There is no erasing COVID-19’s impact on the local sports community and the world at large in 2020. But amidst the global pandemic, there were plenty of memorable performances and noteworthy achievements in local high school sports, as well as a few headlines involving local colleges and area alumni in the the professional ranks.
So, in (roughly) chronological order, here’s our pick for twenty reasons to remember 2020 while we shove it out the door and urgently usher in 2021.
YAZID POWELL, CCBC GO ALL OUT TO HONOR KOBE BRYANT
When Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash in January, tributes popped up around the globe to honor the NBA star and cultural icon. CCBC freshman Yazid Powell, who grew up close to Bryant’s old neighborhood in Philadelphia, found a way to do something special to honor his idol. With the help of his teammates and CCBC’s up-tempo, aggressive style, Powell scored 81 points against Butler Community College to match Bryant’s career high. The story earned regional and national attention as one of the more unique tributes to the Lakers legend.
A BREAKTHROUGH FOR QUAKER VALLEY WRESTLING
When Quaker Valley launched its wrestling program four years ago, it set a high bar. Backed by a strong and growing youth program, the Quakers believed they could contend for WPIAL and eventually state titles in short fashion. With a 52-37 win over McGuffey in the WPIAL Class 2A team tournament in February, Quaker Valley earned its first major breakthrough win – a bronze medal in the team championships and the first state playoff berth in program history.
A GOLDEN MOMENT FOR AUSTIN WALLEY
Steady improvement led to Austin Walley making a bit of Ellwood City history in February. Wrestling at 182 pounds, Walley won the WPIAL Class 2A title to become the first Wolverine wrestler to win a gold medal. He topped that achievement a couple weeks later, defeating previously unbeaten Dylan Bennett of Montoursville to bring home the program’s first state title.
THRICE IS NICE FOR SCHULTEIS
While Walley was winning his first WPIAL title, Trent Schultheis was busy winning his third. The Freedom wrestler captured his third straight title by technical fall and put himself in position to make history. Schultheis enters the 2020-21 season with a chance to become the first Beaver County wrestler – and the 28th in WPIAL history – to win four WPIAL titles. Other WPIAL winners in 2020 included Freedom’s Kenny Duschek (who will wrestle this year at Blackhawk) and Quaker Valley’s Donovan Cutchember.
HUANG GOES BACK-TO-BACK
Isabel Huang made waves as a freshman when she won gold in the 200 meter individual medley and 100 meter backstroke at the WPIAL Swimming and Diving Championships. Turns out, she may have just been getting started. Huang defended her titles again in 2020, winning the 200 individual medley with a time of 2:12.62 and winning the backstroke with a time of 57 seconds. The Sewickley Academy/Quaker Valley junior is in prime position to defend her titles again this year.
ROCHESTER, OLSH CONTINUE WINNING WAYS
Two years ago, the Rochester girls basketball and OLSH boys basketball team both became WPIAL champions for the first time. Two years later, both programs are in prime position for a three-peat thanks to their success in 2020. Rochester beat West Greene for the second consecutive year, winning the WPIAL Class 1A title by a 59-43 margin. With senior guard Alexis Robison and junior point guard Corynne Hauser back, the Rams are a heavy favorite to become only the second Beaver County girls team to win three straight WPIAL titles. OLSH, meanwhile, rode the terrific tandem of Dante Spadafora and Jake DiMichele to its second straight title, defeating Sto-Rox 81-72. With those two prolific scorers back, OLSH should be a tough out again in Class 2A.
CORNELL TRIO STICKS TOGETHER
Cornell didn’t win a WPIAL boys basketball title, but the Raiders still had one of the best stories of the 2019-20 season. Behind five seniors, including the trio of stars Kaden DiVito, Zaier Harrison and Isaiah Langston, the Raiders reached the WPIAL championship game and were still alive in the state playoffs when the season was canceled. Each of DiVito, Harrison and Langston scored over 1,000 points in their careers, and they decided to stay together beyond Cornell. DiVito and Langston will play basketball at Washington & Jefferson College, while Harrison will play football there, with the door open to possibly join the basketball team.
When Quigley Catholic closed its doors for the final time in June, it ended a tradition of underdog athletic programs finding their way to success in WPIAL sports. From the 1978-79 WPIAL championship football teams to the sustained success of the girls basketball program under Dan Donawitz and Bill DelTondo to the late emergence of the baseball program under Kip Richeal, Quigley routinely found a way to win despite its small enrollment. The remaining students have scattered to other schools, but the legacy will remain.
HENDRICK PICKED BY THE REDS
West Allegheny outfielder Austin Hendrick became the sixth WPIAL player to be selected in the first round of the MLB Draft when he was selected with the No. 12 overall pick by the Cincinnati Reds in June. Hendrick signed with the Reds a few weeks later for a reported $4 million bonus, launching his professional career. He is the second area prospect to go in the first round in the last four years, following Tampa’s selection of Blackhawk’s Brendan McKay with the fourth overall pick in 2017.
A DIAMOND SUMMER
Thanks to the tireless efforts of Rich Rowe, Norm Kraus, Amy Haggart, Bill Littler, and others, local baseball and softball players had a chance to play this summer. Following the cancelation of spring sports, Haggart and Littler were among those who helped put together a summer softball season. The league enabled high school seniors to play one last time with their high school teammates, and it also served as a developmental program for underclassmen. Meanwhile, Rowe and Kraus helped soften the cancelation of the American Legion season by expanding the Beaver County Colt League to include those teams and players. It led to outstanding baseball, including a fantastic championship capped by a duel between Blackhawk and New Brighton.
