

Four minutes to tip.

6:13 1st – Robert Anderson scores on a breakout. High up 3-0. QV – three turnovers, no field goal attempts.

Wash High closes out 1st quarter on 10-0 run. Nick Bryant scores 10 first-quarter points as Wash High leads, 18-8.

4:01 2nd – Wash High ahead 24-18. QV has only four rebounds but has kept the game close with four three-pointers.

Halftime – Wash High leads, 26-20. Bryant has 12 points. The Prexies have nine offensive rebounds.

Washington has 17 rebounds. Quaker Valley has five reounds.

5:25 3rd – Wash High up 36-23 as it opens 3rd with a 10-3 run. Troy Wilson and Bryant scored all 10 points.

After three, it's Wash High 43-29. Bryant injured an ankle grabbing a defensive rebound at the 2"06 mark but returned to take the final shot of the third.

4:16 4th – We have a Herb Pope sighting. Pope, the oft-traveled former Aliquippa star who will play at Seton Hall next year, just walked in for the Quips game, which follows this one.

Wash High is up 50-32.

Final score, Wash High 60- 38 . The Prexies dominated the second half. Read more in tomorrow's Observer-Reporter.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Prexies power

After one round of the PIAA boys and girls basketball playoffs, two local teams remain - the Washington boys and girls. First round losses claimed the seasons of WPIAL Class AAAA champions Peters Township as well as Class AA's Monessen, South Fayette boys and South Fayette girls.

All four enjoyed excellent and, in a couple cases, surprising seasons.
But doesn't it seem a little fitting that the only teams remaining are from Wash High.
"It's been an awful lot of fun. It really rings back to the 80s when that type of thing happened," Washington boys coach Ron Faust said. Faust is nearing the end of his 28th, and final, season as basketball coach. He also serves as Wash High's athletic director.

"It's been a good winter to support and compete with each other. It's a shame we can't play on the same night but the support has been great and that has spilled over into the community."

Faust will be at the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown tonight as the Washington girls (19-5) play Southern Huntingdon (26-1) at 6 p.m. On Wednesday, the Washington boys (23-3) face Quaker Valley (18-6) at the Palumbo Center at 5 p.m.

"I think it's pretty big. You don't see that many schools sending both teams into the second round," Washington girls coach Mike Maltony said. "Having both adds to the enthusiasm in both locker rooms. It's a little bit of school history."

Monday, March 9, 2009

Bristor sets it straight

Trinity baseball coach Levi Bristor wants to set the record straight and put an end to the rumors he has, was or will consider taking the head baseball coaching position at Canon-McMillan High School.

"I have not been approached by Canon-McMillan nor have I applied for the job at Canon-McMillan," Bristor said Monday night.

Bristor said the rumors, started by anonymous posters on this web site, that he was leaving Trinity for Canon-McMillan with the start of the season (March 20) days away filtered to his players.

Canon-McMillan won the 2008 PIAA Class AAAA championship and, just days before the first day of practice for the 2009 season, coach Steve Bucci resigned citing family reasons.

Trinity lost to West Allegheny in the WPIAL Class AAA championship and reached the PIAA semifinals before losing a difficult 1-0 game to Somerset.

"Nothing against Canon-McMillan but my whole goal in coaching is to be Trinity's head baseball coach," Bristor said. "That's what I am and that's what I intend to be."

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Props, rants and randomness

    Time to clear the mind after watching a life's worth of state basketball the past week.

  • WPIAL coaches like to complain about officiating when they travel outside the region. At times, it comes off like excuse making but after taking in a quadruple header in District 10 territory Saturday, and drawing from many other past experiences, they're right most of the time. The officiating was terrible, particularly during a PIAA Class AAA first-round girls game between General McLane and Mars. The Planets weren't better than General McLane but I bet they rode home thinking the refs didn't give them a chance too. I also had trouble with the first quarter of Wash High's win over Fairview and how officials called the paint play during South Fayette's loss to Mercyhurst Prep. Mike Lamberti and Mike Burroughs both foul out, while Prep's 6-8 big man is only called for two fouls. Hmmmmmm.
  • Speaking of Wash High, kudos to the Prexies for advancing to the second round. It seems fitting that Wash High is the lone boys team remaining as the great coaching career of Ron Faust comes to a close. Let's give the players credit, their was a tremendous amount of pressure placed upon them from Wash High fans to make this a memorable season. State playoff wins over Cranberry and Fairview ensured that it already is.
  • Thanks to the programming director at 94.3 FM out of the Meadville area. After sitting through four high school hoops games and eating some not-so-tasty Chinese buffet during a break in action at Edinboro Univeristy, Saturday night's "Big Hair Saturday" offered an excellent diversion on the long drive home. During the hour or so I picked up the signal, 94.3 offered tasty treats such as Cinderella's "Don't Know What You Got (Til It's Gone)," Motley Crue's "Primal Scream", Tesla's "Little Suzi", and Lita Ford's "Kiss Me Deadly." Those readers who are around my age, likely remember Ford's video for her biggest hit quite fondly.
  • Finally, the Varsity Letters gives props to Shade High School, located in the small, coal-mining town of Cairnbrook (Somerset County). Shade won the District 5 title for the first time then beat Neshannock in the first round for its first state playoff victory. My father, Frank Kovak, is a proud Shade graduate and my cousin, Brad Mulcahy, is an assistant coach. Congrats Panthers and good luck against Serra Catholic, you'll need it.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Clearing out the notebook

