As we say goodbye to 2021 and usher in 2022, here is the obligatory look back at some of the top stories of the past year in District 9 sports:
COVID CHAOS: Pandemic not done.
It wouldn’t be an end-of-the-year list without the pandemic making an appearance. COVID-19 wreaked havoc with schedules at the beginning of the fall, and some programs were hit harder than others.
Like the Central Clarion football team.
The Wildcats had a scrimmage against Redbank Valley scuttled. Then, their Week 1 opponent, Punxsutawney, canceled less than 24 hours before kickoff, leaving Central Clarion scrambling for someone to play.
The Wildcats ended up playing at Slippery Rock.
A week later, it happened again when Moniteau had to cancel.
That made things much tougher this season for first-year coach Dave Eggleton.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Eggleton said at the time. “I don’t know what to tell the kids.”
Football wasn’t the only sport affected. Several volleyball teams also had to deal with COVID issues.
Keystone had a long layoff because of postponements caused by quarantines and then had to play a stretch of eight matches in 11 days to catch up.
Karns City played several matches without key players — and its head coach, who was in quarantine.
RECORDS ARE MEANT TO BE BROKEN: A-C Valley’s Levi Orton, Karns City’s Chase Beighley move to top of boys basketball scoring lists at their schools.
They piled up more than 3,400 points between them. They left a legacy at their schools that will be hard to match.
Orton blitzed the record books at A-C Valley and eventually overtook Sean Foust in March. Orton finished with 1,703 career points.
Beighley also zeroed in on the top spot of the all-time scoring list at Karns City. The point guard blew past Tyler Callihan in February and finished his career with 1,697 points.
THE NATURAL: Natalie Bowser’s mind-boggling softball season at Keystone.
The statistics didn’t look real.
Bowser batted .766 with 14 home runs and 48 RBI in just 19 games as a junior. She hit as many homers as she made OUTS during the season. She went deep in eight consecutive games at one point and was also a dominating pitcher to boot.
“I’ve been coaching for more than 20 years,” said Keystone softball coach John Stiglitz. “I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s incredible.”
To Bowser, the whole season was like a blur. She said she knew she was playing well, but even she didn’t realize how epic her campaign truly was.
“When you have an eight-game home run streak, you kind of can see something’s clicking right with your swing,” she said. “That’s probably when I saw how amazing my season was gonna be.”
HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMP: Brookville’s Nathan Taylor caps big season with state wresting title at 285 pounds.
Taylor went 31-1 and won a Class 2A championship after placing fourth as a junior.
Taylor finished his career with the Raiders with a record of 87-24.
GRAND, GRAND, GRAND, GRAND ‘OL TIME: Karns City and Redbank Valley have pair of players in different sports reach mark in same game.
Karns City head football coach Joe Sherwin and offensive coordinator Zach Kepple knew it had been quite some time since the Gremlins had two 1,000-yard rushers in the same season. So, they asked around and looked it up.
It had been a long time, all right. About 40 years to be exact.
Joe Kepple and Brad Sherwin each reached 1,000 yards on the ground in the early 1980s.
Luke Garing and Jayce Anderson came along this year and did it, too. But they did it in the same game.
Garing was the bruiser of the two. At 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, the senior was virtually unstoppable in short-yardage situations — or, well, any situation when he got a full head of steam.
“He’s not going backwards,” said Ridgway coach Mark Heindl of Garing.
Garing finished the season with 1,031 yards and 25 touchdowns.
Anderson was more of the shifty back, but could also put his head down. He ended up with 1,033 yards and 10 scores.
Both backs reached 1,000 yards against Ridgway in the Class 2A district championship game.
Reaching the century mark seemed to be a theme in 2021.
A pair of Redbank Valley players did it, too.
Close friends Bryson Bain and Chris Marshall each reached 1,000 career points in basketball in the same game at home against Cranberry earlier this month.
Bain got his 1,000th point first. A few minutes later, Marshall reached the milestone.
“It means a lot, especially to do it with my best friend,” Bain said. “It’s just awesome how we were able to do it the same night. We’ve been dreaming about this for a long time.”
More on Bain and Marshall later. …
KC MASTERPIECES: The Karns City girls soccer team reclaims District 9 crown while young boys soccer team conquers district again.
Since they lost to Clearfield the season before in the Class 2A district girls soccer championship match, the Gremlins were on a mission of revenge.
They wanted that crown back. In the worst way.
The season was all about getting back to that title match, presumably against that old nemesis Clearfield, and that’s exactly what happened.
It was a classic.
Sarah Dodd buried a penalty shot just over the outstretched hand of Clearfield keeper Allison Shipley with a little less than two minutes remaining in overtime for a 3-2 win to give Karns City the crown again.
Senior keeper Rossi McMillen had 31 saves in the victory for the Gremlins.
“Words can’t describe what this means to me and to this team to beat Clearfield this year,” McMillen said.
The Karns City boys ,with a roster full of young talent, also won the district title with a 4-0 blanking of St. Marys.
It was the second straight championship for the Gremlins, but this one was a little extra special with just one senior in the starting lineup.
“We had fun and they grew,” said Karns City boys coach Jim Grenninger. “There’s no egos. I have eight guys who have five or more goals and four of them with over 12 goals, so we’re sharing the ball and passing, getting work done night after night.”
A SPECIAL GOAL: McKenna Martin reaches 100 career goals to cap emotional quest.
Long before her junior season on the pitch at Karns City was set to begin, Martin was gunning to get 100 career goals.
Not out of some sense of ego, or to thump her chest and brag.
She wanted to do it for her mother, Stacy, who is battling stage IV breast cancer.
Martin accomplished her mission Oct. 6 against Forest. Her mom was there to celebrate with her.
