A-K Valley sports year in review: 2018 brought more championships, memorable finishes
The past year produced memorable moments on the court, the field and the hardwood throughout the Alle-Kiski Valley. There were moments of individual and team greatness, from broken records to championship performances, and there were, of course, heartbreaking losses.
Here were the five moments that loomed especially large in the A-K Valley sports scene from 2018:
REID A STORY
A pulmonary embolism in his lung sidelined Kiski Area wrestler Isaac Reid until January. What he did after he returned made him a legendary Cavalier.
Reid became only the second wrestler in Kiski Area history to win a PIAA individual title, beating Cathedral Prep’s Kawaun DeBoe, 3-1, in the heavyweight final of the state Class AAA championships in Hershey in March.
“I can’t put into words how everything just worked out perfectly,” said Reid, who also won a WPIAL title during his unbeaten senior season and joined Matt McCutcheon as Kiski Area state champions.
Reid led a strong contingent of A-K Valley state medalists that also included Kiski Area’s Noah Levett (third) and Cam Connor (seventh); Burrell’s Ian Oswalt (fourth), Corey Christie (fifth), A.J. Corrado (seventh) and Shaun Gates (eighth); and Valley’s David Schuffert (seventh).
For the second consecutive season, the road to WPIAL wrestling glory ran through the Alle-Kiski Valley, as Burrell and Kiski Area claimed team championships.
Burrell won its record 12th straight WPIAL Class AA title, and Kiski Area defended its Class AAA championship and finished runner-up at the PIAA tournament.
“It’s awesome,” Burrell’s Shaun Gates said. “Even though we win all the time, I guess you could say, it’s always good to just keep going.”
Knoch made school history in 2017 by winning the school’s first WPIAL girls volleyball championship, and the Knights did it all over again in November, sweeping Thomas Jefferson to win their second straight Class AAA title.
A team led mostly by juniors came up just two wins shy of its second consecutive PIAA title, falling to Hickory in the state semifinals.
“I think they have enough confidence deep down that, when push comes to shove, they know they are going to pull through,” coach Diane Geist said.
Defending PIAA Class AA champion Freeport also advanced to the state semifinals before a loss to Bald Eagle ended its season.
Deer Lakes had some success on the soccer field before this fall, but the Lancers went above and beyond in 2018 with a storybook run to the PIAA Class AA championship game.
The Lancers, making their first appearance in the state tournament, reeled off three dramatic victories — all decided in the final minutes — to reach Hersheypark Stadium, where they suffered an overtime loss to Fleetwood.
“They made their hometown proud,” coach Jordan Wiegand said. “That’s not something that usually happens in that area, and I couldn’t be happier just to help guide these boys in the right direction.”
ONE GIANT LEAP
Darius Johnson saved his best high jump for the biggest moment.
The Valley senior leaped 6 feet, 7 inches, to win a PIAA Class AA individual championship at Shippensburg, completing a season that also saw Johnson also capture a WPIAL title.
“I have no words right now. I’m so happy,” Johnson said. “I want to cry, but I’m trying to keep all those emotions in.”
Freeport junior Sidney Shemanski came close to a state title of her own, finishing second in the girls 800-meter run.
Leechburg’s Mikayla Lovelace graduated as one of the Alle-Kiski Valley’s most prolific scorers in girls basketball, becoming just the third player in local history to surpass 2,000 career points and helping to engineer a remarkable turnaround for Leechburg from struggling program to WPIAL contender.
The Highlands boys basketball team went on another deep postseason run, advancing to the WPIAL Class 5A semifinals and PIAA quarterfinals. The Golden Rams were one of six A-K Valley teams to reach the state playoffs, joined by the Fox Chapel, Leechburg, Springdale and Valley boys and the Leechburg girls.
Leechburg’s football team flashed back to the 1990s this season, posting the program’s first .500 record since 1992. The Blue Devils’ five wins included victories over local rivals Apollo-Ridge, Riverview and Springdale, and with a high number of returning underclassmen, they will aim for more in 2019.
Freeport’s softball team posted an undefeated regular season on its way to a Section 1-3A championship and advanced to the WPIAL semifinals.
Local broadcasting legend Bob Tatrn, who died in late July at the age of 78, was among the notable off-the-field losses in the Alle-Kiski Valley.