Gulasy: Franklin Regional, Norwin, Penn-Trafford had strong falls
You might or might not have noticed, but the WPIAL winter high school sports season officially began Monday with the official first day of practice. Basketball, swimming and wrestling teams will spend the next few weeks getting ready before the first day of competition Dec. 6.
I'll be previewing those teams' seasons in upcoming issues, as well as previewing the beginning of bowling season and covering the ongoing hockey season. But I thought this would be a good time also to look back at the fall season at Franklin Regional, Norwin and Penn-Trafford, which officially ended last week with the Franklin Regional and Penn-Trafford football teams' elimination from the WPIAL playoffs.
It was a strong fall for local schools, featuring numerous playoff appearances and section championships, not to mention postseason success for a fair few. But even teams that missed out on the playoffs showed strong signs throughout their seasons.
Here's a look back at what local schools achieved this season:
Cross country: The Franklin Regional boys team captured its second straight section championship with an undefeated record, while Norwin captured the section title on the girls side. First-year runners Bria McMahon (Franklin Regional) and Kelley Giles (Norwin) had strong seasons, qualifying for the PIAA championships. Penn-Trafford's boys and girls teams missed the postseason, but seniors Jonah Graffius and Sarah Taylor turned in top-10 finishes at the Westmoreland County Coaches Association championships.
Field hockey: Norwin and Penn-Trafford each missed the playoffs, but both schools landed multiple players on all-section teams: Tori Lago, Lindsay Loughner and Isabel Siergiej for Penn-Trafford and Kira Baierl and Anna Romeo for Norwin. Lago, Romeo and Siergiej were also named all-WPIAL.
Football: Franklin Regional and Penn-Trafford made runs to the WPIAL semifinals before bowing out against West Allegheny and Pittsburgh Central Catholic, respectively. For Penn-Trafford, it marked the first trip to the semifinals since 1997, while Franklin Regional returned for the second time in three years. Norwin missed out on the playoffs, but the defense was one of the most improved units in the WPIAL this season and several key starters return in 2014.
Boys golf: Franklin Regional advanced to the WPIAL team playoffs for the first time since 2005, coming up short in the semifinals. Junior Eddie Zhang won the WCCA individual tournament. Norwin and Penn-Trafford missed the playoffs, but the Knights won the WCCA team championship. Justin Guzik from Penn-Trafford, Kory Sandleitner, Seth Repicky and Kevin Zabelsky from Norwin and Matt Fisch and Zhang from Franklin Regional advanced to the WPIAL individual semifinals.
Girls golf: It was a season of repeats for Penn-Trafford, which won its second consecutive WPIAL Class AAA championship and recorded its second straight runner-up finish at the PIAA tournament. Four Penn-Trafford golfers — Royse Bachtel, Amanda Conner, Casey Doran and Rachael Huber — advanced to the WPIAL individual final. Junior Elisabeth Papa recorded a hole-in-one in a match, the Warriors' second in three years. Franklin Regional and Norwin missed the playoffs, but both return some of their top competitors next season.
Boys soccer: Franklin Regional, Norwin and Penn-Trafford engaged in a tight section race, with five teams battling for three playoff spots. Norwin won the section, and Franklin Regional claimed third place. Both schools lost in the first round of the playoffs, but both return key players next season. Penn-Trafford finished in fourth place, one spot out of the playoffs, but the Warriors showed improvement in the first year under coach Jeff Nese.
Girls soccer: Norwin and Penn-Trafford engaged in their usual battle for the section championship, with Penn-Trafford coming out on top for the second straight year. Both schools lost 1-0 shootout heartbreakers in the first round of the playoffs. A youthful Franklin Regional team missed the playoffs but gave Norwin one of its toughest games of the season, a 0-0 tie.
Girls tennis: Franklin Regional sophomore Natalia Perry won the section singles championship and finished third in the WPIAL for the second straight year. Perry and sophomore Jenna Bailey combined to win the section doubles tournament and finish third at WPIALs. Penn-Trafford's Charlotte Vertes finished second at the section singles tournament, and Vertes and Dana Kelly finished third in the section doubles tournament. Both Franklin Regional and Penn-Trafford advanced to the team playoffs, while Norwin finished one spot out in fourth place in the section. Norwin's Alexa Holleran finished fourth at the section singles tournament, and she and Courtney O'Connell finished fourth at the section doubles tournament.
Girls volleyball: After making the playoffs last season for the first time since 2006, Norwin continued to make strides in 2013. The Knights claimed the section title, took third in the WPIAL tournament and advanced to the PIAA quarterfinals. It made for their longest postseason run since the 1990s. Penn-Trafford also advanced to the playoffs and won a first-round match against Canon-McMillan before falling to Shaler in the WPIAL quarterfinals. Franklin Regional missed the postseason but snapped a three-season section losing streak and finished one spot away from making the playoffs.
With that kind of fall, it will be fun to see how the winter teams fare. Here's hoping for another strong season.