By William Bowman
The Daily Item
In the grand scheme of things, people are typically most comfortable in their own little corner of the world. We pick up the newspaper — or smartphone or tablet — to read what happened down the street or in the next town.
But occasionally the big world sneaks into our little corner of the world here in the Susquehanna Valley. That was the case when the sports staff at The Daily Item got together to select the 10 biggest sports stories of 2012.
In balloting of five staff members, the top two stories had a big-time feel with Southern Columbia graduate Henry Hynoski’s appearance in the Super Bowl edging out Keli Smith Puzo’s return trip to the Olympics with the U.S. Women’s field hockey team for the top spot.
There is also plenty of local flair as well, from PIAA wrestling champions to an historic soccer season at Susquehanna and the conclusion of a long win streak in girls track & field.
So here are The Daily Item’s top 10 sports stories of 2012:
1 On the same field where his NFL career was seemingly derailed before it even started, Henry Hynoski’s childhood dream became a reality in early February.
One of the greatest prep football players in Pennsylvania history, Hynoski, a Southern Columbia graduate, helped the New York Giants rally past the favored New England Patriots for a 21-17 victory Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis.
The undrafted free agent out of Pittsburgh had a strong performance in the world’s biggest football game. He caught a pair of passes, both for first downs. But his biggest play came late in the third quarter when the Giants were trailing. Following a catch by teammate Hakeem Nicks, the ball was knocked loose and Hynoski recovered the fumble, which eventually led to a field goal as New York rallied from a 17-12 deficit to win.
2 Less than a year after the birth of her second child Keli Smith Puzo capped off a decade-long run as a member of the U.S. National Women’s Field Hockey team by participiting in the Olympics for the second time, this time in London.
Smith Puzo, a former prep All-American at Selinsgrove, also played in the 2008 Beijing games. But a second trip to the Games was seemingly in doubt after Smith had a pair of children between the two events, including her second son less than a year from Opening Ceremonies in London.
But Puzo Smith never missed a beat and earned one of 16 spots on the U.S. roster, where she was the oldest player on the squad. She played in 179 international games with the U.S. National Team.
3 (Tie) It is strange how much one bad season can completely change the outlook of a terrific program. But two seasons removed from a PIAA championship, the Selinsgrove football team fell to 1-9 in 2011.
So the question moving forward: Which Selinsgrove program was going to show up in 2012? Well it was the good one as the Seals had a nine-win improvement in 2012, returning to their spot as the dominant program in District 4 Class AAA.
Selinsgrove went 10-4, winning its first district title since its state championship season in 2009 when it blanked Shamokin and Milton — two teams they had to rally past in the regular season — in consecutive playoff games. The Seals then toppled University Prep in the opening round of states before losing in the state quarterfinals to Allentown Central Catholic.
Coach Dave Hess was quick to point to the leadership provided by his seniors this fall, including Harley Stahl, Mike Walter, Tyler Krebs, Brett Hummel and more, who helped a young roster return things to normal in Snyder County.
3 (Tie) It is rare for a newspaper to have one team reach a state final — well, unless you cover Southern Columbia football — but for one publication to have two teams, in the same sport, reach the state title game, is a terrific feat.
It happened in June when Warrior Run (in Class AA) and Southern Columbia (in Class A) reached their respective state championship games in State College.
Warrior Run, riding the dominant arm of Daily Item Player of the Year Taylor Parker, finished the season 24-3 after a crushing 4-3 loss to Neshannock in the AA title game. The Defenders lost on a wild pitch in the bottom of the eighth inning.
Southern Columbia, which ended the year at 23-4 after beating Greenwood in the semifinals, never advanced a runner into scoring position in a 1-0 loss to Fannett-Metal.
The two powerhouses won’t reach the state final in 2013 for a simple reason: Southern is moving up into Class AA so it would have to go through Warrior Run to get back to the title game.
