2020 started ominously with the death of former NBA commissioner David Stern Jan. 1 before Lakers great Kobe Bryant was killed in a Jan. 26 helicopter crash in Southern California along with his daughter and five other passengers.
Other sports legends like NFL football coach Don Shula, Major League Baseball pitchers Don Larsen, Tom Seaver and Bob Gibson, soccer wonder Diego Maradona and Olympic gold medal decathlete Rafer Johnson passed away in 2020 as well.
In the midst of a pandemic that paralyzed the plans of many, including area athletes poised to make their mark on the worldwide, national, regional and state sports stage, 2020 will be remembered most for what was lost.
The coronavirus crisis drove The Almanac headlines and the action, making 2020 memorable, if not unforgettable, in the wide world of sports. As the old year passes, here is a look back at the disease’s impact and the other events that made them the Top 10 sports stories in 2020.
1. March madness
After the NBA, NHL, MLB and NCAA shutdown professional and collegiate sports because of concerns over the spread of the coronavirus, the PIAA, WPIAL and PIHL put the brakes on scholastic sports March 12 leaving local basketball teams at Mt. Lebanon, Chartiers Valley and Bethel Park as well as the hockey team at Peters Township hanging in the balance in their quests for championships.
While the Lebo boys and the BP girls were WPIAL runners-up, the CV girls had just broken the WPIAL record for 57 consecutive victories and were one game away from repeating as state champions when play was suspended. Meanwhile, the Indians had reached the semifinals in the Class AAA hockey tournament.
A little over a month after Gov. Tom Wolf, issued a statewide shutdown of nonessential businesses and sports activities, the PIAA canceled all winter championships and spring sports. By mid-May, the PIHL followed suit, cancelling the completion of its hockey championships. While youth and amateur sports proceeded to play through the summer season, the NBA and NHL finished out their campaigns, including championships, playing in bubbles at Disney World in Orlando, Edmonton and Toronto. Additionally, a World Series winner was crowned, the Triple Crown was run, the Masters was played as well as the U.S. Open tennis tournament sans fans. Scholastic sports even returned but briefly, for the fall season. Because of a surge in COVID-19 cases, another lockdown has placed on hold the WPIAL and PIAA winter athletic campaigns until Jan. 4.
2. Gold on hold
The Olympic hopes of three area athletes were dashed when the IOC postponed the Summer Games until 2021. The games are now scheduled for July 23-Aug. 8 in Tokyo, Japan.
Leah Smith of Mt. Lebanon and Josh Matheny from Upper St. Clair were named to the U.S. National Team after a pandemic-shortened season threw a wrench into the typical selection process when the Olympic Trials and other events were canceled.
Smith competed in the 2016 Summer Games in Rio. The University of Virginia graduate won a gold and bronze medal.
Despite taking part in a season of stops and starts, Matheny enjoyed success in 2020. The Indiana University recruit captured his third straight state title in the 100-yard breaststroke before the PIAA Class AAA championships were modified and the Class AA meet was postponed by coronavirus in mid-March.
Matheny also smashed his own district record in the breast, lowering his mark to 54.43, in claiming his third WPIAL title. He led the Panthers to a fourth-place finish in the team standings behind champion North Allegheny and runner-up Seneca Valley.
Before the winter scholastic season was delayed, Matheny swam at the U.S. Open held Nov. 12-14 in Richmond, Va. Representing Team Pittsburgh Elite Aquatics Club, he won the 100- and 200-meter breaststrokes achieving cut times for the 2021 national trials.
Finally, Eric McElvenny of Bethel Park is a triathlete training for the Paralympic Games. The worldwide event has been postponed until August, 2021 in Tokyo. McElvenny is a former U.S. Marine who lost a limb when he stepped on an IED in Afghanistan. After several years of competing in able-bodied marathons and triathlons, he started competing as a para-athlete.
3. PT prevails
Paying keen attention to protocols such as taking temperatures and wearing masks proved the recipe for success for Peters Township as the Indians completed one of its finest falls. During an autumn dominated by a pandemic, the Indians managed one state title, a PIAA runner-up finish, two district crowns and three second-place showings in WPIAL competition.
