It was another banner year for area athletes at the individual, team and school level in 2019. Records were set, championships were won and the bar has been set incredibly high across the region for 2020.
We narrowed down the top 10 local sports stories of 2019 into the following list, which is in no particular order:
Sestina playing grad transfer year at Kentucky: Yes, we did just say we weren’t going to rank the stories on our list in order, but this one is the clear-cut favorite. Cameron County’s Nate Sestina, who had interest from schools around the country, chose to play his final season of college basketball at Kentucky University after graduating from Bucknell.
Though he missed nearly a month of action in November and December with a broken wrist, Sestina has thrived under the bright lights at one of the country’s top basketball schools. Through nine contests, the 6-foot-9, 234-pound forward is averaging 7.4 points per game, 5.7 rebounds per game and has also picked up 13 assists and five blocks. He’s already gotten the attention of Dick Vitale and former Kentucky hoops stars — amongst others — in his games that have aired nationally, and should get plenty of more exposure in the coming weeks. When the Wildcats open SEC play this weekend, nearly every one of their remaining games is featured on national television.
It’s a story that will be told on almost all of those broadcasts, but certainly one that folks from Sestina’s hometown of Emporium or from the proud competitors he went up against in District 9 will tire of hearing. The jump from Emporium to Bucknell to college basketball’s mecca in Lexington may seem incredibly daunting for some, but Sestina has handled it exceptionally well so far.
Elk-McKean All-Stars win Pa. title: A year after going all the way to the Junior League World Series, the Elk-McKean All-Stars made another run in the next division up: Senior League.
The team, which is comprised of athletes from Wilcox, Johnsonburg, Ridgway and Kane, rolled through the local Pa. District before topping Hollidaysburg in the state championship at Showers Field, 8-3. It was the second consecutive state title for the Elk-McKean team.
The ride didn’t stop there, as the team made it into the East Regional Tournament, where it fell in the first round of the double-elimination tournament to Delaware, 3-1.
After the loss, Elk-McKean rallied its way into the region championship, topping Rhode Island 13-12, New York 6-4, New Hampshire 18-2 and Maryland 7-6.
In the region championship, E-M was narrowly edged by Delaware again, this time by a score of 9-8.
With nearly every player from the 2019 team expected back in 2020, the Elk-McKean All-Stars are figuring to make another deep run next year.
Ridgway, Coudy football continue D9 dominance: In a year where both of District 9’s reigning champions (Ridgway in Class AA, Coudersport in class A) were expected to have to rebuild some, the schools instead reloaded and won their respective District classes again.
Coudersport steamrolled its way through the regular season, outscoring opponents 425-26 and posting six shutouts, including three in a row to end the regular season.
Then the Falcons topped Smethport and Redbank Valley each by 29 points to win back-to-back District titles, the second time in school history Coudy won two straight titles (2005 and 2006 being the other).
Ridgway, meanwhile, won its fourth consecutive District 9 championship (and second in a row in Class AA), but not without some drama along the way.
The Elkers dropped a Week 1 decision to Kane, 25-21, which threatened their chances of a one-seed entering the D9 playoffs.
But as Kane tumbled through the regular season (the Wolves finished 5-4 after beginning the year 5-0), the Elkers won out, including a resounding 42-0 shellacking of Clarion to earn the District’s No. 1 seed.
Then, in the District semifinals, Ridgway got into a shootout with Karns City and narrowly escaped with a 34-27 win. In the D9 championship, the Elkers had to overcome a 28-14 halftime deficit against Clarion for a 56-35 victory.
Chambers breaks D9 scoring record: Owen Chambers’ quest to become the highest-scoring boys basketball player in District 9 history came to fruition in his final high school basketball contest.
In a 77-65 loss to Bishop Guilfoyle in the second round of the PIAA Class AA playoffs on March 13 at DuBois High School, Chambers scored 19 points to break the previous scoring record held by Johnsonburg’s Calvin Grumley.
The new mark — which will be tough to break at Coudersport, the North Tier League or D9 for years to come — is 2,269 career points.
A tremendous shooter from 3-point range — he hit 115 treys in the 2018-19 season — Chambers also had no fear driving the basket and finishing at the hoop. He made 135 of his 830 points last year at the free-throw line and worked to become a better all-around player that included 85 assists, 113 rebounds and 71 steals to help Coudy go 24-3.
Chambers’ four years with the Falcons included two D-9 Class AA titles, nearly 100 victories, and eight PIAA playoff games.
He was named the 2019 Big 30 Boys Basketball POY and is now playing collegiately at Mercyhurst University.
Bradford soccer teams repeat as D9 champs: Bradford High continued its reign over Class AAA in District 9, as both the boys and girls soccer teams won back-to-back league crowns.
The Lady Owls finished the year 12-6-1, and posted a 4-0 record against District opponents. They were powered by Big 30 Player of the Year Regan Johnson, who scored a team-high 40 goals on the year, as well as several major contributors such as Maddi Cowburn, Marissa Miller and more.
Johnson also became the first girl in Bradford HS soccer history to record 100 career goals, a feat she accomplished in October against Oil City.
