Class A breakdown: WPIAL realignment shakes up conferences
There will be a new look for the WPIAL's smallest classification in 2014.
Numerous changes had the WPIAL move teams around to new conferences in Class A.
Greensburg Central Catholic, Jeannette and Riverside dropped down from Class AA, and Vincentian will start playing conference games after playing an independent schedule the past two seasons.
Geibel and Imani Christian no longer field teams, and Apollo-Ridge, West Shamokin, Sto-Rox, Carlynton and Laurel moved up to Class AA.
Despite all the changes, returning WPIAL and PIAA champion Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic isn't about to give up its title without a fight.
The Trojans, who were 16-0 last season, return their entire backfield, which includes two 1,000-yard plus running backs in P.J. Fulmore (1,213 yards) and Jerome Turner (1,510). Also back are quarterback Adam Sharlow, who rushed for 660 yards, and sophomore Mario Latronica, who rushed for 566 yards.
“We've got some holes to fill,” North Catholic coach Bob Ravenstahl said. “We have a nice nucleus returning, but we lost some good linemen and linebackers. It's not going to be a cakewalk. The new conference is going to have some solid teams.”
North Catholic, along with Avonworth, Northgate and Our Lady of the Sacred Heart from its old conference (Eastern), joins Bishop Canevin, Brentwood, Chartiers-Houston and Fort Cherry to form the Ohio Valley Conference.
“I don't mind being the favorite,” Ravenstahl said. “I've always said to be a champion you have to beat the champion. There are a lot of teams that should challenge us. The Eastern Conference with Clairton, Monessen, Greensburg Central Catholic and Jeannette is very good, and the Big 7 Conference with Neshannock, Rochester and Western Beaver is always good.”
Avonworth, which lost twice to the Trojans last year, and Brentwood, which returns standout passer Connor McWilliams, could challenge North Catholic.
“The games against Avonworth weren't decided until late in the fourth quarter,” Ravenstahl said. “We're not sneaking up on anyone this year.”
Clairton, Monessen, Serra Catholic, Greensburg Central Catholic and Jeannette join Wilkinsburg, Springdale, Riverview and Leechburg to form the Eastern Conference.
Clairton begins the year with a new coach, former defensive coordinator Wayne Wade, but the Bears are more than capable of regaining their Class A dominance. Clairton won five straight WPIAL titles (2008-12) and set the state record with 66 consecutive victories. Monessen ended that streak in Week 4 last season.
It still didn't stop the Bears from sharing the Black Hills title with Monessen and Fort Cherry or keep them from reaching the Class A semifinals before falling to Sto-Rox.
“I heard North Catholic is loaded up again,” Wade said. “So that has to make them the favorite. We return seven on offense and nine on defense, so I expect us to be a challenger.
“We have the best conference in the WPIAL. Our players are excited and looking forward to playing against Jeannette and Greensburg Central Catholic.”
The Bears are led by wide receiver Aaron Mathews, quarterback Ryan Williams, running back Lamont Wade, linebacker Harrison Dreher and linebacker Raymone Clifford.
Greensburg Central Catholic and Jeannette, along with Monessen, might make the Eastern Conference the WPIAL's best.
“It was a great conference when we played against Clairton, Duquesne and Riverview when I got back into coaching,” Greensburg Central Catholic coach Dan Mahoney said. “We had some great battles, and I'm looking forward to renewing those rivalries.”
Jeannette coach Roy Hall said he will be spending a lot of time learning about the new teams.
“I'm very excited to see how we fare,” Hall said. “We'll have our work cut out for us. I have to learn some new teams.
“We're in a no-win situation in some people's eyes. If we win, we were expected to win. If we lose, well … .”
The other changes have California moving back to the Tri-County South, while Riverside slides into the Big 7 Conference.