Top Murrysville Star sports stories of 2013
Individuals and teams from the Murrysville area put on quite a show during the 2013 calendar year.
From the accomplishments of four section-winning Franklin Regional teams, to gold medals by current Franklin Regional students and alumni alike, 2013 marked a year of titles.
Here's a look back at the top five stories from the area, plus a few honorable mention selections for good measure:
1. Wrestling team breaks through
In 2013, the Franklin Regional wrestling team finally captured its first-ever section championship. But the Panthers' success didn't stop there.
In addition to the section crown, Franklin Regional also captured the title at the Westmoreland County Coaches Association Championships, finished second in the WPIAL Class AAA Tournament and took third in the PIAA Class AAA Tournament.
It all added up to the most successful season in program history.
“To be able to put state medals around all of our kids' necks was a great feeling,” coach Eric Mausser said after the PIAA tournament. “As a coach, it's extra stressful to figure out lineups on the fly for each match, but it's more rewarding when it all comes together.”
Several individual wrestlers also had banner seasons for Franklin Regional, led by junior Tyler Smith, who became only the second wrestler in Franklin Regional history to win an individual state championship when he beat Cumberland Valley's Patrick Duggan in the 132-pound final.
“It was one of the greatest feelings I've ever felt,” said Smith, who joined 2011 graduate Nico Megaludis as the only state gold medalists in Franklin Regional history. “I trained for a long time, pretty much my entire life, for that moment. It was worth every minute of it.”
Sophomore Josh Maruca won a WPIAL individual championship at 138 pounds and took fifth in the state, sophomore Michael Kemerer finished as the runner-up at 126 pounds at the WPIAL and PIAA tournaments, sophomore Josh Shields finished as the 145-pound runner-up at WPIALs and third place at states, and senior Luke Fleck took third in the WPIAL at heavyweight.
Franklin Regional began the 2013-14 season earlier this month with its sights set on WPIAL and PIAA team titles. The Panthers are boosted by the return of Kemerer, Maruca, Shields, Smith and more, plus the addition of highly regarded freshman Spencer Lee and junior Devin Brown, the PIAA Class AA champion at 106 pounds last season.
2. A decade of success ... and counting
Franklin Regional football coach Greg Botta had some doubts about the Panthers' chances of extending their postseason streak to 10 consecutive years in 2013, but a largely inexperienced squad ended up taking him — and the rest of the WPIAL — by surprise.
Despite returning just five starters from 2012, the Panthers finished 10-2, won a share of the Greater Allegheny Conference championship and advanced to the WPIAL Class AAA semifinals before falling, 21-12, to eventual champion West Allegheny.
“This season here was truly one of my most rewarding because of where we started off and where we ended up,” Botta said. “That just shows the character of this team.”
While five starters returned, two of them ended up changing position heading into the season. Senior Charan Singh moved from wide receiver to quarterback, and senior Adam Mihoci moved from tight end to guard.
Additionally, the Panthers dealt with injuries throughout the season. Still, Franklin Regional advanced to the playoffs thanks to a defense that allowed 10.3 points per game and shut out four opponents and an offense that got big plays from Singh, wide receiver Colin Jonov, running backs Paul Emanuele and Brett Zanotto and more.
“Someone always seemed to step up, and that just shows how everyone's got to be waiting for an opportunity and when it comes they've got to make the most of it,” Botta said. “Our kids did that.”
3. On the national ... and world ... stage
Franklin Regional graduates Megaludis and Samantha Pickens both picked up plenty of hardware during their time at Franklin Regional. In 2013, they kept adding to their prizes.
Megaludis, now a junior at Penn State, finished second individually at the NCAA Championships in March, falling to Jesse Delgado of Illinois in the final. It was the second straight individual runner-up finish for Megaludis, but he was also a part of the Penn State team that won its second straight NCAA team title.
Pickens, currently a senior at the University of Arizona, became the first female in Wildcats history to win an NCAA diving title when she placed first in the 1-meter dive at the NCAA Championships this spring. She also was named Pac-12 Diver of the Year.
Both Megaludis and Pickens continued their success this summer.