Ultimately, the girls team couldn’t overcome a slow start in a 4-3 loss to Hollidaysburg in the PIAA first round.
The boys, meanwhile, used a senior-laden roster to roll to a 15-6 record and second consecutive D9 title, as well.
With 2018’s leading scorer, Colton Swanson, out for most of the year with an injury, the Owl boys showcased their team’s depth, as Ian Grady took over offensively to score 28 goals and rack up 23 assists. Grady leaves as the program’s all-time assists leader.
Meanwhile, goalkeeper Evan Schmidt anchored a defense that posted seven shutouts. Schmidt posted 136 saves in 2019 and 486 in his career, making him the all-time saves leader at BAHS.
The Owls were eventually ousted by Franklin Regional in the PIAA first round, 6-2.
Bonnies advance to A-10 title game; Schmidt becomes all-time winningest coach: After the graduation of top-scorer Jaylen Adams, many fans and media pundits had the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team taking a step back in 2018-19. But led by a group of freshman and key returners LaDarien Griffin and Courtney Stockard, the Bonnies went 18-16 overall and 12-6 in league play. Entering the A-10 Tournament as the six-seed, St. Bonaventure knocked off each of its first two opponents by double-digits before falling to St. Louis, 55-53, in a championship game heartbreaker. Most impressive, perhaps, of making it all the way to the title game is that the Bonnies began the year with a 4-10 record that included four losses by at least 15 points.
In the second half of the season that saw plenty of highlights, one of the most memorable was when longtime head coach Mark Schmidt won his 203rd career game — a 79-56 victory over George Mason in mid-February — to pass Larry Weise as the all-time wins leader at Bona. Schmidt solidified his standing as the best coach in school history, and at only age 55, will continue to add to that mark for as long as he wants to continue patrolling the sidelines.
Peterson rising through minor league ranks: After beginning the year in Single-A Lakeland, Peterson climbed through the Detroit Tigers organization and reached as high as Triple-A Toledo, where he played a few games for the MudHens that included a series in Buffalo. If you made the trip to watch the Johnsonburg native during his 41 games playing with Double-A Erie over the summer, you saw up-close one of the best defensive infielders at any level of baseball. In fact, he was named the TigsTown 2019 Lakeland Player of the Year. TigsTown is a website covering every level of the Detroit Tigers organization and in 576 innings played at shortstop, Peterson posted a .963 fielding percentage and made only nine errors.
If he can improve offensively and bulk up physically, Peterson is poised to become a household name to baseball fans that should include a trip to the majors.
Hetrick commits to Louisville: What a year it was for Bradford’s Paige Hetrick in the pool. Hetrick, a senior at Bradford Area High School, won four national YMCA championships in August in the 200-meter backstroke, 100-meter backstroke, 50-meter freestyle and 100-meter freestyle. Her times in the backstroke races were Olympic-qualifying and have earned her a trip to Omaha, Nebraska, next June for the Olympic Trials.
That performance — along with her entire body of work swimming with the Bradford YMCA Barracudas caught the attention of colleges across the country. Hetrick was courted by nearly 50 Division-I schools, but set her sights on the University of Louisville. She’ll begin swimming there next fall, but her goals for the short-term are to set more personal and YMCA records as well as preparing for those Olympic Trials.
Bradford boys win IAABO Tourney: Though we may have fallen victim to recency bias here since the game just happened just last week, Bradford’s victory — and just how they did it — over Olean in the Joe DeCerbo Memorial Tournament deserves recognition.
Trailing since the opening minutes of the first quarter, the Owls put together a methodical rally that was capped off by a Cam Austin shot at the end of regulation to tie the game and send it into the extra period. There, Bradford overcome a buzzer-beating shot from the Huskies to send the game into a second overtime to capture the 86-82 victory. Bradford’s Tyler Gigliotti scored 41 of those points, a tournament record, and was named MVP of the two-day event. Even more importantly, though, was that the win marked Bradford’s first IAABO championship since 2004 and its first victory over interstate rival Olean in nearly as long. That win, as well as a 67-65 decision over Allegany-Limestone the day before, have the Owls off to a 5-2 start.
New York salvages Big 30 tie: It was all going exactly to plan for Pennsylvania in the 2019 Big 30 Charities Classic.
Fresh off a 65-yard Cole Secco touchdown and with a staunch defense holding New York to just one score on the night, Pa. led 27-6 going into the fourth quarter.
But, keyed by Pioneer quarterback Nick Rinker, the Empire State rallied for a 21-point fourth quarter to tie the game back up, 27-27, to force a tie and preserve New York’s Big 30 series lead at 22-21-3.
Rinker scored on a two-yard touchdown run to bring the score to 27-13, and then completed touchdown passes of 29 and 25 yards to bring New York back.
Both teams had plenty of chances down the stretch to break the deadlock. Pennsy dropped a would-be touchdown pass and turned the ball over twice in the fourth, while New York turned the ball over on downs on a fake field goal attempt and missed a potential game-winning, 47-yard field goal attempt as time expired.