Many area athletes and teams left their mark on the worldwide, national, regional and state sports stage in 2019. And as the old year passes, here is a look at the top 10 events that dominated The Almanac headlines and the action.
1. Changing of the guard
The year marked the departure of four regional legends from the coaching ranks.
Jim Render tendered his letter of resignation as Upper St. Clair varsity football coach and school officials accepted his retirement Jan. 3. The Hall of Fame head coach guided the Panthers to the playoffs 38 times. Render’s teams captured 23 conference titles, five WPIAL championships and two PIAA crowns and also participated in six additional WPIAL finals. Render has the most wins in WPIAL history with a 406-141-6 career record. Two of his proteges played professionally – Sean Lee for the Dallas Cowboys and Kevin Orie for the Chicago Cubs.
Jeff Metheny followed Render’s lead, resigning his post at Bethel Park Jan. 22 so as to watch his son, Levi, compete for Albany. Metheny’s 33-year tenure spanned two states, including West Virginia, and also featured a stint at Waynesburg before guiding the Black Hawks to the school’s only WPIAL championship and PIAA runner-up showing in 2008. Metheny has an all-time record of 205-144.
After 31 seasons of coaching basketball, Rick Bell left the ranks for the same reason as Metheny. He, too, has a son, R.J., playing in college. A Bethel Park product, Bell amassed a 428-316 record while coaching 18 years at Canon-McMillan and 13 seasons at Peters Township. Under Bell, the Big Macs won a single-season record 21 games in the 2017-18 campaign.
On June 25, Joe Maize retired as the Peters Township High School baseball coach. Maize accumulated a 422-241 record and .637 winning percentage. He led the Indians to eight section titles, 17 WPIAL and five PIAA playoff appearances with two district championships in 2007 and 2008 and two state runner-up titles in 2004 and 2005. He has coached more than 100 players that played in college and eight that signed Major League Baseball contracts; three – Chris Peters, Jordan Jankowski and Brian Simmons – played in the big leagues with the Pirates, Astros and White Sox, respectively.
Josh Matheny dominated the swim scene in 2019. In his inaugural appearance on the global stage, the Upper St. Clair junior and Indiana University recruit captured two gold and two silver medals and smashed national age group and junior records in the process during the World Junior Championships held this summer in Budapest.
In addition to his success in Hungary, Matheny took third in the 200-meter breaststroke in a then 15-16 National Age Group record time of 2:11.02 and 12th in the 100-meter breaststroke in a time of 1:00.91 at 2019 U.S. Summer Nationals.
On Dec. 14, the U.S. National team member shattered the men’s 200-yard breaststroke meet record at the Speedo Winter Junior Nationals held at Georgia Tech. He swam a 1:52.12. He also won the 100 breast in 52.56.
During the scholastic season, the NISCA and USA athletic as well as academic All-American captured a second WPIAL and PIAA title in the 100 breast, where he broke the National Federation of High Schools record time of 52.52. He was also part of USC’s state championship medley relay unit.
Two of Matheny’s PEAQ teammates, a club that swims out of Chartiers Valley High School pool during the winter and Scott Park in the summer, dominated scholastic action and gained All-America status. Ian Shahan won state and district titles in the 100 butterfly and free while Karen Siddowy won PIAA AA titles in the 100 and 200 free.
Shahan’s high school teammate, Robert Spekis, also won WPIAL and state crowns in the breast. He took the bronze in the IM.
Jack Fitzpatrick was a state runner-up in the backstroke and bronze medalist in the IM. The All-American and USC graduate swims for Notre Dame.
On the female side, Trinity Ward of Mt. Lebanon capped her career with four WPIAL titles and two PIAA championships in the 100 fly. The University of Kentucky freshman also combined with Hannah Morelli, Maddie Dorish and Sophia Donati (Bucknell) to win the district and state crowns in the medley relay and capture All-America accolades.
Patrick Anderson set the pace locally, regionally and nationally in cross country.
The Mt. Lebanon senior capped an undefeated scholastic season by claiming his second straight PIAA championship. He smoked the competition by winning the race in Hershey with a 15:25.6 time, which was 25.2 seconds faster than his nearest competitor, Daniel McGoey from North Allegheny.
