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What a Ride: The 2020-21 Sports Season Took us All on a Ride for the Ages

Warren's Emma Ruhlman reacts after her three free throws with no time left and no one with her at the line won the D10 5A girls' hoops title for Warren

From a sweltering day at the tennis courts in Brockway in early September to a rain-soaked afternoon at the softball field at Slippery Rock University in mid-June – and everything in between – it was one heck of a ride during the 20-21 high school sports season, our first here at D9and10Sports.com.

There were doubts. There was hope. There were sputtering starts and sudden stops.

But in the end, we found a way to let them play.

And play they did.

Bringing memories far and wide.

Who can forget North East’s Isaiah Swan drilling a long playoff put to claim PIAA gold in golf or Brenna Campbell, Korrin Burns, and Erica Selfridge overcoming the eerieness of empty gyms to all but run the table on their way to leading Clarion to a PIAA volleyball title?

There was Liam Galla, Khali Horton, Will Innes, and their hoop-playing buddies giving Cathedral Prep its first PIAA basketball title since 1993, in Cinderella fashion nevertheless considering the Ramblers were the second seed in a two-team D10 tournament in Class 5A.

Reynolds. Wrestling. Does anything more need to be said? The Raiders won their fifth consecutive PIAA dual-meet championship. Is there an end in sight? Probably not!

For Villa Maria, getting wet was a prerequisite in claiming gold in the pool.

There was Brookville’s Nathan Taylor, Hickory’s Louie Gill, and Cathedral Prep’s Jacob VanDee etching their names in the PIAA record books with gold in wrestling with Villa Maria’s 200-meter Medley Relay team of Megan Maholic, Jasmine Chen, Olivia Mottillo, and Hayley Palmer being joined in water gold by Fairview’s Halle Myers, Warren’s Katie Beyer, and the 200-meter Free Relay team from Fairview of Abby Zablotny, Morgan Dougherty, Ellie Kraus, and Myers. Out on the track, Wilmington’s Connor Vass-Gal, Lakeview’s Isaac Lightcap, Slippery Rock’s Maryann Ackerman, and the Wilmington 4×400-meter relay team of Grace Mason, Becka Book, Lindsey Martineau, Lizzie Miles all did the same.

It wasn’t all about championships. It was about memories.

There was Ethan Susen, Caelen Bender, Darren Miller and company running Wilmington to another spot in the PIAA football title game … Jace Miner putting Brookville on his back and leading the Raiders to their first-ever basketball title-game appearance – his Larry Bird-esque steal in a tie game at WPIAL champion Ellwood City to win the quarterfinal matchup will not be forgotten anytime soon.

And Emma Ruhlman. In a highlight that will surely pass the test of the time, the Warren junior calmly stepping to the line in the District 10 Class 5A girls’ title game with no time on the clock, no one there with her, her team down two and going swish, swish, swish with three free throws before collapsing to the floor in pure joy, a District champion.

The story of the Oil City football team was one of overcoming adversity.

First, they lost star linebacker Brayden Crocker. Then stud running back Cam Russell. None of it mattered. Dan York’s Oilers still fought and clawed their way to a berth in the PIAA semifinals. A run unmatched in Oil City football history.

More recently, Punxsutawney softball went from under .500 entering the postseason to a wild ride to the PIAA semifinals thanks to the bat of Ciara Toven and the arm of Kendal Johnston.

While on the subject of softball, Union City proudly put District 10 softball back on the map becoming the first D10 team to qualify for the PIAA semifinals in six years.

Let’s not forget some of the real heroes of all of this.

The athletic directors, coaches, and other administrators both at the local and district levels.

In the face of pressure from some places not to play and from others to play no matter the cost, these folks made it work for the kids. They found a path where others only saw doubt. They were agile, sometimes changing games and venues at a moment’s notice. All for the kids. The student-athletes. All so they could have some sense of normal in a year that was anything but.

Then there are the student-athletes themselves.

These young adults were resilient in so many ways. They just wanted to play and were willing to do anything and everything possible to make that happen. Wear a mask? Play without their parents there? Whatever it took to just play the game. They listened to everything they were told to do and they sacrificed to make that possible. Through all of the sweat and tears, they got a chance to shine.

For all of that, we at D9and10sports.com say thank you.

Thank you to all the administrators for finding a way to let us in to cover your athletes. We know for the longest time that wasn’t an easy task with capacity restrictions.

Thank you to the players. Some of you already knew us. Many of you didn’t. But you all embraced what we were trying to accomplish with this new company. It is all about you. You create the stories. We have the privilege of telling the stories.

To the parents and fans. You found us. You enjoyed our coverage. The numbers don’t lie. We see how many of you have come to the site this year, and we are incredibly grateful you did.

Last but absolutely not least, thank you to those who supported us on the advertising end. Without you, this doesn’t happen. Without you, this business wouldn’t be able to give these student-athletes, their coaches, their friends, their families, their communities the coverage they deserve.

This was just year one. We aren’t going anywhere. We plan on continuing to grow D9and10Sports.com, grow our relationships with schools, teams, athletes, sponsors, and readers, grow our reach and grow our coverage. And that starts now. That starts with some exciting things over the summer including highlighting returning players, looking back more in-depth at some of the moments we talked about above. It includes highlighting former athletes from both districts, covering all-star games, and so much more.

The start of the 2021-22 school year will be here before we know it. But again, thank you all for a heck of a ride in 2020-21. We will never forget any of you!

Editor’s note: This column was a joint venture of Chris Rossetti, Brian Hagberg, and Andy Close

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