Apollo-Ridge's Tipton, Freeport's Pawlak named Valley News Dispatch Athletes of the Year
Apollo-Ridge · Junior · Football/Basketball/Track and Field
Tre Tipton is a Pitt football recruit because he can pull receptions out of the air, score touchdowns with relative ease and knock defensive backs into the dunk tank.
But the incoming senior from Apollo-Ridge fills out his schedule with two other sports — basketball in the winter and track and field in the spring — and also excels in those.
“If we had a men's volleyball team, I'd try that too,” Tipton said.
In basketball, the 6-foot-1, 170-pound Tipton is a pass-first guard who has become more of a scoring threat. In track and field, he fast became one of WPIAL Class AA's top high- and long-jumpers.
All three of the teams he played for made the WPIAL playoffs. Football (8-3) reached the quarterfinals for just the second time in school history; basketball went 19-4, going 1-1 in the postseason; and track won its first section title since 1994.
His trail of success set him apart from other multisport standouts in the area, enough so for him to be named the Valley News Dispatch Boys Athlete of the Year.
Fox Chapel's Brian Papich, Kiski Area's Joey Brungo and Plum's Nick Stotler also were considered.
Tipton is a throwback player, one who screams for a nickname. He almost seems incomplete without one. For the sake of argument —and the purposes of this Q&A — he gets one.
Just call him Jetpack.
Not many players rise — turbo-boost — to grab passes, even those thrown high and off-target. Pitt wants him as a pass-catcher, but he'll be a dual-threat in his final season for Apollo-Ridge, blanketing chunks of the field in the secondary for the Vikings.
Tipton earned first-team all-state honors as a defensive back in football, intercepting five passes while catching 44 receptions for 697 yards and 14 touchdowns.
His basketball numbers included a team-best 14.7 points per game, 8.7 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 4.1 steals.
And Tipton made the WPIAL championships in his first season in track and field and placed second in the long jump (21 feet, 10 1⁄4 inches) and qualified for the PIAA meet.
You've always talked about loyalty. You used to have family in the Woodland Hills School District but chose to stay at Apollo-Ridge. Did you have a chance to leave and if so, what made you stay?
I had multiple chances to leave. My mom told me I wouldn't find people anywhere that supported me like the people at Apollo-Ridge. I wouldn't move anywhere else. I'm Apollo-Ridge until I die. I had the same feeling at Pitt.
You de-committed from Toledo before choosing Pitt. How hard was it to call them back and break the news?
It was a tough process; a lot to go through. I didn't want to be like any other kid who de-commits. I talked to them like a man, not like an immature kid.
At what moment during the prospect camp did you know you had secured a scholarship offer from Pitt?
I had no idea. I had just come back from Michigan State's camp and I wanted to go to Pitt's to see how I matched up. I was more excited for the competition than the scholarship at the time. I wasn't expecting a scholarship (at that time).
So you are involved with a clothing line?
It's a company called #Jetpak and we're trying to build it into a corporation. We push positivity over negativity. We want to make a difference in a small town. There are multiple people involved. We put our minds together.
Who are the most influential people in your athletic career?
My mom (Kim) and dad (Charles). They both have given me guidance. My stepdad (Thomas Duckett), too. My mom is the key to my heart. If I do something wrong my mom won't hesitate to put my in my place, smack me in the back of the head and tell me to get it together.
What's your obsession outside of sports?
Poetry and music. I do a little of both. It helps me clear my head and relax. I try to be diverse. You can't just be an athlete.
With your outward respect for your parents and eclectic interests, you are very comparable to former Valley star Toney Clemons, who plays for the Carolina Panthers. Have you ever met Clemons?
No, but that would be glorious.
What's a TV show you can't miss?
“American Dad” and, I can't lie, “Teen Wolf.”
So you babysit your 2-year-old triplet cousins and their two siblings?
Yes, every other week. It's nothing big to me. The triplets are all boys. Their brother Ryan, who is 3, is the leader. It's hard to keep up with them sometimes. They all love sports. You won't catch any of them without a ball in their hands. If it's not a basketball, it's a football or soccer ball.
You have been playing quarterback some in seven-on-seven passing scrimmages?
I have taken a few snaps. They threw me in there and coach said I did a good job. I will do whatever it takes for us to win.
Growing up, you looked up to former Jeannette star quarterback Terrelle Pryor?
Yes. In the fourth or fifth grade I wanted to be a quarterback. Then I came to realize I could catch and do something with the ball. I never started one down (of youth football) until the seventh grade when I was with the Steel Valley Steelers (in Munhall). I played some QB there.
