Football Playoffs: WPIAL pairings include Upper St. Clair at surprise No. 14

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After the WPIAL announced its playoff pairings last night in a ballroom, there was a buzz among Class AAAA coaches.

They all had the same reaction: What was the WPIAL thinking concerning Upper St. Clair?

Upper St. Clair was seeded 14th in the 16-team field and drew a first-round game Friday night at No. 3 McKeesport.

Upper St. Clair finished third in the Great Southern Conference and had a 6-3 record overall. Four teams with 4-5 records were seeded higher than Upper St. Clair.

And get this: Two of those four losing teams -- Pine-Richland and Penn-Trafford -- lost to Upper St. Clair this season.

"I don't understand what their rationale or thinking was. It makes no sense to me," said Canon-McMillan coach Guy Montecalvo.

Central Catholic coach Terry Totten said, "That seems like a pretty rough draw for Upper St. Clair."



Even McKeesport coach George Smith tried to come up with a reason for his opponent's seed before saying, "I can't figure it out."

Upper St. Clair coach Jim Render was not at the meeting but you can imagine his ire when his assistants told him the news.

Render has been critical of the WPIAL pairings in the past but felt this pairing and seeding was the height of the league's ignorance toward his team.

Playoff pairings and seedings are set by a 12-member WPIAL football steering committee made up of some former coaches, athletic directors and school officials.

The chairperson of the committee is Bill Englert, assistant superintendent of West Allegheny schools.

"I'm upset because of the lack of respect we always get [from the WPIAL]," Render said. "We're ranked lower than some poor teams with losing records."

Upper St. Clair's losses were to Bethel Park, Canon-McMillan and Central Catholic by a total of six points.

"I told my coaches not to be surprised by anything," Render said, "just because of what [the WPIAL] did to us four years ago when we were the only undefeated team in the regular season two years in a row and Central Catholic was the only undefeated team that year. They put Central the first seed and us No. 4.

"We thought that was terrible. But to drop us to 14th this year, there has to be a lot of vindictiveness with [the WPIAL]. For whatever reason, I don't know."

WPIAL executive director Tim O'Malley tried to explain Upper St. Clair's seeding, saying that the league tries to match third-place teams from conferences against second-place teams whenever possible.

McKeesport is the second-place team from the Foothills Conference.

But that argument doesn't always hold up because in Class A, Western Beaver is a third-place team playing a first-place team (Beth-Center).

"It was the consensus opinion of the committee that Shaler was the best third-place team," O'Malley said. "That left three third-place teams. Penn-Trafford is a third-place team, but they can't play McKeesport because they're from the same conference. That left us two -- Woodland Hills and Upper St. Clair.

"You don't think we haggled over this? When you go with first- and second-place conference teams getting home games, it limits you somewhat."


Mike White can be reached at mwhite@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1975.


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