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Plenty of big moments impacted 2014 Franklin Regional sports scene

Michael Love
| Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

A knife attack at Franklin Regional High School on April 9 that injured 22 — mostly students — sent shockwaves through the school community as many tried to comprehend what had happened.

Murrysville, Delmont and Export community members, along with so many others near and far came together in the aftermath to provide comfort and support during the recovery process.

The Franklin Regional sports teams were held out of action for a couple of days, but they soon returned to competition and provided a source of pride for the district.

Opposing teams showed an outpouring of support on banners, T-shirts and signs.

The Panthers baseball team was the first to resume. They played at PNC Park on April 12 and scored a 3-1 win over Seneca Valley.

World-class distance runner Darren Miller, an FR graduate, ran 22 miles on April 13 in honor of the 22 victims.

A week after the attack, all of the FR teams were back in action.

Seniors Colin Jonov and Charan Singh represented the Panthers on the West team at the PSFCA East-West All-Star football game at Franklin Regional on May 4.

Jonov earned MVP honors, as the football duo and FR welcomed a big crowd to the high school facilities.

The Franklin Regional boys golf team showed its support by hosting a blood drive at Franklin Regional Middle School.

Franklin Regional also hosted a high school rugby tournament on May 30 to benefit Murrysville First Responders. Nick Snyder, one of the students injured in the knife attack, played in the tournament with his Kiski Valley team.

Numerous other big moments shaped the local sports landscape in 2014, and this week, the Murrysville Star will take a look back.

Wrestling champions

The Franklin Regional wrestling team has a season for the ages in 2014 as the Panthers continue their rise to one of the top programs in the country. The Panthers finish their season 23-1 overall, capture the Westmoreland County Coaches Association tournament title in January, march through Section 1 action and produce the program's first-ever WPIAL and state team championships. FR defeats section rival Latrobe for both the WPIAL and PIAA crowns.

While the Panthers team as a whole produces memorable results, individual wrestlers cap off stellar campaigns with top finishes at the WPIAL and state tournaments. Devin Brown, Spencer Lee and Josh Shields take home their first WPIAL titles, while Tyler Smith, Michael Kemerer and Josh Maruca are WPIAL runners-up.

All six take on the best in the state in Hershey, and Lee and Brown finish off undefeated seasons with PIAA titles. Kemerer and Shields are second in their weight classes at states, while Smith and Maruca earn third-place finishes.

Cheer team makes states

The Franklin Regional competitive spirit cheerleading team places fifth in the small-squad division at the WPIAL competitive spirit championships and advances to the state competition in Hershey. At states, the team, which combines elements of cheerleading — cheering, stunting, tumbling, dancing and pyramids — into a routine with a time limit of two minutes and 30 seconds, takes 12th in a stiff battle between the top squads from throughout the state.

Final decisions

Five Franklin Regional football players sign on to play football in college on National Letter of Intent day. Charan Singh is the first Football Bowl Subdivision signee since Sean Hickey (Syracuse) as he agrees to attend the University of Massachusetts. Others making their decisions final are Colin Jonov (Bucknell), Adam Mihoci (Cal U), Josh Sabo-Pediconi (Alderson-Broaddus) and Kevin Slezak (Cal U).

FR boys hoops battles

The Franklin Regional varsity boys basketball team survives a rugged Section 2-AAAA schedule and places second in the standings to Plum. The senior-laden and experienced Panthers squad goes 15-6 overall during the regular season and beats the rival Mustangs in the section finale. Seventh-seeded FR rises to the occasion in the WPIAL first round with a 70-59 victory over Seneca Valley. The Panthers see their season come to an end, however, in the next round with a 76-61 loss to No. 2 Hampton and 6-foot-7 Pitt recruit Ryan Luther.

