When I accepted this job at the Observer-Reporter last fall, my friends from Pennsylvania told me of the strength of high school football in Western Pennsylvania.
I followed high school football – recruiting in particular – relentlessly growing up and often read of the latest top prospect from Aliquippa and other area powerhouses.
I was born in Pittsburgh, but grew up in Youngstown, Ohio – a football hotbed in its own right. My expectations were high for the quality of the sport in this area, but it was every other sport that truly surprised me.
My eyes were opened by Peters Township’s boys soccer team, which won the WPIAL title by beating Upper St. Clair. Of course, I will never forget South Fayette’s championship run in football.
Covering the WPIAL Class AA title game at Heinz Field between the Lions and Aliquippa was incredible. Brett Brumbaugh’s performance is one that will be discussed for years. The press box was buzzing during pregame warmups with people guessing how handily the Quips would beat the Lions. Nobody thought the Lions had what it took to unseat Aliquippa.
Brumbaugh, along with South Fayette’s incredible defense, made quite a few folks regret the harsh criticism.
His march through the competition in Class AA was memorable. I interviewed opposing coaches prior to each state playoff game and their comments were unanimous: “The kid can make every throw.”
His ability to lead South Fayette to its first state football championship made his selection as O-R Athlete of the Year a lock, but a few other athletes made the voting process intriguing.
Brandon Lawless of Carmichaels struck out 90 as a pitcher for the Mikes this spring, led area basketball players in scoring and passed for over 1,000 yards during football season.
Monessen’s Clintell Gillaspie was also a strong candidate. The Greyhounds’ success in boys basketball was one of the top storylines this year. I was told to temper my expectations with high school basketball in this area, but coach Joe Salvino’s team threw those doubts out the window.
Gillaspie was a prolific scorer for Monessen during the WPIAL playoffs and his teammates reflected the blue-collar mentality of the Mon Valley. Opponents hated playing the Greyhounds. Uniontown, a Class AAA program, lost its lone regular-season game to Monessen and declined a rematch to finish the regular season.
It doesn’t stop there.
Female athletes in this area delivered captivating performances in 2013-14. Our Athlete of the Year, Fort Cherry’s Jenna Lucas, bucked the trend of athletes specializing in one sport. She did not need to stop competing in golf, volleyball or basketball to garner a Division I scholarship to Central Florida.
Lucas led the Rangers to the WPIAL Class AA playoffs in basketball and repeated as PIAA Class AA champion in the javelin.
Other candidates who had incredible years included Canon-McMillan’s Olivia Lorusso, California’s Kailyn Clancy, Washington’ Alyssa Wise and McGuffey’s Sammie Weiss.
It was Lucas who rose to the top. She was a playmaking point guard for Fort Cherry in basketball, led the volleyball team in assists, was the boys’ golf team’s best performer and continued the javelin tradition at Fort Cherry that began with former state champion Jessie Merckle.
This year was picturesque. The area had seven state champions in three sports and memories were created that will never be forgotten, which is nothing new to this area.
It all made for an incredible year, which I feel is well-represented by this year’s Athletes of the Year.
Lance Lysowski can be reached at email@example.com.