- High School
A Preview of Der, FR, GS, Hamp, High, Holl, Ind, Kno, Mars
It’s not a complete facelift for the Greater Allegheny Conference, but the conference sure looks a lot different this season.
With the WPIAL’s realignment, the Greater Allegheny got bigger overall and added a little Keystone Conference flavor. What happened to the Greater Allegheny Conference is basically a two-fold thing:
1. Kittanning and Valley dropped out of the conference and moved down to Class AA.
2. Derry, Franklin Regional, Greensburg Salem and Hollidaysburg all were moved out of the Keystone and into the Greater Allegheny. The much-maligned Keystone Conference is no more.
As for the Greater Allegheny race, it seems just about everybody is picking Franklin Regional as the team to beat.
Here is a look at the teams in the Greater Allegheny:
The Trojans finished 2-7 overall last season, and 2-5 in the Keystone. Things will only get tougher for them in the Greater Allegheny.
But second-year coach Al Gaiardo does have some experienced players as five starters return on both offense and defense. Senior running back Josh Wannamaker led the team in rushing last year with 484 yards on 110 carries. Senior Robbie Hebenthal also saw some time at quarterback, despite being plagued by injuries. He also is a linebacker on defense.
Other returning starters are WR-DB Tyler Matusak, WR-DB Sam Brezo, RB-DB Jarrett Dorazio, WR-DB Austin Ellmer and TE-LB Clint Beeman.
Derry also features one of the best kickers in the WPIAL in Tyler Matusak. He made seven of nine field goals a year ago with a long of 46 yards.
FRANKLIN REGIONAL PANTHERS:
After making it to the semifinals last season, it seems the Panthers have the makings of another top team. They have one of the best running backs in the WPIAL and also return some top linemen from last year.
The best-known player on the team is senior running back Dane Brown. He is only 5-8, but does a lot of big things for the Panthers. He was the second-leading rusher in the WPIAL last regular season, behind only Hopewell’s Rushel Shell. Brown finished the year with 1,960 yards, his second-consecutive 1,000-yard season. He has 3,297 yards the past two seasons.
Also back is quarterback Nico Lodovico, who completed 56 of 95 for 973 yards last season. Lodovico also is a running threat, rushing for 420 yards on 72 attempts last season.
On the offensive line, Sean Miller was first-team all-conference a year ago.
While the offense has loads of potential, look for the defense to be very strong. A year ago, the Panthers allowed only 90 points all season, and some key players return. Coach Greg Botta has one of the best linebacker corps in Class AAA. Seniors Carter Henderson and Nick Vento were first-team all-conference along with lineman Adam Mihoci.
Put it all together and Franklin Regional will be a tough team to beat this season, and will be one of the best in Class AAA.
GREENSBURG-SALEM GOLDEN LIONS:
The Lions were 7-3 a year ago, but only three starters return on both offense and defense.
A big key for Greensburg Salem will be developing a productive quarterback. Josh Falatovich threw for more than 1,300 yards last season, but has graduated. Although the quarterback and receiver positions have plenty of inexperience, Tyler Shook returns at running back. He was the team’s second-leading rusher last season behind Michael Kizzie, who has graduated. Shook ran for 522 yards on 38 carries.
Big things are expected of senior tight end-defensive end Tanner Hahn (6-3, 230). Other returning starters are offensive tackle-linebacker Nick Holtzer, linebacker Kayne Adams, defensive tackle Donnie Chedrick and offensive guard Anthony Sorbin.
Also, Denzell Jackson is a receiver to watch.
The Talbots finished 3-6 overall and 2-4 in the conference a year ago. But with a number of returning players, things are looking up for Hampton.
The offense averaged only 17 points a game last season, but look for more points this year with the return of leading rusher Anthony Bianco, who ran for 738 yards on 167 attempts. Quarterback Jon Nigro returns after completing 57 of 127 for 799 yards. But junior Ryan Luther also saw some time at QB last season.
Jon Floss was the leading receiver last year as a sophomore with 18 catches. Collin Luther, Ryan’s brother, also returns at tight end.
Hampton has one of the top linemen in the Greater Allegheny in Noah Shulman, who was first-team all-conference on both offense and defense a year ago.
