The Zak Zone
Over the past week, I've been sitting at the office searching for the perfect idea for the spring sports preview, which will appear in The Spirit exactly one week from today.
But with the thoughts surrounding the upcoming seasons — including track and field, baseball, softball and boys' tennis — I also found myself reflecting back on the sports season just recently concluded.
As glad as I am to see 70-degree days and bright sunshine, I've also come to realize just how much I enjoyed and will miss the winter sports season.
Part of my reflection was sparked by the difficult decision I found myself making: Who to include in the Winter Sports MVP voting for this season.
As difficult as it was in the fall, my first official PAHS season, to select a batch of names while trying to cover all the bases, this season was no easier.
It is a difficult choice, watching a team's every move all season and knowing, as I stated on the cover of the winter sports preview back in December, that "every piece matters" to the team made the decision even more difficult.
Each player selected was well-deserving of the honor, but it was also very difficult to be forced to leave some of the athletes who contributed in other areas off the ballot.
All argument aside, the winter season was certainly a memorable one.
I've always been a fan of basketball, and as a member of the graduating class of 2000 at PAHS, I was a regular in the student section at our basketball games.
Not only was it a perfect opportunity to socialize, but I also was able to take in a sporting event — the best of both worlds for me.
The boys' and girls' basketball seasons took me back to those days, although the majority of my time at the games this year was spent not in the student section, but nestled in the corner near the Mahoning Club taking pictures.
Nevertheless, I found myself swept back to those high school days, as I was equally surrounded by true fans of the game.
Additionally, though, I discovered just how much I enjoy the other sport that is a part of the winter sports calendar for the Chucks athletes: Wrestling.
Because none in my circle of friends participated in the wrestling program in high school, I never found myself at the events.
But this season, I found myself eagerly awaiting the next home match, after we were teased with a busy, early schedule — seeing three home matches in the first two weeks of the season and then being forced to wait a full month for our next home bout.
On consecutive weekends this year, I found myself at Clarion University, a trend I hope continues over my tenure here at The Spirit, as two early March trips to Clarion means shots at District IX titles for individual wrestlers and basketball teams alike.
But as I prepare to head into another season I enjoy — the beauty of being a fan of all sports is that there's always another sport to feed the fix — I found myself reflecting back on some of my favorite sports moments of the winter season.
Many, I'm sure, are the same for other Chucks fans, but maybe your memories are different, tied to someone you know better than I do or viewed through a different lens.
I share with you the memories that stood out most to me in hopes that you may consider just how special a season the winter sports season was and to help you prepare to gear up for the exciting seasons that lie ahead, as well.
Two specific memories stand out from a spectacular season from a very young girls' basketball squad: Taylor Newcome's 36-point effort in a win over the Clearfield Lady Bison Jan. 6 and Alex Magill's back-to-back buzzer-beating game winners Feb. 10 and Feb. 13 against the DuBois Lady Beavers and A.C. Valley — on Senior Night.
Newcome's feat was one equalled by only one Lady Chuck over the past 10 years when Punxsy's Lauren Martino did one better with 37 in 2007.
Magill's accomplishment was a once in a lifetime sort of event, and it happened twice within a four-day span.
Those are the kinds of memories that will stick with me for some time. Some memories just have a way of sticking with a person.
While the accomplishments that stood out to me in girls' basketball this season happened to be individual ones, the memories I recall most clearly from the boys' season are mostly team accomplishments.
Punxsy's early-season win over Route 36 rival Brookville was an early sign of the strength that teamwork might play for the Chucks over the season.
And the other most memorable game was the fruit of each team member's labor, as the Chucks qualified for a coveted shot at the District IX title against the Bradford Owls.
In addition to the varsity team's success, a JV squad with great chemistry, led by junior Devin Nicholson and a solid sophomore core that had seen great success last year as ninth-graders, lost just one game the entire season — quite a difficult feat at any level.
While this was my first official season as a wrestling reporter and as a wrestling fan, I felt I made great strides in my fandom, and hopefully in my reporting, as well.
While I wished I could have been present to witness either of Punxsy's seniors who eclipsed 100 wins this season — Seth Spack and Neko Cappella — reach that milestone, each occasion happened on the road at matches I couldn't attend.
But there were two events that stood out as ones worth remembering for me.
The first was Punxsy's Senior Night. Perhaps it's because I wasn't able to attend the 100-win matches, but seeing Punxsy honor its five seniors and recognize each of their accomplishments over their careers hit home for me.
Wrestling is a sport requiring one to pour every ounce of everything they have into each match, and the coaches made sure those seniors knew just how proud they were of them for doing so.
Later in the season, the District IX Individual Wrestling Championships at Clarion University was an eye-opening experience for me, as well.
Seeing so many competitors, proud parents and coaches packed into the gym at my alma mater and witnessing a pair of Punxsy grapplers win their respective D-IX titles was a powerful experience and one I won't soon forget.
Overall, as tame as this year's winter was, I'm glad to be leaving the season itself behind.
Birds chirping and singing and the scent of spring in the air means warmer temperatures, time outdoors and no longer needing to scrape ice off my windshield.
Spring is my favorite season because it's all about new beginnings, and now that I've taken my time to reflect back on my fondest memories of the winter sports season, I can dive into the spring calendar refreshed and renewed, ready for a new start.
Fellow Punxsy sports fans, I'll see you at the fields, the stadium or the courts.