By Matt Popchock
A number of news outlets have published their PIAA football preseason rankings for the 2012 season, which kicks off around these parts next Friday, including brother website MaxPreps, which tabs defending Class AAAA state champ Central Dauphin as number one in the Commonwealth, regardless of classification.
The highest-ranked WPIAL team is two-time district champion North Allegheny, which bowed to Central Dauphin in the PIAA Semifinals a year after winning it all, at number two. Art Walker’s Tigers are also ranked second among all Quad-A programs.
Gateway is the only other local Quad-A team to crack the MaxPreps state-wide top ten, coming in at No. 9.
It’s been a controversial off-season for Gateway since the near-firing and subsequent demotion of head coach Terry Smith, but it hasn’t stopped the Gators, who are also ranked No. 7 among all Quad-A teams, from looking like one of the teams to beat. They are N.A.’s homecoming opponent in an Oct. 5 game that could preview the WPIAL Class AAAA Final, which Smith is trying to win for the first time.
For some added perspective, in MaxPreps’ national Freeman (computer-driven) Rankings, North Allegheny comes in at No. 56, one spot behind famed Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, CA, and two ahead of Hoover (AL) High School, a national powerhouse that was once featured on the MTV series “Two-A-Days.”
Four-time WPIAL champion and three-time PIAA Class A champion Clairton, which begins the season on a nation-best 47-game winning streak, and has a real chance to break the PIAA record of 59, begins the 2012 campaign at No. 8 in the state.
Meanwhile, in case you missed it, after leading the Seton-LaSalle girls to back-to-back WPIAL Class AA championships, followed by a 30-0 run to the state title last season, Dennis Squeglia resigned as head basketball coach Tuesday.
Whenever one uses the phrase “going out on top,” it’s hard to imagine doing that much better than Squeglia did. However, the circumstances of his resignation remain a mystery; according to the Post-Gazette’s Mike White, the former coach has been told by legal advisors not to comment. School officials offered no further word, either.
Squeglia was named the 2011-12 WPIAL Girls’ Basketball Coach of the Year by that newspaper.
The boys’ basketball program at Woodland Hills, which has made leaps of improvement, is also now looking to fill a coaching vacancy, it was reported Wednesday.
Mike Decker, who led the Wolverines to their first section title in that sport since 2000, has resigned to take the head girls’ basketball coaching job at Perry (Ohio) High School, according to White, citing a desire to be closer to his family.
(Follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)