Amazing accomplishments accompanied this area’s year in sports.
Coleman Scott won a bronze medal in the London Olympics, Washington & Jefferson’s football team overcame tragedy to earn a playoff bid in a teammate’s memory, Canon-McMillan’s wrestling team was two-times as good in the state team tournament competition, and harness racing driver Dave Palone smashed a victory record that stood for decades.
Those incredible feats made up only half of the year’s Top 10 stories, selected by the sports department of the Observer-Reporter. Here is this year’s list:
1. Coleman Scott, Olympic medalist
Maybe no one had a more difficult road to fulfilling their athletic dreams this year than Coleman Scott.
The former Waynesburg High School and Oklahoma State wrestler won a bronze medal in the 60k (132 pounds) freestyle competition in the London Olympics. Scott won a dramatic victory over Kenichi Yumoto of Japan, rallying from a 1-0 deficit in the third bout of the best-of-3 format when he hit a double-leg takedown, then exposed Yumoto’s back – all in the bout’s final five seconds – for the winning points.
Scott became the first Olympic medal winner from Greene County and first medalist from the Washington-Greene County area since Canonsburg’s Bill Schmidt won the bronze medal in the javelin the 1972 Olympics in Munich. Scott also won the 16th Olympics medal in Oklahoma State’s wrestling history (11 gold, three silver, two bronze).
To reach that plateau, Scott had to earn a spot on the Olympic team. He won his weight class in the Olympic Trials, but because two of the top competitors at that weight – Reece Humphrey and Shawn Bunch – did not compete, Scott did not automatically earn a spot on the Olympic team. Scott had win a wrestleoff, which was held in Times Square in New York City. Scott beat both wrestlers to secure his spot on the Olympic team, then won bronze.
2. W&J football
The death of Tim McNerney, the starting tailback for Washington & Jefferson College’s football team, turned a promising season for the Presidents into one of unspeakable tragedy. McNerney was found dead two days before W&J’s game against four-time defending PAC champion Thomas More. The Presidents, with the blessing of the McNerney family, decided to play the game. An emotionally distraught team was routed 54-18.
But the Presidents used the tragedy as motivation and made one of the more remarkable runs through the rest of the schedule. W&J won its final four games, including a thrilling 31-14 decision over previously undefeated Waynesburg that tied the Presidents with the Yellow Jackets for the PAC title and gave them the automatic bid into the Division III playoffs. W&J fell in the first round to Johns Hopkins.
The rallying cry of “Gimme Five,” created for the jersey number McNerney wore, motivated a team that could have easily fallen apart in the grief that followed McNerney’s death.
“Today, we did something special for our brother,” said quarterback Matt Bliss after the Waynesburg win.
3. Wash High football
The Washington High School football team had its finest season since 2001, completing an undefeated regular season, winning the Class AA Interstate Conference title and reaching the WPIAL championship game at Heinz Field.
Though the Prexies (12-1) lost handily to Aliquippa, 34-7, the season also featured the impressive running of junior Shai McKenzie.
McKenzie led the WPIAL with 2,689 rushing yards and 41 touchdowns. He came within 52 yards of breaking the WPIAL’s single-season record held by Hopewell’s Rushel Shell and became the area’s single-season leader, in addition to breaking Brian Davis’ school record.
That has led to 10 NCAA Division I scholarship offers for McKenzie: Akron, Connecticut, Duke, Maryland, Pitt, Purdue, Rutgers, Tennessee, Toledo and Youngstown State.
Wash High averaged 40.2 points per game and was one of two WPIAL teams (Aliquippa was the other) to rush for more than 4,000 yards.
Not bad for a team that was 5-5 during head coach Mike Bosnic’s second year – in 2010.
4. Canon-McMillan wrestling
Canon-McMillan High School’s wrestling team had arguably the best season in the program’s remarkable history. The Big Macs swept both Class AAA state team titles and competed in one of the most historic matches in PIAA history against Central Dauphin. Canon-McMillan won its third straight WPIAL Team Tournament title and had a state champion in Cody Wiercioch at 170 pounds.
The unique season was punctuated at the individual tournament, where the Big Macs had eight state placewinners that ranged from first to eighth. That provided enough team points to far outdistance Central Dauphin for the team title for that tournament.
Canon-McMillan defeated Central Dauphin, 28-25, in the semifinals of the Class AAA team tournament four weeks earlier in a matchup of the No. 1- and 2-ranked teams in the in the state. The Big Macs stopped Erie McDowell in the finals, 35-20.
Wiercioch’s win at 170 pounds was the second state title of his career and came in a 7-4 decision over Shane Springer of Norristown.
5. Dave Palone’s 15,181st victory
It was a history-making harness racing season for Dave Palone.
The Rices Landing native became the winningest harness racing driver in North America when he drove Herculotte Hanover, a 2-year-old filly who had never competed in a pari-mutuel race, to victory in the eighth race of a 16-card day at The Meadows racetrack July 5. It was the 15,181st victory of Palone’s career and beat the North American record held by the legenday Herve Filion, who held the title of winningest driver since the 1980s.
