WASHINGTON, Pa. - The Washington and Jefferson Presidents are Baltimore bound.
For the 23rd time in the program's history, the Presidents, currently 8-2 overall, captured the Presidents Athletic Conference title when they topped then 13th-ranked Waynesburg, 31-14, last weekend, earning them an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III football playoffs.
To many, this latest title might very well be the most special of all.
It's been just a little more than a month since the squad's top runner and captain, Tim McNerney, was tragically killed. Taking the field with heavy hearts two days later, the Presidents, understandably, suffered a lopsided defeat. Since then, however, they have worked hard at achieving McNerney's stated preseason goal: bringing the PAC Championship trophy back to the Washington and Jefferson campus.
Now, they have honored their friend by doing so.
Upon receiving the PAC Championship trophy last Saturday, Coach Mike Sirianni, who for his efforts this season was named the PAC coach of the year for the fourth time, immediately handed the hardware to McNerney's family, for whom the title was dedicated.
"I am proud of these young men," Sirianni said shortly after McNerney's death. "There are more important things in life than football wins and losses. But they came out and played hard for their friend, teammate and captain. ... These players know that Tim will always be with them."
The Presidents, now winners of four straight games, will be looking to keep the season alive at noon Saturday.
That's when they travel to Baltimore for an opening-round Division III playoff contest against Johns Hopkins, which at 9-1 overall is currently ranked, according to D3football.com, No. 19 in the country.
Washington & Jefferson will be led, as it has been all season, by a number of area natives.
In addition to Sirianni, a 1990 Southwestern Central School graduate who sports a 90-23 record over his decade-long tenure at the helm and has now led Washington and Jefferson to four PAC Championship games and seven NCAA playoff berths, key contributors B.J. Monacelli and Andrew Pingitore will be taking the field on Saturday.
Monacelli (Cassadaga Valley/Cassadaga), a second-team All-PAC defensive choice, made a crucial interception in the end zone late in the first half for the squad during the title game, helping them preserve a comfortable 14-point advantage as they went into the locker room at the break. In addition to the interception, which was his team-leading third of the season, the 5-foot-11 defensive back made a pair of tackles and broke up two more passes.
This season, Monacelli is fifth on the team in tackles with 36 and has broken up or defended 31 passes, far and away the most of the group.
Pingitore (Cassadaga Valley/Cassadaga), meanwhile, a right guard who was a second-team All-PAC offensive selection, was pivotal in allowing quarterback Matt Bliss time to complete a whopping 21 of 26 passes for 256 yards and four touchdowns. The running game was similarly successful thanks to Pingitore's work in the trenches as they racked up 125 yards.
Also on the squad are Eric Tyra (Jamestown/Jamestown), a sophomore defensive back, Shane Smith (Fredonia/Fredonia), a freshman quarterback, Zach Marsh (Panama/Panama), a junior defensive lineman, and Sam Aults (Brocton/Brocton), a junior offensive lineman.
This marks the first time since 2009 that Washington and Jefferson has reached the NCAA playoffs. A victory on Saturday would push the program's all-time playoff record above .500 (it is currently at 21-21), and would propel them into the round of 16, where they would square off against the winner of the Christopher Newport (6-4)-Mount Union (10-0) game.
Mount Union is the nation's top-ranked team.
- - -
Bob Black was all smiles for the eighth year in a row.
Black, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Gordie Black of Jamestown, coached the Canandaigua girls swimming and diving team to its eighth straight Section 5 Class B championship on Nov. 9 with 514 points, edging runnerup Victor (432 points) and third-place finisher Honeoye Falls-Lima (308 points).
A 1980 Jamestown High School graduate and former Red Raider swimmer, Black credited his team's depth in capturing this latest sectional title.
The Braves hit the wall first in just five events, but four Canandaigua girls raced in the finals of the 100-yard freestyle and the 100 breaststroke while three swam in the 200 individual medley finals.
- - -
Just as he was for the Chautauqua Lake football team, Steven Kenny has been a force at Ohio Northern University.
The 6-foot-1, 230-pound linebacker from Dewittville led the squad in tackles this season with 82 - the next closest player had 66 - to go along with a fumble recovery and a half sack.
Of those 82 stops, 3 went for a loss, which is good enough for fourth on the team.
In 10 games this season, Kenny, a 2011 Class D All-State first-team selection, has made at least nine tackles six times.
- - -
Freshman Jennie Thies (Southwestern/Lakewood) netted four points and hauled in four rebounds in 10 minutes for the nationally ranked Gannon University women's basketball team during the Lady Knights' final contest - against Texas A&M - at the Disney Tip-Off Classic in Anaheim, Calif.
Gannon, No. 15 in the country for Division II, went 2-1 during tournament play.
Earlier in the week Thies, Southwestern's all-time leading scorer, grabbed four rebounds in a victory over UC San Diego.
Currently, Thies is averaging nine minutes and 2.7 rebounds per game.
- - -
Cassie Heil (Cassadaga Valley/Gerry), a libero for the Pitt-Bradford volleyball team, was recently selected to the third-team of the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference.
Heil led the Panthers in digs per set with 4.84, which was good enough for third amongst all players in the AMCC. She recorded double-digit digs in all but four matches, including 14 with 20 or more.
The junior delivered a career-high 29 digs earlier this season in a contest with Penn State Behrend.