Gateway's Nicholson, Shaler's Schwartz named Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Athletes of the Year
Gateway · Senior · Football/Basketball/Track
Michigan State recruited Gateway's Montae Nicholson to play football, but he won't retire his track shoes if it's up to him.
“I love football, but I also love track and field,” said Nicholson, who could become a multisport athlete for the Spartans in the Big Ten. “It's nice to have a team, but it's also nice to be an individual. That's why I like both of them.”
Nicholson, a talented safety and wide receiver for Gateway, demonstrated his versatility when he won three state track and field titles in his senior year, making him the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Male Athlete of the Year.
A member of the Terrific 25 in the fall, Nicholson had 41 catches for 810 yards and 11 touchdowns for the Gators. While also playing basketball in the winter, he won the state's 60-meter indoor hurdles title. In the spring, he won PIAA gold medals in the 110 hurdles and 400-meter relay. He was fourth in the long jump, an event he won at the WPIAL Class AAA championship.
Track runs in his family. His hurdle coach is his mother, Jackie Crawford, who was a hall of fame hurdler at Robert Morris.
What accomplishment made you most proud this year?
Winning my state hurdle titles and the work that went into it. Track in Western Pennsylvania is really difficult because of the weather. We don't get to hurdle much in the rain and the cold. I'm most proud of my indoor one because I didn't get to practice much. I was in the middle of basketball season. I had practiced for a couple days, then went to Penn State and ran.
What's your favorite sport?
Football. The individual aspect of track and field is fun. But there's just something about football that separates it from track and basketball.
Have you tried any others?
I didn't do it competitively, but I took a couple fencing lessons. I was a fencing instructor for a summer camp last summer. I did some training and there was a job attached to it. I'm still an extreme beginner.
What's the key to fencing?
Good balance. It's actually pretty difficult. You have to stand a certain way. Your legs have to be ridiculously strong to keep going back and forth.
What are the pros and cons of having a parent as coach?
I'll start with cons: She's always riding me. But at the same time, the pros are: She's always riding me. She can say certain things to me that she can't say to the other athletes. She can push buttons other coaches wouldn't be able to do. We don't just leave it on the track. We have conversations at home. We watch my races at home. She has videos about hurdle technique. I believe that made me a better athlete and student.
Is your college football future on offense or defense?
From what they told me, it seems like defense first and if I get everything down fast enough, they'll try to give me some reps on offense. We'll see what happens when I get up there.
What advice would you give your freshman self?
There are two things: One, don't get discouraged. Two, pay attention to details. Whether it be school, track or football, pay attention to the small things. Everybody will be good at the main things. It's the small things that separate good from great.
Shaler · Junior · Cross Country/Track
No girl in WPIAL history has ever run 1,600 meters faster than Shaler's Brianna Schwartz.
That alone would make her special. But the junior also broke the 800- and 3,200-meter records this season, establishing herself as arguably the best distance runner in WPIAL track and field history. A winner of WPIAL and PIAA titles who already runs with the nation's best athletes, Schwartz's rare talent makes her the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Female Athlete of the Year.
Among her accomplishment, Schwartz won the WPIAL Class AAA cross country title last fall in course-record time. In the winter, she set a state high school record in the mile when she won the indoor title at 4:42.58. In the spring, she won the WPIAL and PIAA titles in the 1,600 meters for the second consecutive year. She established WPIAL record times of 2:10.15 in the 800, 4:45.19 in the 1,600 and 10:10.03 in the 3,200, earning her national recognition.
Last December, she finished sixth in a national cross country meet in San Diego. Earlier this month, she ran invitational track events in New York and Seattle.
What accomplishment made you most proud this year?
Running at Foot Locker Nationals in San Diego because that was my first national meet. It was great competition, and I was proud of myself that I was able to hang with the top runners in the nation and get my best time.
Does your approach differ from cross country to track season?
For cross country, you have to be a lot stronger. There are hills and all kind of turns. In track, you have to have more speed.
Where do you want your running career to take you?
I definitely want to run in college. I'm excited for that. For cross country and track, July 1 going into your senior year is the date when coaches can contact you over the phone. As of now, they can only send letters. I've been getting notes, but not too many personal ones yet.
What was your toughest challenge this school year?
This winter was really hard to train in the weather. But we got out there every day and worked through it. Some days I had to go to the treadmill, but usually we were out on the roads.
Have you reflected on your collection of WPIAL records?
It's given me a lot of confidence and motivation to keep working hard. That makes me want to go out next year and do even better.
After all this, what goals are left for you next season?
Most of them are personal goals, improving personal records. But there are still some records that I'm chasing (including the PIAA 1,600 meet record).
What do you think about while you're running your race?
I usually just think about my splits. But if I'm hurting, I just think of all my training and all I put into it. I tell myself not to give up.
What are your summer plans?
After a break, I'll ease back into my training. I'll start with lower mileage and work my way up. We're increasing my mileage this year. I'll be doing more miles each week. Last year, I ran about 50 miles a week. This year, I'll probably be around 55 or 60.
How many pairs of running shoes do you go through in a year?
They last about six months, so usually two.
The top 10 tales told by the Tribune-Review during the 2013-14 school year:
Highmark Stadium, the year-old soccer field on the South Side, became a trendy venue for WPIAL sports. The 3,500-seat stadium was home to Central Catholic football, and later the WPIAL championships in soccer and lacrosse were held there.
