For the first time in an illustrious wrestling program, Waynesburg won the PIAA Class 3A team title with a 42-3 rout of Central Dauphin at Cumberland Valley High School.
The Raiders earned the right to battle for the title with a 50-13 rout of Williamsport in the semifinals.
Waynesburg finished in second place the previous season, falling to Nazareth in the finals.
The Raiders had 12 section champions out of the 13 weight classes.
Waynesburg finished with 100 points in the PIAA individual tournament team standings with three state champions and two runners-up. Hempfield was a distant second with 57 points.
Wyatt Henson won his second consecutive PIAA gold medal, winning the title at 138 pounds. Mac Church (120) and Luca Augustine (172) were the Raiders’ other state champions.
Cole Homet (138) and Rocco Welsh (152) finished in second place at Hershey.
In the WPIAL Team Tournament, the Raiders ravaged Seneca Valley, 67-3, in the finals. Seneca Valley only had a handful of regular starters, which was more than the number of fans who showed up to cheer them on. The 67 points set a WPIAL record for points in team tournament finals.
COVID-19 crisis rolls on
The COVID-19 pandemic continued to impact sports at all levels in 2021.
Back in January, the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference already had shut down its winter sports seasons while the Presidents’ Athletic Conference opted to allow its members to play one basketball game against each league opponent and then held a postseason tournament to determine a champion. Most games were played as scheduled, a few were canceled because of COVID outbreaks.
In the WPIAL, there was no significant change in the schedules as the calendar turned to 2021, though events were held with capacity limitations for gymnasiums, and some schools required athletes to wear masks while others did not.
Spring began with the PAC schools playing its rescheduled 2020 football season on Friday nights, meaning underclassmen would have a short offseason in 2021.
When COVID cases dropped significantly with the arrival of warm weather, the Frontier League began play in June, two weeks later than it originally planned.
While the high school and college football seasons, along with the other fall-sports seasons started on time, the WPIAL had a spattering of COVID-related cancelations. At least one local high school football game was canceled in seven of the regular season’s 10 weeks. Some teams even suggested that opponents were using COVID as an excuse to cancel games it did not want to play.
As the omicron variant unleashed another round of COVID late this fall, a small number of area high school events have been postponed in the current winter sports seasons.
Joe Throckmorton resigns
This should have been an offseason of celebration for Joe Throckmorton, who as head coach guided Waynesburg High School to the program’s first PIAA Team Tournament title after a 42-3 wipeout of Central Dauphin at Cumberland Valley High School.
Instead, that match would be the final one Throckmorton would coach at the school. Over the summer, the 59-year-old coach was cited for a bizarre occurrence at the Green Cove Marina in Clarksville in August. Throckmorton was charged with conspiracy to commit theft by unlawful taking, criminal mischief and receiving stolen property by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.
Throckmorton submitted a letter of resignation at the next school board meeting. Kyle Szewczyk, a long-time assistant under Throckmorton, was later hired as his replacement.
Kathy McConnell-Miller followed her heart and not the prestige of coaching a junior college program in a sun-splashed state when she said no to the people at Gulf Coast State College in Panama City, Fla, and decided to stay as head girls basketball coach at Trinity High School. The bags were packed but she wasn’t ready to leave. The Florida school had already announced her hiring and invited her down for a look and Trinity was gearing up a search for a new head coach after McConnell-Miller resigned her coaching position.
Just two weeks later, McConnell-Miller had a change of heart returned to the Trinity program.
“Anyone who knows me knows the significance of my family,” McConnell-Miller said. “I value the opportunity to work with these young women.”
Instead of working in the sunny climes of Florida, McConnell-Miller chose to stay in moody Western Pennsylvania.
McConnell-Miller guided Trinity to a 42-7 record, two trips to the WPIAL Class 5A finals and one berth in the state tournament in her first two seasons with the Hillers.
This past season, Trinity easily won the Section 3 championship, winning all 12 league games. The Hillers returned to the WPIAL Class 5A title game, losing again to Chartiers Valley.
West Greene softball
That’s what West Greene softball players could have said after a 17-2 dismantling of Union in the WPIAL Class A finals at Lilley Field on the campus of California University in June. It was the fifth WPIAL title for the Pioneers.
The Pioneers tied Sto-Rox (2000-04) and Hempfield (2015-19) for the most consecutive softball titles in district history. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic closing down spring sports in 2020, West Greene has been the reining champs longer than any other team in WPIAL history.
Behind the hitting of Jersey Wise, the pitching of Kiley Meek and a defense that was spectacular at times and just plain outstanding the rest of the way, West Greene made it back to the state finals for the first time since 2018.
And there was only heartbreak there, especially in the bottom of the seventh inning
West Greene allowed two runs, the final one on a one-out double to the right-centerfield gap by No. 9 hitter Allison Huhn that gave Tri-Valley a 2-1 victory and the state’s Class A title.
This was the fourth time West Greene reached the finals and the Pioneers are 2-2 in the big game. Tri-Valley, the District 11 champion with a 25-2 record, was making its first trip to the championship game.