Kat Wang and Marra Bruce headlined the list of achievers. The duo defended both their WPIAL and PIAA titles in tennis.
Despite dropping their first set in the Class AAA finals played Nov. 7 at the Hershey Racquet Club, Wang and Bruce roared back and defeated Hana Nouaime and Alice Liang from Methacton, 5-7, 6-4, 6-3, to repeat as PIAA state doubles champions. The pair defeated Mt. Lebanon’s Lauren Marsteller and Lily Bosch, 6-0, 6-2, in the WPIAL final Oct. 8 on the outdoor courts at North Allegheny High School.
In girls golf, Allison Poon (77), Ella McRoberts (78) and Delaney Kern (83) helped the Indians grab the PIAA runner-up trophy during the state team tournament played Oct. 26 at the Heritage Hills Golf Resort in York. They were six strokes off the winning pace set by Unionville (232). Peters Township won the WPIAL Class AAA team title Oct. 5.
For the second straight season, the PT football team came up short of winning a WPIAL title, falling to Pine-Richland 35-0 in the Class 5A championship game played Nov. 14 at at Wright Field on the campus of North Allegheny High School. The Indians went 8-0 in the regular season and won a third consecutive conference championship. They also avenged last year’s WPIAL championship loss to Gateway with a thrilling, come-from-behind 20-19 victory, punctuated by Cobran Hondru’s touchdown grab and Andrew Massucci’s extra point in the final seconds of the semifinal game.
Massucci also spearheaded the soccer team’s WPIAL championship chase. He scored his 19th goal of the season to lift the Indians to a 2-1 advantage in the first half of the Quad-A final played Nov. 7 at Newman Stadium. However, Seneca Valley rebounded to beat Peters 4-3 in double overtime and claimed the title. Massucci scored decisive goals in previous playoff wins against Fox Chapel and Baldwin. The Indians captured the section title with a 10-1-1 record.
PT added a WPIAL runner-up trophy in field hockey. The Indians dropped a 3-0 decision to Pine-Richland in the finals played Nov. 4 at Fox Chapel. It was the third year in a row, the teams had battled in the finals. PT won the title in 2018 while the Rams have won Class AAA crowns in 2019 and 2017.
Finally, although no trophies or medals were awarded, the Indians took third in the WPIAL team golf championships played Oct. 15 at Cedarbrook. Led by Ellian Ascencio’s 77, the Indians carded a 414 score to finish behind champion Franklin Regional (409) and runner-up Fox Chapel (412).
4. Wresting great
Luke Stout capped an undefeated season by capturing a state wrestling championship. The Mt. Lebanon wrestler used a 12-1 major decision against Luke Montgomery from Bethel Park to claim the 195-pound title during the PIAA finals held March 7 at the Giant Center in Hershey. Stout posted a posted a 42-0 record in 2020 and won championships at the Eastern Area, Powerade, Allegheny County, sectional, WPIAL and Southwest Regional tournaments. He won 153 matches before matriculating to Princeton.
Other PIAA highlights included: Dylan Evans from Chartiers Valley earning eighth at 126; South Fayette’s Quentin Franklin and Eli Brinsky finishing fourth at heavyweight and sixth at 170, respectively; Donovan McMillon earning runner-up honors at 182. It was his final scholastic match as the Peters Township wrestler is foregoing his senior season to enroll early at Florida, where he will play football for the Gators.
5. Links legend
Linsday Powanda of Mt. Lebanon joined a prestigious group of golfers Oct. 8 when she won the WPIAL Class AAA girls golf title.
The junior captured her championship at Oakmont Country Club, on the same course the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Dustin Johnson, Ben Hogan and Sam Snead won U.S. Open titles. Powanda carded a 5-over-par 80. She impressed on the front nine with two birdies and only one bogey for a 37. She finished with a 43 on the back nine.
Caroline McConnell from South Fayette earned runner-up honors with an 82 while Ella McRoberts from Peters Township finished fourth with an 88.
All three advanced to the PIAA championships played Oct. 20 at Heritage Hills Golf Resort in York and earned all-state acclaim. Powanda secured seventh place with a 77. McConnell and McRoberts finished tied for ninth with Pennsybury’s Jade Gu. All shot 78s.