HIGHLANDS GOLDEN RAMS:
The Rams will likely turn to Allan Cratsenberg to fill the big shoes of graduated quarterback Gage Clark. A year ago, Clark completed 60 of 119 for 796 yards and also rushed for 690 yards on 140 attempts. Much like Clark, Cratsenberg is a very good overall athlete.
Highlands will have to find a capable running back to take the load off Cratsenberg. The No. 2 and 3 rushers from last season graduated. Although the defense was fairly strong most of the season, the offense struggled to score points at times, averaging only 16.9 points a game.
But the offense has one of the WPIAL’s premier kickers in Mike Masarik, a senior who kicked four field goals in one game last season and had eight overall.
The defense will be led by a pair of talented junior linebackers – Zach Mazur and Allan Cratsenburg. Mazur was first-team all-conference a year ago.
HOLLIDAYSBURG GOLDEN TIGERS:
Hollidaysburg built a little momentum at the end of last season, winning three of its final five games. If John Barton’s team is to continue on an upward trend this season, it must improve its defense.
The offense was effective at times last season, scoring 31, 42 and 53 points in games. But the defense allowed an average of 33 points a game.
Leading rusher Kris Stern graduated, but junior Brian Urban returns at quarterback.
INDIANA LITTLE INDIANS:
The Little Indians had a very successful 2011 season, finishing 7-3 and losing only one conference game to Knoch. Indiana lost in the first round of the playoffs to Hopewell.
But graduation hit Indiana hard, especially at the skill positions. Logan Weaver, who threw for 1,447 yards and led the team in rushing, has graduated. Standout receiver Tyrel Veney also is gone, as well as second-leading rusher Kyle Decker. So the Indians will have to find some skill-position players.
The cupboard is not totally bare, though, as two first-team all-conference players return on defense. They are lineman Justin Spencer and linebacker Nick Cornell.
The 2011 season was a memorable one for Knoch, as the Knights made it all the way to the WPIAL Class AAA championship game before losing to Montour. Knoch had a terrific offense, averaging 36 points a game, and a defense that was also fairly strong.
It doesn’t look like Knoch will be as strong this season, but the Knights still might have enough to be one of the top teams in the conference. The biggest problem will be replacing so much firepower on offense. Quarterback Ky Kenyon had more than 2,000 yards offense, but has graduated. So has standout running back Andrew Rumburg-Goodlin.
Holding the keys to the offensive engine now is 6-5 senior Dakota Bruggeman, who has been moved from receiver to quarterback. Bruggeman played QB in his younger years, and was a backup to Kenyon the past few seasons.
Ben Tackett showed some promise last year running and catching, and will likely be a bigger part of the offense this season.
Two other players return who were first-team all-conference picks last season – lineman Jonathan Whalen and linebacker Luke Kroneberg.
MARS FIGHTING PLANETS:
With the return of a number of players from last year’s 6-4 team, look for the Planets to possibly challenge for the conference title.
Coach Scott Heinauer’s team is experienced at many positions. The quarterback returns, the top five leading rushers return and there is experience on the lines.
Owen Nearhoof, a junior, will be in his second season as the Planets’ QB. He didn’t throw often last year, attempting only 102 passes and completing 52 for 672 yards. He will probably pass more this year. He also rushed for 238 yards last season.
Junior fullback Jason Lozzi can be a force at fullback. He led the team in rushing as a sophomore, rushing for 729 yards on 156 carries. Also back is Alex Smith (394 yards on 57 attempts), Josh Schultheis (269 on 56) and Jake Wright (152 on 21). Schultheis is only a sophomore.
Returning on the lines are Connor Biggs, Jackie Mettus and Bill Schrock. Wright and Garrett Ashbaugh were second-team all-conference picks at defensive back.
MSA Sports Predicted Order of Finish:
1. Franklin Regional Panthers
2. Mars Fighting Planets
3. Knoch Knights
4. Hampton Talbots
5. Highlands Golden Rams
6. Greensburg-Salem Golden Lions
7. Indiana Little Indians
8. Hollidaysburg Golden Tigers
9. Derry Trojans