New Castle News

January 2, 2014

Lancers' sports programs rule in 2013

Corey J. Corbin
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — The year 2013 has been very kind to the Neshannock School District.

The Lancers claimed a WPIAL championship in softball and a handful of section titles in other sports, while other squads earned the right to participate in the playoffs as well.

Neshannock earned Lawrence County School District of the year honors with the performances this year, an award sponsored by Washington Centre Physical Therapy and selected by the New Castle News sports staff.

“(Co-Athletic Director Rob Nogay) and I have spoken about the quality of coaches we have here,” said Bob Burkes, who shares athletic director duties at Neshannock with Nogay. “We believe we have people coaching here that could coach at a Quad-A school and be successful. They put a lot of time in and they do all the little things to make their teams successful. The kids are the keys to it all. The academics are tough here, so it’s a great honor for them with those challenges and the time they put in  at practice for how well they do.”

Burkes believes a winning culture has bred more winning inside the halls at Neshannock High school.

“I think the winning attitude and culture permeates to the kids,” he said. “From our softball team to the football team to the volleyball team, the kids all want to belong to something successful, so that feeling feeds on itself and grows. Plus, our coaches are good people and kids want to play for them.”

•The Lady Lancers softball team’s bid for a second straight state championship came to a crushing halt with a 13-0 loss to Williams Valley in the Class A state title game at Penn State’s Beard Field.

Neshannock finished the season at 21-3 and its two regular season losses came to Class AA playoff teams — Wilmington (6-5) and state runner-up Riverside (1-0).

Neshannock pitcher Madison Shaffer tossed 10 regular-season shutouts, including a 13-0 perfect game against Western Beaver. The team added another shutout against Serra Catholic in the opening round of the WPIAL playoffs.

Coach Tracy Kimmel’s club also defeated Frazier and Carmichaels en route to the program’s first WPIAL championship. The Lady Lancers downed Elk County Catholic, Claysburg-Kimmel and Southern Huntingdon in the state tournament before falling to Williams Valley.

Shaffer finished the season with a 21-3 record and struck out 199 batters, while senior outfielder Rayanna Furst pounded out 46 hits, scored 40 runs and drove in another 24. The Robert Morris recruit also posted the county’s top average (.568).

The rest of the line-up was no slouch either with Marissa DeMatteo (.529), Alexandra Fischer (.492), Jamie Graziani (.486), Katie Burrelli (.391) and Madison Altmyer (.380) all providing a boost to the Neshannock offense.

DeMatteo, Fischer, Furst and Shaffer all earned recognition on the Pennsylvania High School Softball Coaches All-State team.

“(It) was a great season,” Kimmel told The News in June. “We had a lot of pressure on us from the beginning. We were the defending champs in Double-A and we dropped down. Everybody was saying you should walk right through these teams. You still have to play the games. There’s good teams at every level.”

•The baseball team missed out on the playoffs by dropping a 7-0 decision to Section 5-AA rival Laurel in what amounted to a play-in game for the final berth out of the section.

It marked the first time the Lancers didn’t advance to the playoffs since 2006 after coach Mike Kirkwood’s squad claimed the 2011 and 2012 WPIAL Class A titles.

“We know if you come out of this section, I don’t care if you finish first or third, you have a shot at winning a WPIAL title,” Kirkwood told The News in May. “I told the kids, we kind of made our bed and we have to lay in it. We lost to some teams that maybe we weren’t really focused to play. Whatever the case may be .... it bit us.”

•The Lady Lancers sent Sarah Davis, Anna Lisa Frengel and Lizzie Manickas to the state track meet in Shippensburg with impressive showings at the WPIAL Championships.

Frengel picked up a state bronze medal in the shot put with a personal best and school record throw of 40-0. Manickas grabbed eighth place in the 3200-meter, while Davis finished 22nd in the discus at states.

•The boys track team posted a solid season with Ernie Burkes, John Conglose, Eli Owens, Robbie Kroner, Stephen Jeffries and Caleb Holes all qualifying for the WPIAL Championships.

