Cornell, Montour softball teams benefit from Sto-Rox transfers
When her teammates wore blue to softball practice, Cornell junior Shyanne Rippole wore green.
It wasn't a fashion statement.
“All I have is Sto-Rox attire,” said Rippole, who transferred from there to Cornell in mid-February along with teammates Caitlin Zielinski and Kionna Banks. “Whether it's my hoodie or my sweatpants from volleyball, I have Sto-Rox everything.”
It was easy to spot the newcomers. To ease their transition, coach Jeff Stuart bought Cornell shirts for all three.
“It was nice for him to do that,” Rippole said. “(The Cornell coaches and players) are so welcoming and so nice. They're really understanding about the whole situation. They understand that we just want to play softball.”
The Sto-Rox school board folded its title-winning softball program in June, shortly after longtime coach Bill Palermo resigned. Because the board's decision was attributed to budgetary reasons, a PIAA rule allowed the team's players to transfer to any neighboring district without penalty. The-athletic-intent restriction was lifted for one year.
“If that wasn't a rule, I'd be sitting at Sto-Rox wishing I was on the softball field right now,” said Rippole, who lives with relatives in Coraopolis. “I'm just happy I'm playing. I'm happy I'm on that field every day practicing and having a good time with my teammates.”
Forced by state legislation, the PIAA added Article 6, Section 6 to its bylaws in 2011.
Along with the three who transferred to Cornell, senior Aimee Miller and junior Lexi Giles transferred to Montour. They were the first WPIAL student-athletes to transfer for athletic intent under the provision.
“Those schools don't have to request or apply for eligibility,” WPIAL executive director Tim O'Malley said. “The rule says that once they're enrolled, they're eligible immediately.”
Miller and Giles transferred before this school year started. The three at Cornell finished basketball season at Sto-Rox and then transferred in February. A sixth, Mary Cersosimo, moved out of state.
“It was really difficult,” Rippole said. “Staying at Sto would have left us with a lot of regret. It was definitely hard because we don't want to leave our friends behind, but we had to make a decision.”
Four of the five are starters, with Miller likely to join them. Rippole starts at third base, Banks at second and Zielinski pitches or plays infield for Cornell. Miller will pitch for Montour this season, but was held from the lineup for violating a team rule. Miller earned all-section honors in 2013. Giles starts at third for the Spartans, who rank No. 4 in Class AAA.
“My first question was were they going to be as good in Class AAA as they were in Class A,” Montour coach Sarah Capp said. “They've proven that they can. I think that's a reflection of why they were so dominant in Class A.”
In 35 seasons under Palermo, Sto-Rox won 10 WPIAL titles, one state title and 27 section titles. The Vikings won five consecutive WPIAL titles from 2000-04.
“He always had a top-notch program,” Stuart said. “... I can't speak for the girls who went elsewhere, but the three I got are blending in pretty well.”
Cornell lost twice to Sto-Rox last season 15-0 and 12-0. But with the three additions from Sto-Rox, Cornell has a 19-person roster this season that's the largest in Stuart's five years.
“I chose Cornell because Montour had a really solid team already,” said Rippole, who wants to play college softball. “They had a lot of people in my grade who were starters. I didn't want to go all guns blazing for a position against a girl who's been there her whole life.”
Cornell (0-2) was 5-12 last season. The Raiders lost Monday to Burgettstown, 17-0. They face Sewickley Academy on Friday and Northgate on Saturday.
“Yeah, we lost the last two games,” Rippole said, “but there's something about being the underdog that makes you want to fight so much more. I don't have any doubt we could potentially make it into the playoffs this year.”
Montour (3-4) won WPIAL titles in 2010 and 2012. The addition of Giles and Miller could help them challenge for another. Montour has won its past two games after losing four of its first five.
“Both of them together are really going to impact the team,” said Capp, a first-year coach and 2008 Montour graduate. “I think that they are just mentally tough kids, and they're both phenomenal athletes overall. We've worked to make them more fundamentally strong.”
Transferring with friends helped the acclimation process.
“It made it easier, because I didn't feel like I was alone or the only one who had to say goodbye to people,” Rippole said. “It was nice to have others around me who knew how hard it was.”