Some interesting developments in WPIAL football.

Seneca Valley recently hired Don Holl as its football coach, a position once rumored to be filled by former Pitt and Stanford coach Walt Harris. Holl resigned as Cathedral Prep's (Erie) coach following four season.

Holl's departure, along with an opening at McDowell High School in Erie, leaves two open positions at two of the more recognizable schools in District 10.

Anyone remember last year when rumors swirled around Trinity football coach/athletic director Ed Dalton leaving for Erie? Chances are they've started again.

No matter what happens – the guess here is Dalton stays – but there's no denying he's made serious strides with Trinity's program. In addition to the youth program, Dalton has constructed Trinity into an annual WPIAL playoff team. Did anyone think that was possible?

And, oh yeah, he's getting his players opportunities to play college football, whether it comes at Ohio State or Denison.

  • South Fayette boys basketball is in the PIAA playoffs for the fourth time and the Lions face a tough first-round matchup in Mercyhurst Prep tomorrow at Edinboro University at 7:30 p.m. In its previous three trips to states, South Fayette has won at least one game each occasion and it reached the quarterfinals in 2002 and 1985. In 2002, the Lions lost to Mercyhurst Prep in the quarters.
  • Washington, Ringgold and Bentworth remain without a head football coach. I've heard Ringgold is close to making a hire – there are two finalists according to my sources. At Wash High, there's little to report.
  • At some point during the PIAA Class AA boys basketball playoffs, Washington's Ron Faust will have coached his last game for the Prexies following a wildly successful 28 years. Faust, who has coached four WPIAL and two PIAA championship teams in addition to winning more than 500 games, is one of the state's all-time great high school basketball coaches. Faust never received the credit that others did. That's probably just the way he's wanted it.
  • Spring sports teams have been through five practices to date, meaning the first play date – March 16 for boys tennis and March 20 for all other spring sports – is rapidly approaching. Four stories I will be keeping a close eye on are: 1. Trinity baseball. With seniors Alex Frey, Tyler Schrader and Evan Bukowski, the Hillers can improve upon last year's second-place finish at WPIALs and possibly play for a state title; 2. Carmichaels baseball. Joby Lapkowicz, Chuck Gasti and Bill Musgrove give the Mikes a pitching staff that would make some Quad-A teams envious. If the Mikes can average three to four runs per game, it could be another championship season in Greene County; 3. Chartiers-Houston boys tennis. The Bucs field a team led by Karli and Tanya Timko; 4. Canon-McMillan's baseball coaching situation.

More on recruiting

Some of the more interesting, intelligent conversation in recent weeks on the blog concerns the topic of recruitment at the high school level. As I stated before, I'm not as passionate as most but I see both sides of the argument.

Anyway, the following is a column I authored following the 2008 WPIAL basketball playoff pairings meeting. It focuses on the girls basketball teams at Washington and Monessen. I think there are some relevant points to current discussion.

CORAOPOLIS – It's become tradition. Make the WPIAL playoffs and make a T-shirt for team members. Printers from Aliquippa to Woodland Hills are preparing for the blitz.

Here's a couple suggestions for the girls basketball teams at Washington and Monessen:

"Washington, the 2007-08 WPIAL Class AA Girls Public School Champions" and "Monessen, home of the WPIAL Class A Girls Public School Champions."

Can't blame the Prexies and Greyhounds, the No. 2 seeds in their respective brackets, for wanting more. Washington and Monessen each share legitimate championship aspirations.

History, however, is not on their side, or the side of public schools attempting to win girls basketball championships in the two smallest classifications.