Holes was the lone boys athlete to qualify for the state meet in the pole vault, but didn’t place.

•The boys tennis team returned to the playoffs last spring after graduating 12 seniors from the 2012 squad that went undefeated in the regular season and suffered the same result — an opening-round loss to Thomas Jefferson.

The Lancers finished their season at 9-5 and were led by singles star Max Watters. Joe Bullano and Nick Hautala also contributed in singles, while doubles teams of Mike Maciarello/Connor Richards and Nick Montini/Mitch Cialella also posted multiple wins.

•The boys basketball team won six straight games and 10 of their first 11 to start the 2012-13 season before closing the regular season record with a 17-5 record.

Coach John Corey’s Lancers lost in the opening round of the WPIAL playoffs for the third straight season with a 66-64 setback to Apollo-Ridge at Highlands. Neshannock rallied from a 15-point deficit late in the third quarter to pull within 65-64 with less than a minute to go.

The 2013-14 Lancers have hosted and won their own tipoff and Christmas tournaments. They have opened this season with an 8-1 record entering Friday’s Section 2-AA battle with Aliquippa.

Neshannock’s averaging 79.5 points a game this year behind the balanced scoring of seniors Burkes and Matt McKinney and sophomore Ethan Moose.

“We have everyone returning and I’m sure that loss is in everyone’s memory bank,” Corey said of the loss to Apollo-Ridge. “It’s a new year and we’ve moved on from that as a team, but we certainly don’t want to relive that feeling. The goal is to win every game on your schedule. To this point, we’ve almost done that. I’m proud of how we’ve competed.”

•The Lady Lancers girls basketball team overcame early 0-4 and 1-5 records to earn the fourth and final playoff berth out of Section 2-AA with an 11-11 record despite having just one senior and nine players total on its roster a year ago.

Neshannock earned the No. 15 seed in the WPIAL playoffs by outlasting West Shamokin, 47-38, in a preliminary-round game at Highlands, but were ousted from the playoffs by eventual state champion Bishop Canevin, 65-28, at Moon.

The 2013-14 Lady Lancers also claimed their own Christmas tourney, while downing Imani Christian and New Castle to secure the New Castle tipoff tournament. They are 10-0 entering tomorrow’s Section 2 showdown with Shenango.

Neshannock has kept three opponents under 20 points and are allowing just 31.9 points a game, while Madison McHale has scored at least 20 points in 8-of-10 games this winter.

•The football team faced high expectations with most of its WPIAL semifinalist team back from 2012 and matched them at every turn.

The Lancers rolled through the regular season with a 7-2 record, reaching the 50-point mark four times, including a season-high 56 points in a season-opening rout of Western Beaver.

Neshannock played in front of a regional television crowd on ROOT Sports Pittsburgh in a thrilling 34-31 loss to Sto-Rox. The Vikings and Lancers traded leads before Sto-Rox turned away Gianni Oliva on fourth-and-goal from inside the 5 with under 10 seconds left in the game.

The Lancers demolished Brentwood, 40-9, in the first playoff game at Bob Bleggi Stadium then whipped Monessen 35-6 at Chartiers-Houston. Eventual WPIAL and PIAA champion Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic ended Neshannock’s season at 9-3 with a 27-14 loss at Mars in the WPIAL semifinals.

Neshannock’s dynamic offense was led by Ernie Burkes, Owens and its talented line, while its ‘sharks in a frenzy’ defense held opposing offenses at bay.

•Golfer Marissa Kirkwood battled through a late season wrist injury to place 12th in the state this fall.

She posted a two-day total of 178 at the PIAA Individual Championships at York’s Heritage Hills Golf Resort and Conference Center.

The Neshannock sophomore finished in a fourth place tie with Villa’s Annie Ciachinni with a round of 38-41—79 at yesterday’s PIAA Western Regional Finals at Tom’s Run Golf Course in Blairsville.