HALL CALL FOR COVERT
Long considered overdue, Jimbo Covert finally got the call he’d been waiting for. The Freedom Area graduate became the fifth Beaver County native to be selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, joining Joe Namath (Beaver Falls), Mike Ditka (Aliquippa), Tony Dorsett (Hopewell), and Ty Law (Aliquippa). Covert was one of the top linemen in the NFL in the 1980s and won a Super Bowl with the Bears in 1985. He’ll just have to wait for the induction ceremony – scheduled for this summer, it has been postponed to 2021.
COCHRAN GOLD AGAIN
Moon junior Mia Cochran has enjoyed early success in both track and cross country, and the distance runner added to her medal collection in 2020. Cochran won her second straight WPIAL Class 3A cross country title and then won her second consecutive state title. In the process, she became the second female runner from the WPIAL to win back-to-back state titles in the state’s largest classification. She’ll be a threat to win more medals in the distance events in track in the spring.
SEWICKLEY GOLD IN GOLF AGAIN
The Sewickley Academy boys golf team extended its reign atop the WPIAL by winning its eighth straight WPIAL championship. Playing in tough conditions, Sewickley was able to avenge regular season losses to Quaker Valley and win by 18 strokes. Senior Tim Fitzgerald experienced individual success, too, as he won gold in the WPIAL individual championships.
BULGER DEFENDS TITLE
Eva Bulger surprised the WPIAL golf world when she won the WPIAL girls individual championship as a freshman. Her second title was less surprising, though the Quaker Valley sophomore had to fend off a late charge from Greensburg Central Catholic’s Meghan Zambruno to do it. She stayed poised and won by two strokes.
PAIR OF FIRSTS FOR OLSH, SOUTH SIDE GIRLS SOCCER
Few eyes were on the South Side girls soccer team when the WPIAL playoffs began, but the Rams quickly drew attention. The No. 12 seeded Rams knocked off No. 5 Sewickley Academy and No. 13 Serra Catholic to reach the WPIAL semifinals for the first time in program history. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Class 1A bracket, OLSH defeated No. 3 Freedom and No. 2 Steel Valley to reach the WPIAL championship for the first time in program history. The Chargers pushed Greensburg Central Catholic to the limits in the WPIAL championship game, falling 3-2.
THIRD TIME’S THE CHARM FOR WARRIORS
They were heavy favorites all season long and trailed at halftime, but Central Valley found a way to finally win its first state football title. Down 14-7 at the half to Wyomissing Area, Central Valley rallied to score 21 consecutive points and eventually secure the 35-21 victory. It was the third trip to the state championship for Central Valley, which had lost to Wyoming Area 21-14 the year prior and to Archbishop Wood in 2014. Quarterback Ameer Dudley was later crowned the Class 3A state Player of the Year and Mark Lyons was named the Class 3A Coach of the Year.
BEAVER FALLS ON TOP AGAIN
A process that began with Nick Nardone’s ascension to head coach in the spring of 2017 culminated with seniors Josh Hough, Shileak Livingston, Mitchell Myers, Nate Harris and Tyler Jones holding aloft the WPIAL Class 2A championship trophy. The 43-30 win over Sto-Rox was the fifth WPIAL title in program history. Hough, Myers and Jones earned all-state recognition for their play, and Hough became the program’s all-time leading rusher after rushing for 2,043 yards as a senior.
STREAK CONTINUES FOR QUIPS
For the 13th consecutive season, Aliquippa found its way to a WPIAL championship game. The Quips’ streak is all the more remarkable considering it spans multiple classifications – it began with an appearance in the Class 2A title game, continued through the Quips’ run in Class 3A, and now includes a Class 4A appearance against Thomas Jefferson. Though Aliquippa fell 35-28 in overtime to eventual state champion Thomas Jefferson, the Quips’ success showed that they could compete in Class 4A after being forced to move up due to the PIAA’s competition formula.
JORDAN WHITEHEAD LEADS NFL CONTINGENT
Central Valley graduate Jordan Whitehead has firmly established himself as a starter in the NFL. As the regular season enters its final two weeks, the third-year pro has started every game at safety for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Whitehead is fifth on the team in tackles with 65, recorded the first two sacks of his career, and has a pair of interceptions. Elsewhere, fellow Central Valley alum Robert Foster has landed with Washington following a brief stint earlier this year with Green Bay. Unfortunately, Moon alum A.Q. Shipley saw his career come to an end due to a neck injury suffered while playing with Tampa this season. Shipley stayed with the team and has shifted into a coaching role. Meanwhile, rookie corner Dane Jackson turned heads in four midseason games in Buffalo. Pressed into service due to injuries, the Quaker Valley/Cornell grad stepped up with 12 tackles and his first career interception. He’s back on the bench now that everyone is healthy, but the performance should bode for a longer look in 2021.
FOOTBALL COACHES RETIRE
Finally, 2020 saw three football coaches leave the field for what could be the final time. Beaver’s Jeff Beltz, Western Beaver’s Ryan Matsook, and Riverside’s Ron Sciarro all resigned after the season. Beltz ended his 21-year run at Beaver to take an administrative job in the Moon Area School District. He finished his tenure with a 134-85 record and 14 playoff appearances. At Western Beaver, Matsook stepped in after Derek Moye resigned last year. In 11 previous seasons at Beaver Falls, he compiled a 101-26 record. The Golden Beavers went 6-2 under him this season. He resigned to take a job as assistant high school principal at Moon. Sciarro, meanwhile, quietly submitted his resignation at the end of the season. Sciarro’s second stint at Riverside – he previously coached the Panthers from 1987-94, reaching the WPIAL Class 2A championship three times – saw him go 34-19 in five seasons.