Alle-Kiski athletes branching out across the U.S.
It started as an unassuming trip to the West Coast. It ended an unforgettable, life-changing experience for Sydney Bordonaro.
The junior basketball standout from Burrell, along with her mother and stepfather, made what they figured would be a simple visit to see Sydney's stepsister in Los Angeles last June.
Who knew they'd bump into former Pitt assistant Mallorie Winn, who was beginning her first year as an assistant at Pepperdine University. Long story short, the family spotting Winn on campus at Pepperdine led to a full scholarship to the Malibu school.
“It's a crazy story,” Bordonaro said. “I wanted to go to college in California since I was real little, so we went to visit some campuses. The first one we visited was Pepperdine. I went to Pitt's elite camp the year before so I knew (Winn) pretty well. We started talking, and it turned into an unofficial visit.
“We both said how it was fate how this all happened. They offered me in early July.”
The commitment to a school some local fans had never heard of was unique, but not all that rare.
Somehow, obscure colleges are stretching the map and finding Alle-Kiski Valley athletes who otherwise they'd never have thought twice about.
Out-of-state schools have the area asking, “How'd they end up there?”
In 2011, Burrell wrestler David Makara signed with Grand Canyon University in Phoenix. GCU assistant coach Troy Barbuch wrestled at Pitt-Johnstown with Burrell assistant coach Isaac Greeley, hence the connection.
Highlands basketball star Micah Mason ended up signing with Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, before his successful transfer to Duquesne. Then-Drake coach Mark Phelps saw Mason's write-up in Sports Illustrated's “Faces in the Crowd” and sought him out.
Maddie Antone, one of the top multisport athletes in Kiski Area history, made friends with Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., through a softball showcase at the school's campus.
The showcase route has opened doors for many local standouts. So has AAU basketball, travel softball and summer football camps.
Antone said it is rare for softball teams from the south to land recruits from the northeast.
“They hardly ever, physically recruit up north,” she said. “It is about connections and who you know; if it was not for me playing on their fields, I do not think they would have ever heard of me and vice versa. Most southern teams gather players from local areas as well as well-known states with good weather.”
When the top programs in the state don't take the A-K's top talent, a wide-ranging crop of other schools are waiting to scoop up the rejects. It feeds the theory, if you're good, they'll find you.
Take Plum hoops star Nolan Cressler. Overlooked by a number of nearby Division I programs, the now-sophomore ended up at Cornell, which he has since left but is drawing greater attention from larger schools.
Highlands football standout Allan Cratsenberg, who many coaches believe was under-recruited at linebacker, decided on Virginia Military Institute. Burrell soccer player Sam Shepherd also committed to VMI.
“You never really hear about VMI recruiting the A-K valley or the WPIAL, But it's a good thing they did,” Cratsenberg said.
More examples of odd fits:
• Freeport quarterback/defensive backs Alex Isenberg and Brendan Lynch took their football talents to Georgetown and Case Western, respectively.
• Plum baseball star Scott McGough played at Oregon before finding his way into the minor leagues.
• Another pitcher, Leechburg's Tyler Swarmer ended up at Radford (Va.) of the Division I Big South Conference.
• Fox Chapel grads and sisters Nadia and Katerina Luttner initially signed with Kansas and Ole Miss, respectively.
• Burrell's Matt Hess went to Delaware to play rugby.
• Although he settled on Kent State, Knoch football lineman Connor Shinsky had interest from Texas-El Paso. His teammates, Dakota Bruggeman and Luke Kroneberg, went to Division II Alderson-Broaddus in West Virginia.
• Kiski Area lineman Andrew Yohe signed with Dartmouth of the Ivy League. He met the school's offensive line coach at Pitt's summer camp.
Valley first-year football coach Muzzy Colosimo, known for his college connections, said schools initially find out about Western Pennsylvania prospects through national coaching conferences. At least that's the case for football.
When he was at Greensburg Central Catholic, he helped introduce players to schools they never knew existed. North Texas and East Central Mississippi are among them.
“You get together with these coaches and they want to know what you have,” Colosimo said. “Maybe it's a big lineman. You give them the info and they ask for film. It kind of goes from there.”
Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.