Anderson, who also won the WPIAL title and every other fall classic or invitational, then kept his winning streak alive when he captured first place in the 2019 Foot Locker North East Regional. On Nov. 30, he breezed to victory, covering the course at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx in 15:17. In the process, Anderson grabbed one of the Top 10 spots for the 2019 Foot Locker National Cross Country Championships.
During his second appearance at nationals, the North Carolina recruit took the bronze medal. On Dec. 14 at Balboa Park in San Diego, Anderson clocked in at 15:18 and out-leaned Graydon Morris of Texas for third place.
Notre Dame commit and Hersey, Ill., high school senior Josh Methner won the race in 15:08.8. The triumph came on the heels of Methner shattering Olympian Craig Virgin’s 47-year-old Illinois state record.
Anderson, who earned a WPIAL title in the 1,600-meter run, looks to close out his scholastic career with a PIAA title in track this spring.
4.Girl Power I
In 2019, Chartiers Valley and Peters Township flexed its muscles and reached perfection in girls basketball.
On March 22, the Indians defeated Garnet Valley, 62-49, in the Class 6A final at the Giant Center in Hershey. The triumph capped a 30-0 season for Peters, which also claimed a WPIAL championship.
In the PIAA final, Makenna Marisa, who has already broken into the starting line-up at Penn State, exploded for 29 points by connecting on 11 of 19 shot from the field, including 3 of 6 from beyond the arc, and 4-for-4 from the line. Case Western freshman Isabella Mills pumped in 14 points and grabbed six boards.
The following day, March 23, on the same court, the Colts became the fifth girls’ club to run the table. Like Peters, CV collected a PIAA trophy to go along with the WPIAL hardware and a 30-0 record.
In beating Archbishop Carroll, 53-40, in the Class 5A final, Mackenzie Wagner pumped in 24 points, dished up two assists, stole a pass and grabbed four rebounds. She converted 8 of 10 shots from the floor and was 6 of 8 from the line.
While Wagner is now playing at Loyola in Maryland, Megan McConnell, a Duquesne recruit, and Aislin Malcolm, a sophomore who averaged 11.6 points in 2019, have kept CV’s streak alive. The Colts enter 2020 riding a 36-game winning streak.
The Bruce family from Peters Township may be the first family of tennis as three of its members own PIAA championships, but the Indians pulled off a coup when siblings, Connor and Marra, combined with their respective teammates, Elian Ascenzio and Kat Wang, to win state doubles titles. It is the first time in the same calendar year that a brother-sister combo accomplished the feat.
On May 25 at the Hershey Racquet Club, Connor and Elian swept past Naman Dua and Colin Gramley, 6-3, 6-3, to win the Class AAA doubles crown. The victory avenged the pair’s loss to the Shadyside Academy tandem, 6-4, 6-3, in the WPIAL finals. Connor, who was a WPIAL singles champion before breaking his ankle in the spring, matriculated early to Dayton and will not return to either defend his doubles or his WPIAL singles titles. Elian, who is a junior, also excels on the Peters Township golf squad. The duo helped the Indians reach the semifinals in the WPIAL team championships.
Meanwhile, Nov. 2, Marra and Kat outlasted Kanon Ciarrocchi and Lucy Hederick of Radnor, 6-3, 3-6, 6-2, to claim the PIAA Class AAA girls’ doubles title. The pair also captured the WPIAL championship by dispatching Latrobe’s Jenna Bell and Carolin Walters, 6-2, 6-0, on Oct. 2 at the Oxford Athletic Club in Wexford. As PT’s No. 1 and No. 2 singles players, the twosome also guided the Indians to the WPIAL team title in a thrilling, 3-2, win against Fox Chapel.
6.Girl Power II
In girls cross country as well as track and field, South Fayette and Emily Carter were the big movers, respectively.
On May 25 Carter shattered the state record in capturing the gold medal in the 3,200-meter run during the PIAA track and field championships held at Shippensburg University. The Bethel Park junior won the eight-lap race in 10:16.02.
