Winchester Thurston has not made much of an impact on the WPIAL landscape since it joined the scholastic sports organization about six or seven years ago.
The private school in Shadyside is still chasing that elusive first WPIAL team title, but it took its first step toward achieving that goal when its boys' lacrosse team won the Western Pennsylvania Scholastic Lacrosse Association Division 2 championship last Saturday by defeating Kiski School, 8-7, at Quaker Valley.
It is believed to be the first district varsity scholastic sports championship for the 120-year-old school while competing in a league against traditional WPIAL schools.
"We may have had one of our girls' teams win a championship in an old independent league [against other prep schools], but I don't think we've ever accomplished anything like this in a boys' sport," said Bears coach Darrell Schmitt, who led Shady Side Academy to the WPSLA Division 1 title in 2004.
Schmitt left Shady Side Academy three years ago to take an administrative post at Winchester Thurston.
"I came here to help improve all aspects of our athletics department and the quality of all the sports, not just boys' lacrosse," said Schmitt.
Winchester Thurston (15-2) lost only one game to a local team, 17-3, to Greensburg Central Catholic in a Division 2 South game on May 6. The Bears made a 180-degree turn against the Centurions, defeating them, 8-7, in the rematch at Peters Township May 30 in the WPSLA semifinals.
Winchester Thurston had only boys' lacrosse for two years before Schmitt's arrival and was 3-13 the year before he took over the team. With the support of school head master Gary Niels, the Bears have climbed the competitive ladder. Niels was the goalie when Maryland won the NCAA title in 1975.
Using players who learned the sport through the East End lacrosse organization, Schmitt was able to turn the Bears into instant winners, going 8-7 in 2005. Last year, the team made it to the Division 2 playoffs, but lost to Fox Chapel in the first round. The Bears beat the Foxes twice this season, including a 5-1 first-round playoff win this year.
Winchester Thurston featured six seniors who played prominent roles: attackmen Peter Buongiorno and Peter Lambrou, midfielders David Peitman and Owen Campbell, defender Phil McGuire and goalie Quinton Thorne, who shared time in the nets with junior Ryan Bopp.
Notable juniors included attacker Jim Murton, defenders Drew Thurman and Reid Snyder, midfielders Matt Froehlke, Nikolay Karagyozov.
Other players are sophomore midfielders Taylor Culbertson, Joe Franz, Ryan Kalanish and Derek Green and attacker Carlo Spagnolo, and freshman attacker Malcolm McCormick.
"We're trying to improve all athletics and not necessarily trying to be a powerhouse in anything. I grew up in the City so it just felt natural to come here," Schmitt said.
"We have excelled at the school academically and in the creative arts. Now we'd like to add the third component by striving for excellence in athletics."
There is a middle school boys' lacrosse team at Winchester Thurston that posted a 5-4 record this year.
"Our middle school team is getting better," Schmitt said.