Freeport · Sophomore · Volleyball/Swimming/Track and Field
Forget about “Bo knows.” Around Freeport this past school year, here's what mattered: Zoe knows.
Zoe Pawlak, who will be a junior in the fall, likely is not poised to follow in the footsteps of famous former football and baseball pro Bo Jackson, whose reputation as an all-around athlete grew in part because of Nike's simple yet celebrated two-word ad campaign in the early 1990s.
But she's still a rarity, as she stars in three sports with unrelated skill sets — volleyball, swimming and javelin. Her tall, lean build helps in each sport to some extent, but the 5-foot-10 Pawlak ultimately manages to perform better than most by learning and refining the sport-specific techniques — even when her practice hours for the latter two sports are fairly limited.
For her ability to thrive in sports that require more than just a blend of strength and speed, Pawlak is the Valley News Dispatch Girls Athlete of the Year.
Burrell's Sydney Bordonaro, Fox Chapel's Erin Mathias and Riverview's Sadie Buchser also were considered.
No matter the sports season, Pawlak came home with a medal.
In the fall, Pawlak earned all-state recognition from the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association and a first-team All-WPIAL Class AA nod as an outside hitter for the Yellowjackets, who won the WPIAL championship. Pawlak scored 28 of Freeport's 75 points in the title match, including 25 via kills.
In the winter, though she still committed the majority of her time to club volleyball practices and tournaments, Pawlak placed sixth in WPIAL Class AA in the 50- and 100-meter freestyle at the swimming championships. Her times — 24.59 and 54.22 seconds, respectively — qualified her for the PIAA meet, but — true to her nature — Pawlak passed on the opportunity and attended a club volleyball competition instead.
And this past spring, Pawlak shined in the sport in which she possesses the least experience, as she placed fourth in WPIAL Class AA in the javelin with a throw of 114 feet, 6 inches, and qualified for the PIAA finals, where she finished 13th.
When you look back at what you did in each of your three sports, what sticks out as the most surprising moment?
Track was a big surprise to me, actually. I did not expect to go that far. It was a big jump, from barely throwing (the javelin) 100 feet (as a freshman) to throwing it 120.
With your volleyball background, do you think you could've turned yourself into a PIAA meet-quality jumper rather than a thrower?
I think I would have had to really work on it for me to go that far in it. I had potential as a jumper, but I don't know if it was that much. It was complicated with track because there are so many different aspects of it. I would feel more confident at one event for a week, and then it would seem to switch to another until I finally got the hang of the javelin, and that became my most prominent event.
Volleyball is such a team-first sport, whereas swimming and track often celebrate the individual. Which environment do you prefer?
I really love volleyball, with the team bonding and everything. We got really pumped before that last game, and I don't do that individually. I get a lot more pumped up with my team, because I know we need to do it together.
Is there a sport in which you never did particularly well? Do you have a worst sport?
I don't know, because I've only seriously played the three sports I do in high school, and then soccer (until the age of 13). And I wasn't too bad at soccer. I think I'd be really bad at tennis because I tried that once with a friend at the park, and I was just really bad at it.
With your height and jumping ability, have you ever considered playing basketball?
I used to love basketball, actually. When I was a little kid, my dad was always shooting hoops with me outside, because he was a basketball player. And a lot of people say, ‘Oh, you're so tall, so you should play.' But by the time I was 7 or 8, I didn't really want to do it as much. It was more of other people wanting me to do it because of my height. Also, I love swimming. … It's not too much pressure, because I don't practice it much, but it's competitive, and it's fun.
How much time does volleyball take up during any given week?
I'd say volleyball takes up at least three hours a day, every day, year round.
Do you have time for non-sport activities?
I've tried to start taking pictures of things, because I like that. But not really. Even when I was younger, nothing really got my attention to the point where it became a hobby quite like sports.
For a bit there on your Twitter account, you posted pictures of your fairly elaborate nail polish designs. Is that a hobby?
I really liked doing my nails around that time (2012-13), but with volleyball, you can't really grow your nails out, because if the ball hits on a block or something, they'll break. So I haven't really done anything with my nails since then. Usually, if I do have time now to do something with my nails, I want to go play volleyball instead.
What position are you projected to play in college? Top-tier Division I programs certainly have their own definition of tall.
I'd probably be an outside hitter or defensive specialist for a small D-I school. But for a big school like Penn State, which won the national championship, I'd be a libero.
Does that disappoint you, the fact that you're tall but not tall enough by Division I standards?
Yeah, I'm about 2 inches away. It definitely bums me out.
Do you ever start to feel burnt out from playing volleyball so often?
No, I love to play volleyball. I've gone to a three-hour practice, and then I sat up in my room and wanted to play again. I live for volleyball.