“It meant the world for her to be there and experience it with me,” McKenna said. “She’s the strongest person I know. She’s been through so much and done it all with a smile on her face. She never misses a beat. I was so happy that I got to experience such a huge goal with her.”
SWIMMING NOMADS: Baily Trettle wins two events, Katelyn Reott one for Moniteau at District 9 meet despite not having a team or a pool.
It’s difficult to swim without a pool.
Just ask Moniteau swimmers Trettle and Reott. Yet they managed to do it.
Trettle won district titles in the 100 backstroke and 100 freestyle and Reott won a district crown in the 50 freestyle despite Moniteau not having a swim team. They latched on with whatever swim program would let them compete with them. They fared well.
Trettle is now swimming at Division I Saint Francis University.
BANNER ACHIEVEMENT: The Keystone volleyball team wins first District 9 championship in 29 years.
Hanging in the Keystone High School gymnasium is a banner celebrating the only Panther team to win a district crown.
That came in 1992.
Keystone wanted to add another banner to the wall. To do it, they had to overcome much in 2021, and they answered the call each time.
The biggest thing they had to conquer was history — it had been 29 years without a title. The Panthers came painfully close in 2020, falling to Redbank Valley.
This, though, was their year.
Keystone dispatched Redbank Valley in the title match with a sweep behind a balanced and potent team led by Jozee Weaver, Leah Exley and Sydney Bell at the net.
“We came to play,” Weaver said. “It was nice to do it in three sets. We were here to win. We knew we were gonna win it.”
“We knew in our hearts we were going to get it,” Exley said. “We just had so much energy and belief.”
OLYMPIC DREAM: Michael Shuey competes in Tokyo Summer Games.
The St. Marys native had finally made it to the Summer Olympics in the javelin.
It didn’t all go to plan.
Shuey was injured on his first throw of Group A qualifying. His right knee buckled. He tried to compete through the pain, but it hindered him so profoundly that he faulted on all his throws.
He competed with a knee sleeve given to him by a competitor from Finland — a show of Olympic sportsmanship.
Shuey is determined to get back Paris for the 2024 Summer Games.
IMPROBABLE RUN: Brookville boys basketball team advances to PIAA Class 3A championship game.
The Raiders got hot at the right time and won some epic playoff games to reach Hershey.
Brookville had to rally from a double-digit deficit to eke past Chestnut Ridge in the PIAA Class 3A playoffs.
The Raiders had to pull out a thriller against Ellwood City in the quarterfinals.
In the semifinals, Brookville again had to win a wild game against Bishop Guilfoyle to get to the state title game.
The Raiders, though, ran out of gas in Hershey, falling to Loyalsock, 75-53.
DREAM SEASON IN THE VALLEY: Redbank Valley football team reaches PIAA Class A title game.
It was one of those falls on the banks for the Redbank Creek.
It was full of intrigue, featuring a shocking season-opening loss, a play that made ESPN, an interception return for a touchdown that will be talked about for decades, and a run to the state title game that made history, all under the shroud of a teachers’ strike.
It didn’t start like a dream for Redbank. In Week 1, the Bulldogs fell to rival Keystone 22-20, raising some serious doubts.
Those were quickly dashed. Redbank Valley rolled off 13 straight wins after that setback.
“That opening-season loss to Keystone — I was worried I was going to lose those guys,” said Redbank Valley football coach Blane Gold. “And here we are heading to Hershey.”
Bain led the offense at quarterback, winning the job in camp after not playing football before his senior season. He turned in an all-state campaign.
Along the way, the Bulldogs made ESPN. They had a kickoff return for a touchdown by Aiden Ortz on a trick play against Otto-Eldred that was SportCenter’s No. 10 Top Play of the Night.
They rolled into the playoffs and then showed their grit by rallying from 14 points down to beat Port Allegany. They held off feisty Union/A-C Valley for the district championship and then rallied twice against Northern Beford to move on in the state playoffs.
The game of the year was the state semifinal against Bishop Canevin. With Canevin poised to take a two touchdown lead, Marshall stepped in front of a pass by Jason Cross at his own 3 and sprinted 97 yards for a touchdown that turned the tide of the game and sent Redbank Valley on the way to Hershey.
Redbank became the first D9 team to make it to the PIAA title game in football since Smethport did it in 1992.
The Bulldogs lost to Bishop Guilfoyle in that state title game, but the journey that took them there will never be forgotten.
“The most memorable things for me are what they did to overcome adversity and what they did to battle back,” Gold said. “That’s what football is all about.
“I thought last year that senior group was going to be hard to replace,” Gold added. “Each senior group is unique in their own ways. But, I mean, this senior group took us to a place that it’s never been before. …”
REPEAT: Clarion volleyball team wins PIAA Class A championship … again.
Not long after winning the title in 2020, members of the Clarion volleyball team set their sights on winning it again.
It would cement their legacy. It would establish them as perhaps the best volleyball team in district history. They were not going to be denied.
They put their time in. Hit the gym. Honed their skills. Senior Noel Anthony spent the summer in an advanced course in setting to replace Brenna Campbell and didn’t miss a beat. Korrin Burns was as dominant as ever at the net. Libero Jordan Best covered the court. Aryana Girvan and Payton Simko provided hitting threats to keep the pressure of Burns.
What resulted was two straight years of unrivaled dominance at the state level after a sweep of Sacred Heart Academy in the state title match. The winning streak reached 44. Over that span, the Bobcats won 132 of the 134 sets they played.
“I’m gonna try my best not to cry,” Burns said. She failed — one of her few failures during the season. “This has been a big part of my life for four years. It’s just been an amazing journey.”
BEST OF THE REST: There were undoubtably other moments and achievements that didn’t make this list. To anyone who accomplished something great, or just something that made him or her proud, Happy New Year and good luck in 2022.