The top Norwin sports stories of 2013
By Doug Gulasy
Published: Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013, 5:45 p.m.
Members of the blue and gold saw plenty of gold in 2013.
From a back-to-back WPIAL champion to another competitor who overcame adversity to win WPIAL gold, Norwin athletes rose to meet plenty of challenges this season. The year saw the end of one athletic director's reign and the rise of several Norwin sports teams.
Here's a look at the top five Norwin sports stories of 2013, with some honorable mention thrown in for good measure.
1. Coles' gold
For 35 years, Dave Chomanics remained the only wrestler in Norwin history to win multiple WPIAL individual titles.
He got some company in 2013.
With an escape in the waning seconds of his 152-pound championship bout against Greensburg Salem's Tyler Reinhart, Heath Coles captured his second straight WPIAL gold medal — becoming Norwin's first multiple winner since Chomanics in 1977 and 1978.
“To do something that a Norwin wrestler hasn't done in about 30 years, to win two WPIAL titles, was a really incredible feat,” Coles said later.
Coles' victory over Reinhart in the WPIAL final came one week after he lost to the Greensburg Salem wrestler in the finals at the Section 1-AAA tournament.
“Last week was a tough one against him. I was too laid back and didn't wrestle my match,” Coles said after beating Reinhart in the WPIAL final. “I knew I had to wrestle my style today to get the job done.
“(At the end) I still had all the confidence in the world. If there's time left on the clock, there's still time to score. I just had to keep going.”
Coles went on to finish in fourth place at the PIAA Class AAA Championships in March. He signed to wrestle in college at Pitt Johnstown.
2. Victorious vault
Norwin sophomore Kelsey Plecenik overcame more than just her fellow competitors to win the pole vault competition at the WPIAL Class AAA Track and Field Championships in May.
After missing her freshman season with an elbow injury, Plecenik suffered a concussion and neck and back injuries in a car accident on the way to the state indoor track and field championships in February.
While the injuries kept Plecenik from being medically cleared to compete until April, they didn't keep her from becoming Norwin's first pole vaulting champion since 2009. At the WPIAL meet, Plecenik cleared 12 feet, 1 inch — a season high.
“My coaches just kept telling me, ‘Go higher, higher,' and kept helping me,” Plecenik said.
“In about a month's time, she went from nothing to WPIAL champion,” Norwin track and field coach Trinity Morgan said. “It's pretty impressive.”
Plecenik went on to win a sixth-place medal at the PIAA Class AAA championships, where she also competed as part of Norwin's 400-meter relay team.
The WPIAL-winning pole vault also qualified Plecenik for the 2013 New Balance Nationals Outdoor Championships.
“It was a little scary, gaining all my strength back and my endurance and trying to still compete,” Plecenik said. “I know I'm young, a sophomore, but I have high expectations and goals, and my goal was to make it to states and nationals. I achieved both of those with the help of my team and family and all my friends. So I'm really happy.”
3. Blast from the past
Of the various varsity sports at Norwin, none holds the tradition of the girls volleyball program, which won 15 WPIAL championships and 12 PIAA championships from 1974-88.
While the titles ended 25 years ago, the 2013 Norwin girls volleyball team showed there could be some in the future.
This fall's Section 1-AAA championship marked Norwin's first since 2006, but the Knights' success didn't stop there. Norwin recorded its first postseason victory since 2003 with a 3-0 sweep of Oakland Catholic in the first round of the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs. The Knights then came back from a 2-0 deficit to beat Seneca Valley, 3-2, in the quarterfinals.
While North Allegheny swept Norwin in the WPIAL semifinals, the Knights clinched their first PIAA tournament appearance since the 1990s with a 3-0 victory over Shaler in the WPIAL consolation match.
“It's exciting to be the team that took us there after all those years,” senior Hanna Evanchak said. “There's a lot of pressure, I guess you could say. But at the same time, it's equally matched by how proud we are and how accomplished we feel.”
Norwin went on to defeat Erie McDowell in the first round of the PIAA Class AAA playoffs before falling to Bethel Park in the quarterfinals.
“I think we had a really good season,” coach Mary Ellen Ferragonio said. “I'm really proud of them. They pushed themselves and played well all season, so you can't take that away from them. They did awesome.”
4. Section success
While the girls volleyball team stood out, three other Norwin varsity teams claimed section championships in 2013.
The Norwin boys volleyball team captured its third straight Section 3-AAA title, storming back from a big deficit against Penn-Trafford in its final match. The Knights then took third in the WPIAL, advancing to the PIAA Class AAA tournament, where they lost in the opening round to North Allegheny.
“I don't know if we were necessarily picked to win the section again, but we fought, came out on top and took the section by ourselves,” coach Al Warden said. “Top three in the WPIAL, state playoffs — (the loss to North Allegheny) hurt that night, but I think after it's said and done those guys are going to be proud of what they accomplished.”
While the boys volleyball team repeated as section champs, two fall sports teams overcame defending champions to win.
The girls cross country team captured its first section title since 2009. Freshman Kelley Giles finished second at the Westmoreland County championships and ended up qualifying for the PIAA championships.
“(It's) amazing,” senior Becca Peters said. “I think it's been a rough couple past years for our senior girls, so it's really awesome that we were able to pull up our freshmen, pull up our juniors and get what we deserve — especially with all the summer practices. We've really come together as a team, which is the important part. It's not about winning, it's about the team. But it was great to do both.”
Meanwhile, the Norwin boys soccer team emerged in a crowded Section 1-AAA field to win its first title since 2010. The Knights lost to Canon-McMillan in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs.
“The only thing we said after the game tonight to the boys was we were really proud of them, of what they accomplished from day one to this point,” coach Scott Schuchert said after that game.
5. A new man in charge
The 2012-13 school year mstkrf the end of Norwin's long-time sports administrator's time at the school, while 2013-14 was the beginning of Brandon Rapp's tenure.
Randy Rovesti, who spent 10 years as Norwin's athletic director and 29 total with the district, retired from full-time work in June before taking a job as Gateway's interim athletic director.
“The 10 years flew by,” Rovesti said. “We have great kids here, we have good athletes here and Norwin achieves, year-in, year-out, at a pretty high rate athletically as well as academically among the athletes. Every day was just enjoyable.”
The school won six WPIAL team championships in Rovesti's tenure as athletic director: four in girls track and one apiece in girls cross country and field hockey.
Rovesti was replaced this fall by Rapp, who came to Norwin after working previously as Derry's athletic director.
“Although there are more sports and more student-athletes, I view my role as a support role,” Rapp said. “We all have to work together within the athletic department — all of the programs and the coaches and so forth. Whether we're working with one athletic program or 24 athletic programs, I still feel that it's my role to support everybody involved and make sure I provide the best opportunities for our athletes and our coaches to succeed.”
• Baseball continues success. The Norwin baseball team's four-season run as section champion ended, but the Knights still did enough to qualify for the WPIAL playoffs for the fifth straight year. Last month, three Norwin players — Dom Farina, J.J. Matijevic and Noah Smith — signed with Division I schools.
• So does girls soccer. The Norwin girls soccer team began the season as the top team in Trib Total Media's rankings, and the Knights ended it where they usually do: in the WPIAL playoffs. Though Norwin lost in a shootout in the opening round, the team finished 14-3-2.
• More playoff teams. Aside from the aforementioned teams, the boys and girls basketball teams and hockey team also made postseason runs in 2013.
• Teams on the rise. The Norwin boys lacrosse team had its best season in its history, while the girls bowling squad advanced to the state tournament for the first time.
Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-388-5830, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.
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