6. Third time’s a charm
Three proved lucky for Mia Gorman of Bethel Park this tennis season.
After finishing runner-up twice in section action, the junior won a title.
After two, third-place showings in the district tournament, Gorman also claimed another championship. She beat Pine-Richland’s Elaine Qian, 6-1, 2-6, 7-5, to claim the WPIAL Class AAA crown and earned her third trip to Hershey to compete in the PIAA championships.
During the finals played Nov. 7 at the Hershey Racquet Club, Gorman took runner-up honors after dropping a two-setter, 7-6 (3), 6-2, to Amelia Honer from Council Rock North in the championship match.
7. 58 and counting
Chartiers Valley continued its dominance in girls basketball.
The Colts secured their second straight WPIAL title by beating Trinity 58-40 on Feb. 29 at the University of Pittsburgh’s Petersen Center. Eleven days later, they defeated Hollidaysburg 58-38 at Greensburg Salem and shattered the WPIAL record for consecutive victories with their 57th straight win.
The Colts were unable to defend their state title because the Pennsylvania governing body paused the PIAA tournament March 12 because of concerns over the spread of COVID-19.
Though the recent coronavirus surge again caused a shutdown of activities, the Colts managed to stretch their streak to 58 when they bested Baldwin 59-48 in the season opener Dec. 11. They need five more wins to surpass the mark of 62 straight victories set by Lancaster Catholic from 2017-19.
8. Fleet feet
Determination defines Jenna Lang. With the finish line in sight, the Bethel Park freshman sprinted to a silver-medal performance during the WPIAL cross country championships held Oct. 30 at White Oak Park in McKeesport.
“I really wanted to get second,” said Lang, who covered the 5-kilometer course in at 18:22.
After finishing runner-up to Moon’s Mia Cochran, who easily defended her title, with a 17:46 time, Lang fared almost as well in her first PIAA championships. During the Class AAA meet on the the Parkview Cross Country Course in the Hershey Giant Center Complex, she secured seventh place with a 19:21 time. Cochran won her second straight state title in 18:28
9. Tennis trials
Upper St. Clair lost 4-1 to Latrobe in the WPIAL Class AAA team tennis title match played in October at Bethel Park High School.
The Wildcats swept the Panthers in all three singles matches, winning each in two sets but split the doubles bouts. USC’s No. 1 tandem of seniors Gia Winseck and Danni Gibbons combined for the lone victory.
The future, however, is bright for the Panthers as singles players sophomore Maggie Stief and freshman Evie Ellenberger as well as doubles duo of juniors Leah Lund and Hope Krawczyk return to the line-up. Anna Rush, a senior, will be lost to graduation.
10. Weekend warriors
The big winners during the pandemic year were the golfers and the recreational players. Many in the region enjoyed success.
In baseball, the Quinn Construction Mudcats captured their fifth McKeesport Daily News League title in eight years. After dropping the opener 7-3, the Mudcats defeated the Snappers 8-2 and 4-2 to clinch the championship on their home field at Millennium Park in Bethel Park.
Additionally, the Steel City Wildcats, defeated the Blue Ridge Generals 11-4 to capture the Mid-Atlantic Regional baseball championships in Clarksburg, W.Va. The Wildcats also finished 22-6 in the WPEBL.
Mark Saghy from Upper St. Clair coaches the Wildcats, which consists of players from the South Hills region of Pittsburgh and Washington County.
In golf, Peters Township products Connor Schmidt and Jimmy Ellis were among the standouts.
Ellis, who holds two PT school records, captured the championship in the 104th Pennsylvania Open played Aug. 10-12 at Oakmont Country Club. He fired three straight par 71s and carded a low-score 213 to finish first.
Schmidt joined an elite group of golfers when he won his second straight Western Pennsylvania Golf Association amateur championship.
Schmidt became the first repeat winner of the tournament since Nathan Smith won the event four straight times from 2007 to 2010. Arnold Palmer and Bob Reilly also won it four years in a row.
A dozen birdies and 19 pars paved the way for Schmidt’s Aug. 25 victory at Allegheny County Club in Sewickley.