WPIAL water success

Members of the Franklin Regional swimming and diving teams fare well in WPIAL competition, as there are numerous personal bests and 11 competitors qualifying for PIAA competition in nine different events. Senior Alyssa Ruffing finishes second in both the 50 free and 100 backstroke, while sophomore Tyler Stevenson (third in 100 breast, fifth in 200 IM), freshmen Elise Scanlan (fifth in 100 fly) and Morgan Birdy (eighth in 100 fly) qualify individually. The girls 200 medley relay of Laura Snyder, Ruffing, Scanlan and Megan Remaley; the 200 free relay of Birdy, Meredith Easterling, Scanlan and Ruffing; and the boys 200 free relay of Nick Snyder, Nieko Santoro, Nick Whiteman and Stevenson also qualify for states.

Sophomore Andrew Sederholm becomes the Panthers' first state diving qualifier since 2011 with a sixth-place finish at WPIALs.

Megaludis shines at nationals

Franklin Regional graduate Nico Megaludis brings home an NCAA third-place finish for Penn State at the Division I Wrestling Championships in March in Oklahoma City. The third-seeded Megaludis, a former three time PIAA champion, goes 5-1 in the tournament and defeats four seeded wrestlers along the way. He becomes an All-American for the third time and wraps up his junior season 31-4.

Boys tennis section title

The Franklin Regional boys tennis team wins a share of the 2014 Section 1-AAA title, and the Panthers (13-3) compete in the WPIAL team playoffs. Despite a 3-2 loss to Chartiers Valley in the playoffs, FR is able to celebrate a title for the first time since its nine-year run as section champions ended in 2011. The Panthers close the regular season with a pair of victories over Latrobe and Penn-Trafford, and the 4-1 win over the Warriors in the section finale ends the Warriors' run of three straight section crowns.

World champion

Spencer Lee adds “world champion” to his list of accomplishments as he wins a gold medal in the 50-kg (110-pound) weight class at the FILA Cadet World Championships in July in Snina, Slovakia.

He wins three matches by technical fall and one by fall to take home first place. He defeats Afgan Khashalov of Azerbaijan, 11-0, in the championship bout.

Matchup with Team USA

Ashley Dolan (Thiel, second base) and Ally Vrcek (St. Vincent, pitcher), both 2010 Franklin Regional graduates, are selected to be a part of the Presidents Athletic Conference All-Star softball team that takes on the 2014 USA Softball Women's National Team in a pair of games in July in Morgantown, W.Va.

Dolan and Vrcek both were team captains during their senior seasons at Franklin Regional.

Big 33

Franklin Regional head coach Greg Botta and Panthers senior Colin Jonov represent Pennsylvania at the annual Big 33 Classic football game in Hershey. Pennsylvania battles back from a 24-7 deficit to force overtime, but Maryland prevails, 31-24 in double OT.

A run to states

The Murrysville Senior Legion baseball team gets a second chance after a tough District 31 semifinal-series loss to Irwin. The Eagles take Irwin's place in the Region 7 Tournament in Clearfield, as Irwin drops out over player availability reasons. Normally, only the top two teams advance to regionals from District 31. Murrysville rises to the occasion, goes 5-1, and wins the regional championship with a 5-4, 12-inning triumph over Claysburg in the title game. The Eagles' summer run ends at the state tournament, as they go 0-2 — one game being a 1-0 loss to Boyertown in 12 innings — and finish with a 24-9 overall record.

Section champs

The fall sports season for Franklin Regional featured a number of teams who captured section championships.

•The Panthers boys and girls squads wrap up Section 3-AAA titles on consecutive nights. The girls defeat Kiski Area, 2-1, to wrap up the section crown with a 12-1-1 record. The boys also defeated Kiski Area, 1-0, to avenge a 2-0 loss at Kiski from earlier in the season and finish at the top of the section standings at 9-2-1. The section title is the first for the boys program since 2008, while the girls win the section for the first time since 2011.