Since 1976, when the first girls WPIAL Class AA champion was crowned, public schools have won just 13 titles, and only two since 2000.

In Class A, the numbers are equally skewed. The first WPIAL Class A championship was contested in 1978. Public schools have won 12 times. Monessen, the only undefeated basketball team out of the 264 in the WPIAL, won titles in 1995, 2004 and 2006.

"I don't look at it as a public-private thing," Monessen coach Major Corley said Tuesday night. "We realize there are a lot of private schools playing in Class A."

Despite a 23-0 record, Monessen isn't the favorite to win a fourth WPIAL championship. That honor goes to powerhouse North Catholic, which won back-to-back WPIAL Class AAA titles in 2003 and 2004 before opting to play in Class A.

A year ago, North Catholic won its 14th WPIAL championship and it reached the PIAA Class A title game. This year, the Trojans own wins over Mt. Lebanon, Moon and Greensburg Central Catholic.

Of the four section winners in Class A girls, Monessen is the only public school. Despite the obvious advantages private schools have, the Greyhounds are a consistent championship contender and are in the postseason for the 19th time in Corley's 21 years.

"The key is, over the years, we've had good players," Corley said. "The girls have always practiced hard and played hard. They don't worry about who they're playing."

Washington takes the same approach.

Like Monessen, the Prexies are the only Class AA girls school to win an outright section championship. Four of the six sections were won by private schools.

"If you look at the state rankings, in the top five or six (in Class AA), we're the only public school. The rest are all private or Catholic schools," first-year coach Mike Maltony said. "We're used to seeing the same teams over and over. Usually, the teams in our section don't change that much. The private schools can bring in that one player and, from where we're at, it's such a disadvantage."

Washington, with an impressive 22-1 record, isn't the favorite in its bracket. If the Prexies win their first WPIAL championship since 1992, when they played in Class AAA, they'll likely have to defeat top-seed Our Lady of the Sacred Heart.

OLSH, like North Catholic, would be a tough out in the Class AAAA tournament. The Chargers defeated Hopewell, McKeesport and Blackhawk convincingly.

Anyone else having a hard time calling North Catholic and OLSH small schools?

Though the fight isn't as difficult on the boys side, it's still a daunting task and one that South Fayette coach Rich Bonnaure knows well.

For years, the Lions competed in the same section with Washington and other local public schools. When they were moved to Section 3-AA, South Fayette competes against Seton-La Salle and Bishop Canevin.

"It's definitely tougher because, obviously, we're dealing with the hand we were dealt," said Bonnaure, who guided the Lions to the No. 7 seed and a potential quarterfinal matchup against Jeannette.

"It's also made us a better team. And, as a coach, I have to do my homework and try to keep up with who plays on those teams."

Some coaches, like Corley, don't mind competing against the private schools for titles.

Others believe the playing field needs leveled.

"I'm a proponent of splitting it up," Maltony said. "Why should some schools recruit players?"

It's a situation in need of tweaking but one that is unlikely to change.

There's no shame in being second best but there's great satisfaction in overcoming tremendous odds.

Maybe Washington and Monessen should hold off on those T-shirts.

I'd like to hear what your solutions would be. The one I believe most in is making private schools play up one classification.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

She can dunk

Stumbled on this one:

High schooler can dunk like no other woman
AP Sports Writer
HOUSTON (AP) — Brittney Griner can dunk.
Not one of those just-above-the-rim throw-downs that have long been accepted as the best a woman can do in games of the past. When the 6-foot-8 high school senior dunks, it can be a rim-rattling, backboard shaking, two-handed slam.
Simply put, she dunks like a guy.
“It was overwhelming, obviously, the first time I did it and I just wanted to do it more and more,” she said.
Add this athleticism to her speed, blocking and rebounding prowess and it’s easy to see how Griner has become more than simply a top recruit, but someone who might be able to transform the women’s game.
Griner, who signed with Baylor, is the top player in the country according to Rivals.com and ESPN’s HoopGurlz.
“I’ve been doing this a long time ... but I’ve never seen anything like Brittney Griner,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said.
Since Georgeann Wells of West Virginia became the first woman to dunk in an NCAA game almost 25 years ago, a handful of players have done it in college and WNBA games.
Virtually all those dunks have come on fast breaks and, while rare and certainly fodder for ESPN and YouTube, nobody gets those confused with anything Dr. J, or even Spud Webb, has ever done.
Griner could change that. As she gets older and more skilled, the 18-year-old who didn’t play organized basketball until ninth grade, could dunk as a normal part of Baylor’s offense.
Hall of Fame coach Jody Conradt, who retired from Texas with 900 wins, has worked with Griner in summer camps and is intrigued by her skills.
“She can (dunk) better and differently than anybody that I’ve seen in the women’s game,” Conradt said. “It’s effortless for her.”
Yet for all the sizzle those dunks create, Conradt thinks Griner’s other talents will be more valuable at the next level.
“She has great hands. She has excellent quickness. She obviously has tremendous size and mobility,” Conradt said. “She has every tool that I think a player needs to have to become one of the best players or maybe the best player ever. It’s not going to happen just dunking though.”
Griner’s high school coach, Debbie Jackson, has seen her dunk for years and says she still finds herself “amazed all the time.”
“My husband said: ’You really shouldn’t say dunk, because people that haven’t seen Brittney just think, OK, she’s going over the rim and pushing the ball,”’ Jackson said. “But she’s slamming the ball. They’re monster dunks.”
Some might even say they’re Shaq-adelic. Not surprisingly, she has a fan in the big fella himself, Shaquille O’Neal.
He said he met Griner last year and was shocked at how high above the rim she got.
“It would bring a whole new dimension to the women’s game,” O’Neal said.