She finished fourth in the WPIAL semifinals at Ponderosa Golf Course in Hookstown and eighth in the WPIAL Championships at Hillcrest Country Club.

“Overall looking back at this year, I think I did a great job — definitely better than I thought I would,” Marissa Kirkwood told The News in October. “I had to work through some things this year, but this year has been really fun and I can see what I’m capable of. I can’t wait to get back out there and get better. This year was definitely about seeing what it was like (at states).”

•A young Neshannock volleyball team qualified for the WPIAL playoffs as the second seed in Section 3-A behind rival Shenango.

The Lady Lancers got hot at the right time, upsetting South Side Beaver and Shenango before falling to eventual district champion Bishop Canevin in the WPIAL semifinals to earn the program’s first state playoff berth.

State runner-up Cochranton ended Neshannock’s season at 15-5 with a 3-0 sweep at Meadville.

The Lady Lancers were paced by senior outside hitter Madison Altmyer, junior outside hitter Jordan Wethli and junior setter Taylor Frank. Wethli was named to the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association all-WPIAL second team, while Taylor Frank earned third team honors.

“Overall, this season was, by far, a huge boost for Neshannock’s program as far as recognition and competitiveness and the direction I had for the team when I was asked to take over. I think we are on a good path toward building a solid program,” said Neshannock coach Andrew Frank, who doubles as Taylor’s dad.

•The girls soccer team claimed the program’s second WPIAL Section 1-A championship with a 10-2-2 section and a 12-3-3 overall records.

Neshannock posted four-straight shutouts to close the regular season before clipping Carlynton 1-0 in the first round of the playoffs before falling to New Brighton 4-3 in the quarterfinals.

Senior forward Annie Litrenta led the team with a team-high 14 goals and six assists, while junior midfielder Sydne Slingluff paced the team with eight assists and found the net 12 times. Teammate Kelly Cournan also was a force in the midfield as a senior.

“This was a great year, capped off by winning a very competitive section and advancing to the quarterfinals,” Neshannock coach Brian McCarthy told The News in December.

•Seniors Manickas and Kroner were the catalysts for a successful cross country season.

Manickas qualified for the state meet for the third time in her career this past fall finishing 61 seconds behind WPIAL Class A individual champion Marianne Abdalah of Vincentian Academy.

The Lady Lancers’ No. 1 runner earned a state medal by finishing 13th with a time of 20:11 at the Parkview Cross Country Course in Hershey.

 Kroner placed 35th in the boys Class A race in 17:33 in his third straight trip to the state meet. He was fourth in the WPIAL race with a time of 17:25.

“Lizzie and Robbie ran their best time,” Lancers coach Dave Antognoli told The News in November. “They went in a positive direction and improved their time and place.”

•The doubles tandem of Erin Warvell and Anna Warvell finished second in the Midwestern Athletic Conference Tennis Tournament at Brady’s Run Park and Blackhawk High School.

The loss in the MAC title game was the first for Erin, a freshman, and Anna, a junior. The sisters were the Lady Lancers’ No. 2 doubles pair.

Meanwhile, Neshannock’s No. 1 doubles team of Gabby Giangiuli and Maria Acosta entered the tourney as the third seed, but were eliminated in the semifinals by Quaker Valley.

Cecelia Weingart, Meg Johntony and Anjuli Ribarevski entered the singles portion of the MAC unseeded. Weingart lost in the quarterfinals, while Johntony and Ribarevski both fell in the round of 16.

•The Neshannock boys soccer team struggled this year, falling to 0-16-1.

The Lancers earned their lone tie against South Side Beaver 1-1 and dropped all 10 games in Section 5-A, which produced WPIAL and PIAA champion Sewickley Academy and WPIAL runner-up Beaver County Christian.

Senior goalie Josh Maggi was a bright spot for Neshannock, turning away 362 shots and made the WPIAL Class A all-star team.

(Email: C_Corbin