South Allegheny High School is in the midst of its best school year for varsity athletics.
Three Gladiators squads qualified for postseason play during the fall.
The football team qualified for the WPIAL Class AA playoffs for the first time in 19 years.
The girls soccer team claimed its first section title in school history and advanced to the WPIAL quarterfinals.
The boys soccer team also qualified for the WPIAL playoffs.
Meanwhile, a fourth South Allegheny athletic team has been earning accolades during the winter.
The Gladiators wrestling squad, coached by Tony DiGiorgio, claimed its third consecutive WPIAL Team Tournament berth.
"It was great to see our soccer and football teams qualify for the playoffs," DiGiorgio said.
But he also wanted to remind Gladiators fans that his wrestling squad actually got the ball rolling, so to speak.
"This is our third straight appearance in the WPIAL playoffs," DiGiorgio said. "I think our performance has been a little overshadowed by the other teams. These kids deserve some recognition for what they've done, and what they can accomplish during the postseason tournaments."
Wrestling's postseason began last night, as the WPIAL conducted seven section tournaments. Six teams participated in each tournament, with the top five teams qualifying for next week's WPIAL tournaments.
South Allegheny played host to the Class AA Section 3 Tournament. The Gladiators (7-2, 4-0) went unbeaten in sub-section 3A, which earned them an automatic berth in the WPIAL tournament.
"South Allegheny has never hosted a playoff match or section tournament," said DiGiorgio, before last night's matches. "Our fans will get a chance to see the WPIAL's best team -- Burrell."
Burrell has won six consecutive WPIAL Class AA titles and entered the postseason ranked No. 1 in the WPIAL in Class AA.
"We're a very young team and we recently lost one of our top starters to a season-ending injury," DiGiorgio said. "That really hurts, especially during the postseason."
DiGiorgio is referring to Noah Stoker, a 106-pound freshman who is ranked No. 6 in his weight class in WPIAL Class AA.
"Noah suffered a broken arm at the Allegheny County Tournament," DiGiorgio said. "It was so bad that he needed surgery that day. I feel bad for Noah because he was off to a great start."
Stoker is one of five Gladiators who have recorded 10 or more wins. The others are freshman Justo Hernandez (18-4 at 113), junior Lukas Gaydos (10-6 at 120), senior Joe Sorrentino (10-6 at 138) and sophomore Seth Hitchens (14-6 at 195).
"Justo is my best wrestler. I expect him to do well in the postseason tournaments," DiGiorgio said. "Seth is in a meat-grinder at 195 pounds, but everybody else who's good in that weight class is a senior."
Hernandez and Hitchens were place-winners at the Allegheny County Tournament, which is open to wrestlers at all Allegheny County schools regardless of classification.
Hernandez was fifth at 113, while Hitchens was sixth at 195.
"I've worked very hard to promote our program to the kids at South Allegheny," DiGiorgio said. "I'm very lucky to be a sixth-grade teacher. That gives me a chance to pass out flyers to all of our elementary kids. We have 20 kids on the varsity and good numbers in our middle school program."
One of DiGiorgio's recruits is Reese Yonich, a seventh-grader who has the autism spectrum disorder of global developmental delay.
"Reese was one of my students last year," DiGiorgio said. "He's a big fan of [mixed martial arts], so I told him he should try wrestling.
"I was surprised, and a little concerned, when he took me up on my offer this year. He's not the best wrestler, and never will be, but that doesn't matter. What does matter is that he really enjoys wrestling. In fact, it's made a big impact on his life."
South Allegheny's varsity and middle school teams practice at the same time and in the same make-shift wrestling room at South Allegheny's Early Learning Center in Liberty Borough.
"Wrestling has brought Reese out of his shell. His grades have also improved," DiGiorgio said. "Seeing his struggle to become a wrestler has been an inspiration for the whole team."
Yonich, who competes in the 185-pound weight class, picked up a win in one of his matches with the middle school team.
"The next day at practice, all the kids on the varsity and the middle school team clapped for him," DiGiorgio said. "He was a little embarrassed by it, but he was so proud and happy."