The mile run was impressive, too, as Carter captured the bronze medal with a personal best time of 4:53.87. That time was nearly six seconds faster than her WPIAL winning mark of 4:59.42.
A WPIAL double winner in both races, Carter, along with Patrick Anderson of Mt. Lebanon, placed in the top 6 among all high school runners during the New Balance Outdoor Nationals held June 13-16 in Greensboro, N.C. Carter finished fourth in the 5000-meter run and third in the two-mile event.
While Carter, who won every invitational until the WPIAL championships, was unable to garner the gold in cross country, the Lions captured team trophies at the district and state level.
With 66 points, South Fayette captured the PIAA Class AA title. Northern finished runner-up with a 71 score and Warrior Run followed in third with 110 points.
The Lions celebrated their first state title in girls cross country because of top 10 finishes by Lauren Iagnemma (bronze medal in 19:22) and Angelina Gabriel (ninth in 20:04). Despite losing her shoe early in the race, Hailey Poe, who competed in the junior national triathlon championships in August, finished 13th in 20:22 and Steff Kozak followed in 14th position with a lifetime best time of 20:23. Emma Fleck, Gabby Baiano and Morgan Lukenich also contributed.
The Lions also captured the WPIAL championship. Iagnemma and Poe finished third and fifth respectively to spearhead SF’s third straight title run.
On the boys side, South Fayette finished runner-up in the WPIAL and seventh overall in the state, thanks to Zach Conner’s and Aaron Skrerbetz’s Top 17 performances.
7.Owning the fairway
The Upper St. Clair girls golf team dominated the links while several area athletes excelled individually.
The Panthers earned PIAA runner-up and WPIAL championship laurels. At states, USC tied Hershey for second place as both teams carded 247 scores. Mount St. Joseph won the team championship with a 241.
Sara Steve led USC with an 80. Mary Groninger and Tori Slagle followed with an 82 and 85. Caroline Wright and Sarah Eccher also competed for the Lady Panthers, who were the WPIAL champions by virtue of a four-stroke, 340-344, win over North Allegheny. The Tigers were four-time champions until the Panthers knocked them off Oct. 10 on the Cedarbrook Red Course.
The USC boys finished runner-up to Fox Chapel, however, they were the only school in Pennsylvania with two golfers earning medals at the PIAA championships as Nathan Piatt and Scott Jordan each shot a two-day total of 149 to tie for 10th place.
While Piatt graduates and will continue his career at the University of Tampa, Jordan is a junior that secured the bronze medal during the WPIAL individual championships.
Meanwhile, Ella McRoberts was the third-place finisher on the female side during the district finals. The Peters Township junior went on to tie WPIAL champion, Isabella Walters from NA, for medalist honors at the Western Regional at Tom’s Run. Both fired 5-over 77 scores. McRoberts, who helped her team finish third in the district, placed eighth individually in the state championships.
8.Grappling with greatness
Jake Slinger of Upper St. Clair and Luke Stout from Mt. Lebanon ruled the mats as both managed the highest finishes on the local level in wrestling.
During 2019, Slinger won every tournament and match but his last. The heavyweight won a sectional and WPIAL title, but succumbed to Kawaun DeBoe from Cathedral Prep, 3-1, in the PIAA championship match March 9 at the Giant Center in Hershey.
With a 138-26 career record, Slinger finished his career as the all-time winningest wrestler in USC school history. He is currently wrestling at George Mason.
Stout lost his bid for a state title in the 182-pound weight class when he succumbed to defending champion Carter Starocci of Cathedral Prep, 7-1. Starocci represented the only blemishes on Stout’s 2019 season. He finished 42-2. Stout owned a 111-16 overall record heading into this season, where he is ranked by USA Today as one of the top high school wrestlers in the nation.
9.Shockwaves at the net
On Nov. 2, Canon-McMillan sent shock waves through the volleyball community when the Big Macs upended North Allegheny to win the WPIAL Quad-A championship. The victory at Fox Chapel High School snapped the Tigers’ 65-match winning streak, which dated back to 2016.
In five sets, C-M triumphed, 11-25, 25-23, 24-26, 25-17, 15-12.
