Saturday, June 27, 2009
Top 5 scholastic sports stories of 2008-09
1. Saga of Avella football
Beaten down by years of losing, Avella High School's football team opened practice in the oppressive August heat with only 18 players, a new head coach with a can-do attitude and little fanfare.
Then, Avella canceled its first scrimmage when mounting injuries made a trip to Laurel pointless.
As losses mounted and players defected, coach Frank Gray and the Eagles refused to fold. They never asked for sympathy, even as 140-pound freshmen tried to block for 150-pound quarterback Jesse Noble.
Avella played games with 11 players. One game, against WPIAL Class A champion Clairton, featured a running clock for four quarters. Anastasia Barr, a cheerleader, donned a football uniform in hopes of helping.
Their determination earned the respect of many and drew considerable attention. From the Observer-Reporter to the New York Times, the Avella football team's struggle to survive became a hot topic. Canon-McMillan's football program was so inspired by Avella's determination that the Eagles were invited to watch the Big Macs' playoff game against Shaler from the sidelines.
Avella, like in so many other seasons since the school's last WPIAL playoff appearance in 1976, failed to win a game. They've lost 51 of the last 52 and the offense scored more than 10 points on just two occasions. The defense yielded 40 or more in every game but one.
Still, an overmatched roster facing difficult odds played every game on Avella's schedule and proved high school sports is about much more than winning.
2. Resurgence of Wash High basketball in Faust's final season
Washington High School boys basketball is one of the WPIAL's proudest traditions. By the end of the 2008-09 season, the Prexies added another impressive chapter to its illustrious history.
The year began with a "Meet the Prexies Night" designed by former players to bring alumni and current players together to honor head coach Ron Faust, who would retire after a wildly successful 28 year stint.
Five games into the year, Faust became the second coach from Washington County (Phil Pergola was the first) to win his 500th game.
And the wins kept coming for Washington, which won a 16th section title in Faust's career, and advanced to the PIAA playoffs. Once there, Nick Bryant, Troy Wilson and an excellent supporting cast made it a long journey.
Washington advanced to the Class AA semifinal for the first time since 1990 and led North catholic by double digits in the fourth quarter before losing in overtime. Faust finished his career with 520 wins, four WPIAL titles and two PIAA championships.
3. Peters Township soccer doubles up
The Peters Township High School boys and girls soccer teams were championship fixtures in 2008 and made a little PIAA history in the process.
For the fourth consecutive year, the Peters Township boys reached the WPIAL Class AAA championship match. For the first time since 2003, the Indians came away victors, winning their sixth district title. Led by all-state seniors Christian Brandstetter, Nick Wilcox and Virginia Tech recruit Greg Weimer, Peters Township won seven straight postseason matches and reached the PIAA final for a second straight year. There, the Indians lost to Downingtown West, 2-1.
All-state forward Ali Forbrich paced a high-scoring Peters Township girls team, one that advanced to the WPIAL Class AAA championship for the first time. The Indians lost to Mt. Lebanon in the title game but rallied to make its inaugural appearance in the state championship – a 2-1 loss to Conestoga.
Peters Township became the first school to place both its boys and girls soccer teams in the PIAA finals during the same season.
4. Timko sisters make splash, beat the boys
Sisters Karli and Tanya Timko didn't join the Chartiers-Houston boys tennis team for attention but, by the time postseason tournaments were played, they were among the most talked about non-professional players in the country.
Karli, a Marshall University signee who went undefeated as a singles player versus the boys, and Tanya, who lost just twice, opted to play in doubles tournaments. It was a good decision.
The Timkos won the Section 1-AA tournament then garnered national attention by becoming the first girls team to win a WPIAL doubles championship.
They were deluged with media requests, including a call from the CBS Morning Show about a possible appearance, during preparation for the PIAA tournament. Once there, they lost in the first round.
5. Black Friday for local football
Since 2002, high school football teams from Washington and Greene counties are a woeful 16-65 in the WPIAL playoffs. None of the previous six postseasons produced one as unproductive as 2008.
Nine local teams qualified for the playoffs. Nine local teams lost in the first round.
For the first time since 1988 – when only two teams from each conference qualified for a postseason berth – local teams went winless in the playoffs.
Canon-McMillan, Ringgold, Trinity, McGuffey, Beth-Center, California, Carmichaels, Chartiers-Houston and Fort Cherry were the participants. The average score of defeat was 34-11.