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McWilliams siblings from Brentwood embrace multi-sport roles

submitted photo | for the south hills record - Brentwood junior Connor McWilliams poses with his cousin, Brandon Saad, a rookie of the year finalist with the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, during Saad's recent day with the NHL trophy in Gibsonia.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>submitted photo | for the south hills record</em></div>Brentwood junior Connor McWilliams poses with his cousin, Brandon Saad, a rookie of the year finalist with the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, during Saad's recent day with the NHL trophy in Gibsonia.
submitted photo | for the south hills record - Brentwood senior Brooke McWilliams poses with her cousin, Brandon Saad, a rookie of the year finalist with the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, during Saad's recent day with the NHL trophy in Gibsonia.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>submitted photo | for the south hills record</em></div>Brentwood senior Brooke McWilliams poses with her cousin, Brandon Saad, a rookie of the year finalist with the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, during Saad's recent day with the NHL trophy in Gibsonia.

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Top high school sports
By Justin Criado
Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
 

When Chicago Blackhawks' winger Brandon Saad recently brought the Stanley Cup back to his hometown of Gibsonia, cousins Brooke and Connor McWilliams were there to celebrate.

“That was awesome. That was excellent,” Connor said. “That gave me more drive to want to get a trophy like that and do great things.”

Connor made his debut as Brentwood's starting quarterback last Friday, leading the Spartans to a 49-7 Black Hills Conference victory over Serra Catholic, passing for more than 100 yards and continuing to build his athletic resume.

“I think (McWilliams) has a lot of upside,” Kevin Kissel, Brentwood's head coach, said. “He's a big kid, very athletic, and he's got a great arm that he got from playing baseball.”

Entering his junior season, Connor is 6-foot-2 and weighs 200 pounds. He is a varsity letterman in football, basketball and baseball.

Connor says the busy schedule doesn't stress him out or seem like too much since he's been doing it for nearly all his life.

“It's not too bad. It's just practice non-stop,” he said. “I love it, though.”

Connor started playing basketball and baseball when he was 3, and added football when he was in eighth grade. At a Class A school like Brentwood, student-athletes usually play multiple sports, jumping from one season to another.

“I think it makes the kids more competitive,” Kissel said. “Some of the best athletes at the school play many sports.”

Brentwood's girls' volleyball coach, Caitlin Grattan, added: “I think that's why, for such a small school we are, our sports teams are fairly successful because of the attitude the kids have (playing on multiple sports teams.)”

A catcher and corner infielder for Brentwood's baseball team, Connor batted .314 as a freshman. He averaged six minutes off the bench for the varsity basketball team last season.

“It's an honor. It's a true honor to be an athlete at Brentwood,” Connor said. “It's a great school. I probably wouldn't choose anywhere else.”

Older sister Brooke, a senior at Brentwood, is a triple threat in her own right as a varsity letterwinner in volleyball, softball and track.

“Brooke has been talented every since she was a freshman,” Grattan said. “She can do everything.”

Brooke, a middle hitter and setter, helped lead the Lady Spartans' volleyball team to a WPIAL playoff berth last year. She also sparked Brentwood's softball team to a 9-5 overall record and another playoff appearance as a starter in the outfield.

She also was a WPIAL qualifier in the 100- and 300-meter hurdles events.

“She's just such a great athlete,” Grattan said. “She can adjust well.”

Both Connor and Brooke say they don't see each other much during a typical school day, but there definitely is some sibling rivalry around the house.

“There's always little rivalries going on,” Brooke said. “Maybe who can score the most points (in basketball), or whatever.”

Running from one sporting event to another, there never was a dull moment growing up in the McWilliams house.

“There was always a practice or game we had to go to,” Brooke said. “It was fun; there was always something to do, or someone to go see play.”

Seeing their cousin parading around with the Stanley Cup was something of a shock since it wasn't that long ago they were all were playing sports together in the backyard.

“It's crazy to think that when we were little we were just shooting hockey, and now he's in the National Hockey League,” Brooke said.

The three keep in touch throughout the NHL season, and Connor recalls the advice Saad gave him about reaching his athletic goals.

“He just said, “Keep going, stay strong, keep playing,'” Connor said

For now, Connor is leading the No. 7-ranked Spartans through a challenging Black Hills Conference football schedule.

Brooke is gearing up for another successful volleyball season with the Lady Spartans. She says she's happy to see her younger brother doing so well in sports.

“I'm proud to have him as my brother,” she said. “I'm glad he's following me in athletics, and he's making a name for himself.”

Justin Criado is a freelance writer.

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