Jenna Vogen, who had 18 digs, led with 17 kills and five service aces. Sam Parker and Morgan Galligan followed with six and five kills. Galligan dished up 29 assists and 25 digs. Katie Weston was tops with 26 digs. Vicky Manda and Sam Parker provided strong blocking and Lauren Reid also contributed six assists.
While the Big Macs lost in the PIAA opener, the Tigers rebounded to win the state championship.
In Class A, Bishop Canevin won its third straight WPIAL Class A volleyball title by beating Fort Cherry, 3-1. However, the Lady Crusaders lost their bid for a state championship when they fell to State College in the first round of the PIAA tournament.
On March 2, Mt. Lebanon defeated Butler, 62-57, at the Petersen Events Center to win the WPIAL Class 6A boys basketball title. It was the Blue Devils’ third district championship under head coach Joe David.
Sean Loughran, who walked onto the Dayton University team, tossed in 21 points to lead Lebo to victory.
Jake Hoffman joined Loughran in double figures. The junior tossed in 19 points. He buried five, 3-point field goals. His trey coupled with his ensuing steal and layup provided Lebo a 56-49 lead with 3:35 to play.
Hayden Mitchell led in rebounding with 10 boards. The senior also chipped in with seven points.
Gartley provided his steady guard play but it was back court partner Mike Palmer who stepped into the spotlight. The senior, who is playing football at John Carroll, pumped in 11 points, including five from six appearances at the charity stripe.
Stories not making the Top 10 but worth a mention:
- A pair of “golden goals” propelled Canon-McMillan to a 3-2 victory and prevented Mt. Lebanon from pocketing its 10th district title during the WPIAL Quad-A boys championship soccer match played Oct. 31 at Highmark Stadium. With 1:02 remaining in regulation, Luke Gladden scored the equalizer, forcing overtime and 2:06 into the extra period, Joey Fonagy notched the game winner for the Big Macs, earning them their third WPIAL crown since 2012.
- Peters Township football finished runner-up in the WPIAL after falling to Gateway, 21-20, in the Class 5A final played Nov. 23 at Norwin High School stadium. It was the first time in program history that the Indians had reached the finals.
- Peters Township relinquishing its field hockey title after falling to Pine-Richland, 2-0, in the WPIAL Class AAA girls final played Oct. 28 at Fox Chapel High School.
- South Fayette and Peters Township lost their bids for hockey championships. While the Lions lost to Montour, 6-3, in the Class AA final played March 19 at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry, the Indians dropped a 3-0 decision to North Allegheny in the Class AAA championship. Upper St. Clair also succumbed, falling to Pine-Richland, 7-5.
- In WPIAL Class AAA championship lacrosse action, Mt. Lebanon boys lost to Pine-Richland, 12-5, while the Upper St. Clair girls lost a heartbreaker, 11-10, in overtime to Shadyside Academy.
- Bethel Park finished fourth in the WPIAL after falling to North Allegheny, 17-6, in the consolation contest in the Class 6A baseball playoffs.
- Molly Mangan secured second in her premier event, the 300-meter intermediate hurdles, during the PIAA track and field championships. Her time of 42.76 was just off the state record pace of 41.96 set by Jane Livingston of Conestoga. Mangan was the WPIAL runner-up in the event.
During those championships held May 16 at Slippery Rock University, Mangan anchored Lebo’s 4-by-100 and 4-by-400 relays to victory. She combined with Patrice Smith, Flynn Begor and Jane Chavez for the win in the 4x100. The foursome set a school record of 48.24 before finishing eighth at the PIAA championships.
Mangan closed out the WPIAL meet teaming up with Smith, Alison Hodgson and Aoife-Ruby Dunne for the victory in the 4x400.
Bethel Park finished fifth after losing the tiebreaker for fourth place with Waynesburg during the WPIAL team rifle championships. Erin Rutherford, Marisol Casanova, Anthony Pusateri, Blake Hagerty, Kelly Katilius, Marissa Wycinsky, Eric Halligan, Travis Zeis, Xavier Gaefke and Sierra Kuzak shot in the finals for the Hawks, who were the Section 2 runners-up. Hempfield won the WPIAL title, edging Trinity, 800-62x to 799-54x.