Freshman athletes make immediate contributions for A-K Valley teams
Josh Beale remembers long-ago stroller rides to Freeport football and basketball games as a sometimes bundled-up and often desensitized still-in-diapers toddler.
“My mom would bring me to games and put cotton balls in my ears so all the noise wouldn't bother me,” Beale said.
The now 6-foot-2, 215-pound freshman also cut his teeth as a ball boy in basketball and football.
Now, he's getting his chance to play, and he's making noise at the varsity level. Beale is a key left guard while also handling the long-snapping duties and kicking the extra points for the Yellowjackets (6-1).
“He seems to be getting better every game,” Freeport coach John Gaillot said. “He still is working on the semantics. He has held his own.”
Beale's progress has contributed to a spike in A-K Valley freshmen talent. Every fall sport has an impact ninth-grader.
A classmate of Beale's is attracting attention because of her thundering spikes over the volleyball net. Zoe Pawlak also has made her presence known early for Freeport, which has grown into a Class AA power under 12th-year coach Tom Phillips.
An A-K volleyball official said the 5-foot-9 Pawlak hits with the authority of a boy.'s volleyball player.
“She has grown and blossomed to become the most complete player I have coached,” Phillips said. “She can play any position on the floor.”
Freeport has another rising freshman in 5-10 outside hitter Morgan Ruppersberger.
Phillips hasn't had a four-year starter since former all-state outside hitter Carlie Bieranowski, who played a few years ago.
Some freshmen, such as Riverview's Molly Kennedy, are playing two sports. A rising cross country runner, she also plays on the volleyball team.
Then there's Fox Chapel's frosh tennis duo of Laurel Shymansky and Lacey Cohen, who faced off in the WPIAL Section 3-AAA singles finals and teamed to capture the section doubles title.
“They have put in the hours training for years and are seeing the fruits of their labor,” Fox Chapel coach Alex Slezak said. “The credit goes to them for their hard work and sacrifices. I just try to provide opportunities for them to continue improving. Wins such as the section singles and doubles championship builds lasting confidence.”
Other local freshmen also have started scrapbooks:
• Kiski Area running back Lincoln Clayton is gaining momentum and staking a claim to be the team's feature back for years to come. He ran for 187 yards and three touchdowns against Norwin.
• Elayna Burdelski guards the net for the Class AAA No. 3-ranked Fox Chapel girls soccer team. The defense has been stellar in front of her, and she's helped the Foxes post 11 shutouts. Her freshman teammates, Madelyn Coulson and Taylor Cohen, also have had strong seasons.
• Freeport's Audrey Clawson started on the boys golf team that advanced to the WPIAL Class AA team finals. She also advanced to the girls' individual finals.
• Plum's Sam Shumaker is the only girl on Plum's golf team. She qualified for the WPIAL girls' finals.
• Olivia Cotter, who is from Springdale, is a standout midfielder for Shady Side Academy's soccer team.
• Freeport football also starts a freshman at center in Jesse Tomkiewicz.
Beale first started in the Yellowjackets' home opener against Deer Lakes.
“I was nervous, like an athlete would be for any contest. But I knew coach (Jeff) Christy would have me prepared.”
Christy, who won a Super Bowl as a starting center with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was a running back and kicker at Freeport. He also has helped Beale with his kicking.
“I am really glad to be able to contribute to the seniors and help these guys out,” Beale said. “They deserve it.”
Some day, a freshman might say that about Beale.
Bill Beckner Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.