The longest winning streak in state football history ended when Clairton lost to Monessen, 42-24, at Neil C. Brown Stadium. The Bears had won 66 consecutive games, a nationally recognized effort that included four state Class A titles. Another loss came five months later, when coach Tom Nola was hired by Gateway.
Sto-Rox quarterback Lenny Williams became the WPIAL's all-time leading passer with a 302-yard, three-touchdown effort in Week 7. The senior, who surpassed the career yardage mark set by South Fayette's Christian Brumbaugh in 2010, finished with 8,509 yards and 102 touchdowns.
Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic and South Fayette won PIAA football titles, but in much different ways. North Catholic won the Class A final in overtime 15-14, with a two-point run by junior P.J. Fulmore. South Fayette overwhelmed Imhotep Charter, 41-0, when QB Brett Brumbaugh broke the WPIAL's single-season passing record.
Greensburg Central Catholic soccer player Fran Crouse scored twice to win the PIAA Class A title and put the finishing touch on a historic career. Crouse, a Penn State recruit, scored 66 goals as a senior to finish with a state-record 208 for her career. The WPIAL won four of the six state soccer titles.
For the third year in a row, New Castle won a WPIAL boys basketball title with an undefeated record and each time beat Hampton in the final. The matchup drew a sell-out crowd to Palumbo Center for the Class AAAA final. New Castle, with senior Malik Hooker, also added its first state title.
Franklin Regional wrestlers Spencer Lee and Devin Brown led the Panthers to a PIAA Class AAA team title and were among 11 WPIAL wrestlers who claimed state individuals titles. Kittanning senior Jason Nolf became a three-time champ with a 176-1 record.
With 37 points by sophomore Maverick Rowan, Lincoln Park completed its romp through the PIAA basketball playoffs with a 70-66 victory over Philadelphia's Math, Civics and Science Charter. The marquee matchup in the Class A state final sparked a statewide charter school debate and a PIAA effort to limit their athletic programs.
Led by junior Maddie Holmberg, the Hempfield girls won their second consecutive PIAA Class AAA team track and field title and their third WPIAL championship. Holmberg accounted for three of the 19 PIAA gold medals won by WPIAL athletes, with victories in the long jump, 300 hurdles and 400 relay.
Blackhawk pitcher Brendan McKay tied the second longest streak in the NFHS record book with 72 1⁄3 consecutive scoreless innings, a run that ended in the WPIAL Class AAA final. McKay, a Louisville recruit drafted by the Padres in the 34th round, finished his high school career with a 30-2 record.
Parade of champions
State winners from the WPIAL during the 2013-14 school year.
New Castle (AAAA)
Lincoln Park (A)
Seton-La Salle (AA)
Vincentian Academy (A)
Javon Trout, Hempfield
Amanda Balas, Penn-Trafford
Marianne Abdalah, Vincentian (A)
South Fayette (AA)
Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic (A)
Upper St. Clair (AAA)
Central Valley (AA)
Macky Fouse, Central Valley (AA)
Lauren Waller, Canon-McMillan (AAA)
Moon (Gold Division)
Josie Karabinos, Baldwin (Diamond)
Mackenzie Kraft, Moon (Gold)
Victoria Priola, Moon (Silver)
Peters Township (AAA)
Mike Krivi, Woodland Hills
Upper St. Clair (AAA)
Sewickley Academy (A)
Central Valley (AA)
Greensburg C.C. (A)
Mars (400 freestyle relay)
Upper St. Clair (400 relay)
Jarod Kehl, West Allegheny (AA, 500 freestyle, 200 freestyle)
Christopher Georgiadis, Mars (AA, 200 IM)
Zachary Buerger, North Allegheny (AAA, 500 freestyle, 200 IM)
Ryan Dudzinski, Upper St. Clair (AAA, 100 butterfly)
Maria Lohman, Chartiers Valley (AAA)
North Allegheny (AAA)
Marlys Bridgham, Pine-Richland (AAA singles)
Laurel Shymansky/Lacey Cohen, Fox Chapel (AAA doubles)
Boys track and field
Gateway (AAA, 400 relay)
Riverside (AA, 1,600 relay)
Washington (AA, 3,200 relay)
Max Adams, Hempfield (AAA, discus, shot put)
Montae Nicholson, Gateway (AAA, 110 hurdles)
Domenic Perretta, Beaver Falls (AA, 800, 1,600)
Austin Sheridan, Riverside (AA, discus)
Girls track and field
Hempfield (AAA, 400 relay)
Ally Bartoszewicz, Vincentian (AA, 100, 200)
Kailyn Clancy, California (AA, shot put)
Bridget Guy, Hempfield (AAA, pole vault)
Maddie Holmberg, Hempfield (AAA, long jump, 300 hurdles)
Jenna Lucas, Fort Cherry (AA, javelin)
Brianna Schwartz, Shaler (AAA, 1,600)
Madison Wiltrout, Connellsville (AAA, javelin)
North Allegheny boys
Franklin Regional (AAA)
Devin Brown, FR (AAA, 106)
Solomon Chishko, Canon-McMillan (AAA, 145) Cameron Coy, Penn-Trafford (AAA, 132)
Steve Edwards, Burrell (AA, 152)
Vincenzo Joseph, Central Catholic (AAA, 138)
Spencer Lee, FR (AAA, 113) Dalton Macri, Canon-McMillan (AAA, 126)
Jason Nolf, Kittanning (AA, 145)
Luke Pletcher, Latrobe (AAA, 120)
Jake Temple, Avella (AA, 220)
Zack Zavatsky, Latrobe (AAA, 182)