5 Ryan Solomon had come close before. Nazar Mironenko figured the first time was as good as any.
Solomon, a junior at Milton, and Mironenko, a sophomore at Mifflinburg, won PIAA wrestling titles within a half hour of each other in Herhsey in March. For Solomon it was the next step forward after a pair of state medals his first two seasons of varsity wrestling. For Mironenko, he won gold in his first trip to Hershey.
Solomon turned in a dominant performance at states at 195 pounds After an opening-round fall, he allowed just two more points over his final three bouts, beating Hanover senior Derek Wolford, the Southeast Regional champion, 3-0 in the final to finish the season 35-1.
Mironenko, who also won by fall in his opening round at heavyweight, survived a tie-breaker in the semifinals against Corey Garry of Fort Cherry and then outlasted Chartiers Houston’s Nate Grandelis, 3-2 in the title match to finish 43-2.
6 Prior to his sophomore soccer season at Messiah, Midd-West graduate Jeremy Payne was not even sure if he would be a starter for the Falcons. Four months and a national title later, Payne was named the NSCAA Division III National Player of the Year.
Payne helped lead Messiah to an unbeaten season, capped by a 5-1 rout of Ohio Northern in the NCAA title game, as it won its ninth national championship. He scored twice in the title game.
Payne, a sophomore, was named First Team Mid-Atlantic All-Region and First Team All-American after leading the Falcons in both goals (17) and points (44). His 10 assists also tied him for second on the squad.
7 When a sports season starts, every team, from the youngest of youth football squads to the highest-paid professionals all have a feeling this is going to be the year.
For the Susquehanna University men’s soccer team, it truly was. The Crusaders, behind longtime coach Jim Findlay and record-setting goalie Matt Salsman, made a historic run in the fall of 2012. Susquehanna, which finished the season ranked 13th in the nation, recorded program records in wins (18), shutouts (12), All-Landmark Conference players (7) and NCAA tournament wins (2).
SU advanced to the third round of the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history with wins over Cabrini (in a shootout) and Rochester before a season-ending loss to eventual runner-up Ohio Northern.
8 A year away from the scholastic wrestling scene certainly did not slow down Zain Retherford, a former PIAA wrestling champion from Line Mountain.
Retherford, now a senior at Benton who is ranked No. 1 in the nation at 138, won a gold medal at 63 kg/138.75 pounds in men’s freestyle action at the FILA Cadet World Championships in August.
Retherford won four matches on the way to his title, including a victory over Supian Burmagomedov, of Russia, 0-1, 4-3, 2-1 in the gold-medal finals. He rallied for the victory after dropping the first period.
9 While the Danville football team returned a good part of its roster from a successful 2011 season, the Ironmen and coach Jim Keiser entered 2012 knowing they were going to have to replace one of the best athletes in the history of the school in Andrew Andreychik, The Daily Item’s 2011-12 Male Athlete of Year, and the teams’ three-year starter at quarterback.
The Ironmen were able to overcome any question marks thanks to a stellar defense and strong play from new quarterback Weston Baylor. Anchored by all-state players Eric Haney and Cale Rice, Danville’s defense did not allow an opponent to score more than 21 points in any game until a season-ending loss to eventual state champion Wyomissing.
Danville finished the surprising season 11-3, winning its second HAC-I title in three seasons and its first District 4 title since 1999.
10 While No. 10 on our list, this one was 18 years in the making. On the final day of April, four days shy of the 18th anniversary of Selinsgrove’s girls track & field team’s last win over Lewisburg, Marissa Heddings, Kayla Swartz, Brianna Carnathan and Courtney McCartney helped the Seals take down Lewisburg again. The Seals won 93-57, ending the Green Dragons’ win streak at 147 consecutive meets. The streak lasted 6,573 days and started six years before the Selinsgrove boys team compiled a 158-meet winning streak.
Selinsgrove completed an unbeaten season and captured its first Heartland Athletic Conference Division I championship.