•The boys cross country team captures its third consecutive Section 1 title with a 2014 record of 7-0. The Panthers run their section dual-meet winning streak to 26 and overall dual-meet streak to 29. At the individual WPIAL Class AAA cross country championships, senior Brett Trottier punches his ticket to states with a 17th-place finish in a time of 16:57. The trip to the PIAA meet is his first in four years of varsity running.

•The boys golf team has a solid season in Section 4-AAA, and its 9-1 record in section play earns it a tie with rival Fox Chapel for the section championship. The Foxes and Panthers split their section matches, and both make trips to the WPIAL team semifinals.

FR football fares well

The Franklin Regional football team rises above the adversity of early-season injuries to key players and inexperience in certain positions to have another strong season in the Greater Allegheny Conference. The Panthers avoid the madness down the stretch in the race for WPIAL playoff spots in the conference. They shake off a loss to eventual conference champion Hampton and defeat Greensburg Salem and rival Gateway to finish second in the standings at 6-2. Key victories over Indiana, Mars and Hollidaysburg follow a season-opening loss to conference foe Knoch.

Franklin Regional uses a complete effort to dispatch Belle Vernon, 20-0, in the first round of the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs. The next week, the Panthers hold a 14-9 lead over West Allegheny in the second quarter before the Indians turn on the jets and run away with a 37-14 victory.

Marathon feat complete

Molly Zalewski, a 1996 Franklin Regional graduate, completes a marathon feat Sept. 21 at the MVP Health Care Marathon in Rochester, N.Y.

She becomes the 320th woman runner ever to complete a certified 26.2-mile race in every state in the continental United States, plus Hawaii and Alaska.

Having met her goal, which started when she was 19, Zalewski said she is calling it quits on marathons.

BEYFL champions

The Franklin Regional Panthers (ages 11 and 12) capture the championship of the largest age division in the first season of the new Big East Youth Football League.

The team finishes the regular season undefeated at 8-0. It enters the playoffs and defeats Kiski Area, 33-14, in the semifinals before capping the title run with a 21-14 come-from-behind victory over Penn-Trafford in the championship contest.

Signing on the dotted line for college

Several Franklin Regional seniors celebrate the NCAA's National Letter of Intent early signing period by making their college decisions final. The senior wrestling quartet of Michael Kemerer (Iowa), Josh Shields (Arizona State), Josh Maruca (Arizona State) and Devin Brown (West Virginia) stand together as they sign with their schools. Also signing on the dotted line are Gillian Kane (George Washington, volleyball), Austin Mortimer (Ohio State, swimming), Annie Painter (University of Findlay, lacrosse), Ryan Grieco (Lake Erie College, baseball), Alex Hodowanec (Walsh, lacrosse).

Stein at world tournament

Murrysville resident Julia Stein, 11, gets the chance to go against some of the best young racquetball players in the world at the International Racquetball Federation World Junior Racquetball Championships in Cali, Columbia. She plays singles and doubles matches in the girls 10 age division against girls from Mexico and Bolivia. Despite not picking up a win in four doubles matches with American teammate Heather Mahoney and in six singles matches, Stein said the experience is very valuable.

Stein punches her ticket to the world championships with a first-place finish with Mahoney in doubles and a second in singles at the USA Racquetball Wilson National Junior Olympic Racquetball Championships in Denver in June.

Visnick enshrined

Franklin Regional athlete and graduate and former FR teacher and Panthers football head coach Eli Visnick is one of eight area athletic greats to be inducted as the Class of 2014 into the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame, East Boros Chapter, on Oct. 9 at Edgewood Country Club in Churchill. Several dozen former inductees from the previous 36 hall-of-fame classes are on hand to welcome this year's class into the family. Members of the Class of 2014 also are Steve Statnick, Kerry Sean Hetrick, Dr. Rich Porac, Beth Amato, Steve Spokane, Tom McClelland and Jackson Nunn.

Michael Love is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-388-5825 or at mlove@tribweb.com.

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