Pickens won the 1-meter title at the U.S. World Championship Trial and competed in the World University Games in Kazan, Russia, and the World Championships in Barcelona, Spain. She finished fifth in the 1-meter dive and ninth in the 3-meter dive at the University Games and finished seventh in the 3-meter synchronized dive and 14th in the 1-meter dive at the World Championships.
“It was really, really exciting,” Pickens said after qualifying for the World Championships. “Going into (trials), I had an idea that I was capable of qualifying. But when it actually happens, you're kind of just stunned. It didn't hit me until a few hours after the meet.”
Megaludis, meanwhile, competed at the World University Games at 55 kg (or 121 pounds) after winning the ASICS University Freestyle Championship in Akron, Ohio, in late May. He finished 1-1, beating Yasar Aliyev of Azerbaijan and falling to Iran's Yaser Heidargholinez.
4. Quite a run
The Franklin Regional cross country and track and field programs had a banner season in 2013.
The Panthers' boys cross country team won its second straight Section 1-AAA championship, going undefeated and beating second-place Norwin in the final meet of the season to clinch the title. The Panthers have won 19 straight section meets.
“I knew this was going to be a hard one, so I'm glad we could pull it out,” senior Ian Griffith said after the Norwin meet.
On the girls side, sophomore Bria McMahon — in her first season running cross country — showed inexperience wouldn't be a problem for her. She claimed titles at the Gateway Invitational, A.J. Everhart Invitational and Westmoreland Country Coaches Association Championships and qualified for the PIAA Class AAA Championships in November.
Last spring, the Franklin Regional girls track team qualified for the WPIAL team playoffs for the first time in at least 20 years. The Panthers competed in the team semifinals but ended up short of a finals appearance. But with a group of strong runners returning, coach Jim Passarelli believes the Panthers can get back to the playoffs.
“I'm hoping that it's within the next 10 years that we get this next one coming up,” Passarelli joked in the spring. “(Actually), it'd better be within the next year that we get the next playoff team.”
Additionally, several Panthers competed at the WPIAL Class AAA Track and Field Championships in May. McMahon and Figurelli both medaled in the 3,200-meter run, with McMahon placing sixth and Figurelli eighth.
5. Swimming success
The Franklin Regional girls swimming team got off to a strong start in both the WPIAL and PIAA Class AAA championships, thanks to the performance of its 200-yard medley relay.
The relay finished second in the WPIAL and third in the state, helping the Panthers earn a fifth-place finish at the WPIAL meet and a 14th-place finish at the PIAA meet.
“We actually switched at the last minute. We were going to swim in the 400 free relay, but we switched to the medley at the last minute,” senior Kaitlyn Ruffing said after the WPIAL meet. “We thought we had a better shot, and it was a good decision. That set the tone for the whole meet.”
The Franklin Regional boys and girls 200 medley and 200 free relays all qualified for states, as did individuals Alyssa and Kaitlyn Ruffing and Dale Maholage. The girls 200 free and 200 medley relays earned All-American honors from the National Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association.
Additionally, the Franklin Regional boys squad claimed the section championship.
• More playoff teams. The Franklin Regional baseball, girls basketball, boys golf, boys lacrosse, boys soccer and boys and girls tennis teams all qualified for the WPIAL playoffs last season.
• Repeat performance. Sophomore tennis player Natalia Perry won the Section 1-AAA singles tournament and finished third at the WPIAL tournament for the second straight year. Perry and fellow sophomore Jenna Bailey won the section doubles tournament and finished third in the WPIAL.
• A strong summer. The Murrysville Junior and Senior Legion teams both qualified for the district playoffs this summer, and the Junior Legion team advanced all the way to the state tournament, where it finished third.
• On the rise. After three straight winless seasons in section play, the Franklin Regional girls volleyball team finished 6-8 overall and 5-7 in section play under first-year coach Mike Feorene.
• Continuing their careers. Outgoing seniors Dale Maholage and Kaitlyn Ruffing signed National Letters of Intent to swim at Division I schools Loyola and Lehigh, respectively. They led a large group of Franklin Regional 2013 graduates who are now competing in college. Current seniors Colin Jonov (Bucknell, football), Brandon Nania (West Virginia University, baseball), Alyssa Ruffing (Kentucky, swimming), Charan Singh (Massachusetts, football) and Tyler Smith (Bucknell, wrestling) are all committed to Division I schools.