Trinity girls basketball
The 2020-21 season for the Trinity girls basketball team was one worth savoring, even if it did end on a sour note.
The Hillers produced perhaps the biggest victory by any local team, their 21 wins were the most in the area and four of their seniors have gone on to play college basketball.
Trinity defeated eventual state Class 5A runner-up Chartiers Valley by a 49-42 score on Jan. 23 at Hiller Hall, ending the Colts’ state record 64-game winning streak. It was part of a 17-game winning streak for Trinity, which ended the season with a 21-2 record. The Hillers rolled to the Class 5A Section 3 title, winning all 12 league games, and outscored their opponents by an average of 36 points per game.
During the postseason, in the WPIAL’s first open basketball playoffs since 1984, Trinity defeated Mars, Fox Chapel and Woodland Hills, each by at least 21 points before getting a second meeting with Chartiers Valley in the finals at Peters Township High School’s new gymnasium. This time, Chartiers Valley got the best of Trinity, 62-40.
Because of the pandemic, only the WPIAL champion advanced to the state tournament, meaning the Hillers were left out of the PIAA playoffs.
Four times the Wild Things have made it to the Frontier League’s finals. Four times they have fallen short. The most recent close call came this summer when Washington lost Games 4 and 5 of the finals, both at home, to the Schaumburg Boomers.
Back on July 5, when the Wild Things were nine games behind first-place Sussex County in the Northeast Division, nobody was expecting playoff baseball. Washington, however, under first-year manager Tom Vaeth, made an unlikely late-season charge that netted it the division title four days before the end of the regular season.
In the opening round of the playoffs, Washington fell behind 2-1 to Quebec in a best-of-5 series, then won two straight on the road, including a 4-0 shutout in Game 5 behind the pitching of Rob Whalen, who struck out 11 in eight innings. Whalen was signed in August and became the first former major leaguer to play for the Wild Things.
Washington pitcher Ryan Hennen was named both the Frontier League’s Pitcher of the Year and its Rookie of the Year, posting an 11-3 record and league-best 2.11 ERA. Relief pitcher James Meeker, who did not allow a run in 31 2/3 innings, had his contract sold to the Milwaukee Brewers in August. Another Wild Things reliever, Zach Strecker, set the Frontier League’s career record for saves with 74.
He won the Kentucky Futurity and Breeders Crown championships this fall. And now Jujubee has been voted the top 3-year-old colt trotter of the year by the U.S. Harness Writers Association.
Jujubee – stabled at The Meadows and trained by Greg Wright Jr. – rolled in the finals of both of Standardbred racing’s most prestigious races.
Jujubee was the top money-earning male trotter this year, with $948,791. He won 14 times in 2021 and finished no worse than second in 17 of 18 races. In addition to his Breeders Crown ($650,000) and Kentucky Futurity ($561,000) victories, Jujubee won the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes final ($253,000) and Phil Langley Memorial.
The colt won the Kentucky Futurity, the third leg of trotting’s Triple Crown, in 1:49.3 and the Muscle Hill Trot in 1:49.4 to become the first 3-year-old male trotter with two sub-1:50 winning miles.
Jujubee is the first Meadows-stabled horse to win the Kentucky Futurity.
Belle Vernon football
For the first 13 weeks of the high school football season, the Belle Vernon Leopards were an unstoppable force with a high-scoring, quick-striking offense and dynamic quarterback leading the way.
The Leopards rolled to an 8-0 record in the regular season and won the Class 5A Big Eight Conference title. Belle Vernon defeated conference rival and longtime nemesis Thomas Jefferson in the regular season, 28-21, in dramatic fashion when quarterback Devin Whitlock scrambled 40 yards for a game-winning touchdown with only 4.5 seconds remaining.
On a team filled with playmakers, Whitlock was the most dangerous. He rushed for 1,189 yards and passed for 1,023 yards and nine scores. Also a dangerous punt returner, Whitlock returned three for scores, covering 67, 76 and 67 yards. He scored 27 total touchdowns and 162 points, the latter number ranking third in the O-R’s coverage area. He was named the O-R’s Football Player of the Year.
In the postseason, the Leopards were seeded No. 1 in the Class 5A field. They received a first-round bye, then routed New Castle and defeated Thomas Jefferson for a second time to advance to Heinz Field for the WPIAL championship game. For the second consecutive year, Belle Vernon had its season ended by Aliquippa, 28-13. The Leopards finished the year with a 10-1 record and averaged 38 points per game.
Menear’s state title
As one fo the smallest public schools in Pennsylvania, it’s difficult for Mapletown to win when it comes to swimming. The Maples, after all, do not have an official swimming team and the high school doesn’t even have a pool.
That didn’t stop Ella Menear from putting Mapletown on the swimming map when she won the school’s first state title in any sport. The sophomore won the gold medal when she finished first with a time of 54.99 in the 100-yard backstroke during the PIAA Class 2A Championships. Menear also earned a bronze medal in the 200 individual medley in 2:05.64.
Those performances came on the heels of her two WPIAL gold medals. During those finals held at Upper St. Clair High School, Menear set a pair of pool records in winning the 200 IM in 2:04.54 and the backstroke in 54.88.