Palone tied the record in the third race of that day’s card with Well Al B, a 5-year-old pacing gelding from the Burke Stables.
“I don’t want to think about numbers ever again,” Palone joked after setting the record. “Someday, my numbers will be beat. That will be great because it means harness racing is doing great.”
6. Peters Township girls soccer
Few expected the Peters Township girls soccer team to lose to a WPIAL opponent, but the Indians proved their dominance by winning a third consecutive PIAA Class AAA championship with a 1-0 win over Cumberland Valley, the same team that handed Peters Township (24-1) its only loss earlier in the season.
University of Virginia-bound striker Veronica Latsko was her usual, unstoppable self, depositing 36 goals to give her 107 during the first three years of her career.
Senior Olivia Roberson, a Duquesne recruit, led the Indians with 37 goals, while Emily Franty added 14.
Peters Township, which outscored its seven playoff opponents, 16-3, did so without its starting goalkeeper, Megan Parker, who suffered a season-ending knee injury before the season. But Carly Johns stepped into the starting spot and helped Peters Township become the first girls soccer team since Villa Joseph Marie (2000-02) to three-peat.
7. Gold rush at WPIAL track
Dustin Fuller overcame just about every hurdle during last spring’s track season. The Washington senior won four gold medals in the WPIAL Class AA meet and placed in four more events in the PIAA Championships to highlight an outstanding performance. Fuller became the first athlete since 1982 to win four gold medals at the WPIAL event.
Canon-McMillan’s Shawn Johnson won the three jumping events and Washington’s Alyssa Wise won the 100- and 200-meter sprints. Wise also was part of the school record-setting 400 relay team that took a silver medal.
Fort Cherry’s Jessie Merckle obliterated the meet record in the Class AA javelin when she unleashed a 156-8 effort that bettered the previous mark by nearly 16 feet.
Waynesburg’s Marissa Kalsey established a meet record in Class AA with a 12-6 pole vault on her final try, Canon-McMillan’s Mira Carrozza took gold in the Class AAA javelin, and Waynesburg’s Peyton Hampson won the Class AA 800 run. Washington’s Josh Wise won the Class AA high jump and Fort Cherry’s Shawn Darragh won the Class AA javelin.
Fuller, Merckle and Kalsey went on to win PIAA gold.
8. PT survives Woodland Hills’ knockout punch
The Peters Township boys team pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the WPIAL basketball playoffs when it knocked off Class AAAA fourth-seed Woodland Hills 67-56 in the first round at California University’s Convocation Center. The victory, however, was overshadowed by an ugly on-court incident.
With Peters Township holding an eight-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, Woodland Hills’ Shakim Alonzo was called for a flagrant foul and ejected from the game. An upset and frustrated Alonzo broke free from his coach’s grasp, sprinted across the court and blindsided Peters Township’s Gabe Pritz with a left-handed punch to the head. Pritz fell the court, bleeding from his left ear. He later received 11 stitches in the ear and had cartilage reconstructed.
With his head wrapped in a gauze bandage, Pritz returned and finished with a game-high 30 points.
The day after the game, Alonzo claimed that a racial slur from a Peters Township player provoked him throw the punch. Though school officials at Peters Township and Woodland Hills announced they had come to an “amicable resolution” regarding the incident, the Washington County District Attorney’s office said it would pursue assault and harassment charges against Alonzo, now a freshman on the University of Cincinnati football team.
Peters Township was eliminated from the WPIAL playoffs a week later by Central Catholic. Pritz left that game during the first half after taking an inadvertent elbow to his left ear.
9. John Luckhardt retires
John Luckhardt brought a close to an illustrious career when he stepped down as Cal’s head coach after a 10-year stay that brought the program to elite states in NCAA Division II football.
Luckhardt, 67, brought the moribound Vulcans to playoff status, including five straight trips to the postseason and three straight national semifinal appearances. He has the distinction, maybe the rarest of accomplishments, of being the winningest coach at two colleges in the same county. His record of 88-33 at Cal heads that list and he posted a 137-37-2 mark at Washington & Jefferson College.
He coached the Presidents in 11 NCAA Division III playoff appearances, including two in the national finals. His career coaching record is 225-70-2.
10Dalton leaves Trinity for McGuffey
For much of his 13 seasons as football coach at Trinity High School, Ed Dalton had to run a prevent defense to keep his job. Despite turning a downtrodden program into one that made six consecutive postseason appearances, won two playoff games and produced multiple NCAA Division I recruits, Dalton’s tenure was tumultuous. He survived several attempts to be replaced as football coach. Dalton served as Trinity’s athletic director until being transferred to a teaching position in 2010.
In February, Dalton executed an end run, taking the positions of head football coach and athletic director at McGuffey. Dalton inherited a team that went winless in 2011, but the Highlanders had a 5-5 record this year and upset playoff-bound Steel Valley in Week 9.