C-M baseball

Just to clarify all the rumors spreading on this blog concerning the Canon-McMillan High School baseball coaching position - as of last night, the position had not been filled.

No doubt, Bucci's timing was not the best for Canon-McMillan, especially the players. While athletic director Guy Montecalvo, the school board and others want to fill the position as quickly as possible, they want the best available candidate.

According to today's Observer-Reporter, a new coach can not be approved until March 16. The first game of the high school season is March 20.

"We've got Jack Smarslak and Justin White working with the team now," Montecalvo said. "They've been assistant coaches and they're both teachers here, but they really aren't interested in being the head coach."

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Thomas' profile rising

At 6-4, 215, Bryan Thomas stands out wearing a Washington High School boys basketball uniform. Lately, the back-up junior player is being noticed more for his play than his imposing physical stature.

Thomas scored 12 points with a game-high eight rebounds (seven offensive) during the Prexies' easy 61-29 victory over Cranberry Tuesday night in a PIAA Class AA playoff game at Wash High Gymnasium.

"I try to play as hard as possible. It's the playoffs. I'll do anything to help," Thomas said. "Coach (Ron) Faust wants me to do what I can in the paint."

For Thomas, that means getting offensive rebounds. In Washington's last two playoff games, he's grabbed 12 offensive rebounds.

Thomas, a cousin of former Prexies and Notre Dame football player Travis Thomas, also scored points in bunches against the Berries. He tallied eight as the Prexies opened the second quarter with 10 quick points. Six of those points came on putbacks and he had four offensive rebounds during the stretch.

Faust called Thomas "the player throughout this years who has improved the most." He's also considered one of the better high school football players in the area.

Playing on a Wash High team that finished 1-8 didn't do much to raise Thomas' profile but the punishing tackler is drawing Division I interest as a linebacker or, possibly, a defensive end.

"I've got a lot of Division I schools looking at me," said Thomas, who listed Illinois, Duke and Cincinnati among the 15 teams who've contacted him. "I don't have any offers yet. Teams are waiting for me to take my SAT's."

Until then, Thomas is organizing training sessions as Washington waits for a new football coach to replace former coach Bill Britton, a staunch supporter of Thomas' skills and work ethic.

"We're in the weight room as much as possible," Thomas said. "I work 110 percent so I can take myself further."


One subject that never dies in Western Pennsylvania is high school recruiting for sports. On multiple occasions during the basketball regular season, I ended up discussing my thoughts on recruiting with various people. I tend to fall into the minority on the topic, meaning I don't work myself into a frenzy on the subject.

With North Catholic and Sewickley Academy winning WPIAL boys basketball titles over the weekend and the North Catholic girls adding to their already massive trophy case, recruiting remains fresh on the minds of a lot of sports fans.

Here's an interesting story concerning the Westinghouse High School girls coach in today's Post-Gazette:


Sunday, March 1, 2009

PIAA playoffs

Six local teams are preparing for the PIAA basketball playoffs with the Washington boys getting things started with a play-in game Tuesday night against the Cranberry Berries, the second-place team from District 9. The game will be played at Wash High. Have not confirmed a time as of posting.

Also, the Peters Township boys (AAAA), South Fayette boys and girls (AA), Monessen boys (AA) and Wash High girls (AA) are competing for state championships.

To find your team: