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For local fans, here are 10 unforgettable sports stories from a weird and wild 2020

ROB ROSE
717-505-5418/@robrosesports

With the end of 2020 approaching, it’s time to take a look back at some of the memorable moments of the past 12 months in area sports.

So much has happened this year that the accomplishments of York’s elite athletes can   sometimes get lost among the constant stream of news.

So let’s take a look back at what was one of the weirdest, wildest and winningest years for some the area’s top sports stars. It was a year unlike any other.

Here are 10 local sports stories from 2020 that won't soon be forgotten.

Central York's Trey Sweigart, left, won't let McDowell's Mason Beck get past during PIAA Class 6-A second-round boys' basketball action at Central Cambria High School in Edensburg, Wednesday, March 11, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

10: COVID-19 pandemic derails local sports seasons

When the Central York boys’ basketball team walked off the court after its state playoff loss to (Erie) McDowell on March 11, nobody knew it would be the last high school game played in the state for six months.

Later that night, Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19, which canceled the team’s game that evening and subsequently every other sports contest for months. The pandemic ended several winter seasons for York-Adams League athletes in high school and college.

Former Dallastown girls’ basketball standout Amari Johnson was a member of the Rider University women’s basketball team set to head to the NCAA Division I Tournament, and former Spring Grove star Eli Brooks was a starter for the No. 25 University of Michigan men’s basketball squad.

The NCAA and high school spring sports seasons were later canceled as well, which took away opportunities for numerous athletes to step on their respective fields or courts one last time. 

This is the lone sad memory on the list of 2020’s biggest area sports moments, but no recollection of this year would be complete without a mention of the COVID-19 pandemic that made so many realize the true impact of the sports they play, coach and cheer for.

An honorable-mention moment — 10B if you will — is the buzzer-beating 3-pointer that Central York senior Evan Eisenhart hit to force overtime and eventually get the Panthers a win over Northeastern on Jan. 15. It was likely the biggest play of the hoops season and worthy of an ESPN appearance.

9: Kyle Larson dominates local dirt tracks

The 2020 season didn’t start off well for Kyle Larson, but it sure ended well.

After the NASCAR star was fired by his team following the use of a racial slur during an iRacing event streamed online, Larson found a home on the sprint-car circuit.

Kyle Larson is seen after winning Saturday's World of Outlaws race at Port Royal Speedway.

Larson won a dozen events at central Pennsylvania tracks while he raced sprint cars and late models and competed with the World of Outlaws. For many dirt-track fans, his local appearances became must-see events. He earned 40 overall victories during the season in several different model cars.

Local dirt-track fans will have to watch Larson on TV next year after he rejoined the NASCAR lineup in October following a sensational season in the area.

8: Wolf earns UFC contract

After her final shot at chasing Olympic boxing gold ended in 2019, Danyelle Wolf set her sights back on mixed martial arts in 2020. The Eastern York graduate has spent parts of the past several years training in the sport while waiting for an opportunity to test her skills in a fight.

In her first professional MMA fight on Sept. 15, Wolf defeated Taneisha Tennent by unanimous decision during Dana White's Contender Series on ESPN+ and earned a contract with the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

"I'm just speechless," Wolf told ESPN after the announcement. "I'm just ready to get back to the gym and start training, (to) put it all together and put on an even better show next time."

The UFC has not announced when Wolf’s next fight inside the Octagon will be.

York College's Jared Wagner, left, works to get past Mary Washington's Ra'Shawn Cook during men's Capital Athletic Conference semifinal action in Grumbacher Sport and Fitness Center at York College of Pennsylvania in Spring Garden Township, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

7: Spartans win CAC title in final season

The York College men’s basketball team left the Capital Athletic Conference with the ultimate bragging rights.

The Spartans, who are now members of the Middle Atlantic Conference, captured their second conference title in three seasons with a 79-77 victory over Christopher Newport on Feb. 29, avenging a 22-point defeat they suffered to the Captains one year earlier.

The Spartans advanced to the NCAA Division III Tournament and beat DeSales, 83-59, before a loss to Randolph-Macon eliminated them from the tournament.

Senior Jared Wagner, a Central York High School graduate, was awarded CAC Player of the Year and was named a National Association of Basketball Coaches second-team All-American.

Patrick Maloney, a former Kennard-Dale lineman, jokes with his best friend Gabe Hulslander, left, during a team practice at the school Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. As a senior, Patrick suffered a serious head injury last year and is currently with the team as an assistant coach. Bill Kalina photo

6: Maloney returns to K-D sideline

When Patrick Maloney collapsed on the field with a brain injury at the end of the 2019 football season, his friends, family and teammates didn’t know what the future would hold for him.

Less than one year later, however, the Kennard-Dale graduate was back with the Rams as a volunteer coach. That naturally brought smiles to the faces of many in the K-D program and community.

“It’s an absolutely awesome feeling because a lot of those guys back behind me were there all through rehab, like (senior lineman and Maloney’s best friend) Gabe (Hulslander) and (K-D head coach Chris) Grube,” Maloney said. “So, it’s a pretty unreal feeling.”

Maloney gave a passionate speech to the Rams before their first game on Sept. 25 and led the team onto the field for a huge victory over  then-reigning Y-A D-II champ, York Suburban.

Hulslander said having his friend and former fellow lineman back gave the team a major burst of motivation before the big win.

“We never knew what Patrick’s situation was going to be, if he was ever going to be able to recover,” Hulslander said. “It all came together that night. For him to step back out on the football field after that injury and to talk to us on that night was just special.”

United States's team Jayson Terdiman, left, Chris Mazdzer, second left, Summer Britcher, second right, and Tucker West placed third, celebrate after the World Cup luge relay event in Krasnaya Polyana, near the Black Sea resort of Sochi, southern Russia, Sunday, Feb. 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Artur Lebedev)

5: Britcher wins bronze at world championships

As a two-time Olympian, Summer Britcher has had a lot of success, but a medal at one of her sport’s most prestigious tournaments had eluded her.

That was until the Susquehannock High School graduate and her U.S. teammates secured the team relay bronze medal on Feb. 16 in Russia.

Britcher and her  teammates caught a break when the Russian team was disqualified from the event, which allowed Britcher to claim her first medal at the elite event.

“We didn’t have the highest hopes to be beating Russia, but anything can happen with the relay,” Britcher said. “I can’t even describe what a moment that was and how incredible it was to share it with my three amazing teammates. … Just absolutely incredible.”

Britcher also recorded another pair of top-10 finishes during the event.

Kennard-Dale High graduate John Stefanowicz, center, receives the gold medal he won in the 82-kilogram (181-pound) class at the 2020 Pan An Games.

4: Stefanowicz grabs gold at Pan Am Games

John Stefanowicz was never the member of his family expected to represent Team USA.

Former K-D wrestling standout Chance Marstellar, Stefanowicz’s younger brother, had always been the one to grab headlines for his performances on the mat.

Stefanowicz changed that in 2020 when he took the 82-kilogram (181-pound) Greco-Roman gold medal at the 2020 Pan American Games in Canada on March 8.

Kennard-Dale High graduate John Stefanowicz, right, has his hand raised after he won the 82-kilogram (181-pound) gold medal at the 2020 Pan Am Games in March. Stefanowicz is ranked No. 1 in his weight class for Team USA.

“His skills have caught up with his desire, work ethic, toughness and grit,” Team USA Greco-Roman coach Matt Lindland said. “All the intangibles are there; I think those are innate with the warrior mindset he has. Now he has added the skills to beat these guys. Some of the stuff he’s doing is incredible.”

Stefanowicz is ranked No. 1 in his weight class on Team USA and is expected to compete for the Olympic squad during the rescheduled Tokyo Games next summer.

York Suburban at Garden Spot in District 3 Class 3-A girls' volleyball championship, Tuesday, November 10, 2020.
John A. Pavoncello photo

3: Trojans complete clutch comeback to capture District 3 title

The York Suburban girls’ volleyball team had only dropped one set all season heading into the District 3 Class 3-A title match at Garden Spot.

The second-seeded Trojans, however, quickly found themselves in unfamiliar territory — trailing by two sets and staring down the end of their season.

Head coach Sonia Guyer didn’t make any drastic changes, she just reminded her squad of what they needed to do and let them play. The team responded by taking the next three sets to complete a pulsating comeback for the program’s first district title in nearly 45 years.

York Suburban at Garden Spot in District 3 Class 3-A girls' volleyball championship, Tuesday, November 10, 2020.
John A. Pavoncello photo

“We’re pretty good at keeping our cool,” senior setter Caitlin Springer said. “It was very stressful, but it was really awesome. We kept our cool and got through it and ended up winning, which is awesome.”

Springer had a career-high 50 assists in the win. York Suburban eventually lost to Bethlehem Catholic in the state semifinals.

Florida's Trinity Thomas competes on the vault during a gymnastics meet at Penn State in State College, Saturday, March 7, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

2: Thomas takes home five All-American honors

Former West York High School athlete Trinity Thomas dominated the NCAA women’s gymnastics season in 2020 and claimed five All-America honors, among several other awards.

Trinity Thomas delivers another perfect 10.0 score in return to state against Penn State

Thomas’ sophomore season for the University of Florida ended with her being named the Southeastern Conference’s Gymnast of the Year after she led the Gators to an undefeated season and No. 2 national ranking when the 2020 postseason was canceled.

Thomas was the only gymnast in the NCAA to have a perfect 10.0 score in three different events, a feat she finished off in her first college event in Pennsylvania at Penn State in front of hundreds of family, friends and fans with a perfect floor routine.

“It was so amazing,” Thomas said after the meet at Penn State. “People have been texting me for weeks on weeks (saying): ‘We’re coming. We’re coming.’ So, I was really excited to come back home for the first time in my entire career. So many people were here to support me and it was really great to perform for them tonight.”

Central York Head Coach Gerry Yonchiuk, left, presents a medal to quarterback Beau Pribula after defeating York High in the York-Adams League District 3, Class 6-A championship football game at Central York High School in Springettsbury Township, Friday, Nov. 6, 2020. Central York would win the game 48-21. Dawn J. Sagert photo

1: Panthers’ dream season ends in state title game

The Central York football team needed a number of things to go its way in 2020, and almost all of them did.

The Panthers waited patiently for word about the fall season and whether it would actually take place.

Once the season started, however, the Panthers never looked back.

Central destroyed its York-Adams Division I opponents during the regular season with a 354-9 combined point differential in six games, en route to a second straight Y-A D-I title. 

Then came the District 3 Class 6-A playoffs, where the team shed the label that it couldn’t compete with teams from across the region. The Panthers blew out reigning district champ Central Dauphin, 42-15, on its home field before they captured the District 3 title over rival York High.

A pair of road state playoff wins kept the historic season going before Central York suffered its lone defeat of the campaign against a loaded St. Joseph’s Prep team in the PIAA 6-A title game. The game was the first state title appearance for a York-Adams League team.

Junior quarterback Beau Pribula enjoyed a breakout season that saw him win awards and commit to play for the school he grew up rooting for — Penn State. Pribula compiled 2,675 all-purpose yards and was responsible for 48 total touchdowns, earning him Pennsylvania Football News Coaches Select Class 6-A Player of the Year honors.

Central York's Beau Pribula carries the ball for a touchdown during District 3, Class 6A semifinal action against Central Dauphin at George Ebersole Stadium in Harrisburg, Friday, Oct. 30, 2020. Central York would win the game 42-15. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Central York coach Gerry Yonchiuk  won 6-A Coach of the Year, and several other Panthers players received all-state honors after the historic season.

“It’s just unbelievable. It really is,” Pribula said. “From not thinking we were going to play a game at all, to playing 11 games and being the state runner-up is really, truly unbelievable. Everybody that was involved — the administration, coaches and staff — who helped get us to this point, I cannot thank them enough. This season is something that I, and the rest of the team, will never forget.”

— Reach Rob Rose at rrose@yorkdispatch.com.