It was considered a big feat when Pine-Richland baseball star Neil Walker made the U.S. Junior National team last year. Although not publicized as much, what Thomas Jefferson soccer player Rich Costanzo did recently is on the same level.
Costanzo, a senior, was selected to the Under 18 U.S. National Team. Only 18 players across the country were picked to the squad.
"This is what I've worked for my whole life," said Costanzo, the Post-Gazette's WPIAL Player of the Year in 2003. "This is the team I've always wanted to be on."
Costanzo leaves today for Argentina, where he will practice with the team for 10 days and play three exhibition games. Costanzo most likely will play right outside midfielder for the United States.
After playing with the U.S. team this summer, Costanzo will be a freshman on Penn State's team. His ultimate goals are to someday make the U.S. team that plays in the World Cup and also to play professionally. Making the under 18 team is a big step in that direction.
"It's pretty big. A few kids on this team have already been offered professional contracts overseas," Costanzo said. "Kids on this team could play in the MLS right now. I'd like to play in the MLS someday, but I would rather go overseas and play."
Another elite player
Hopewell junior Christa Harmotto also is making a name on the national level. Harmotto is one of 18 volleyball players across the country invited to train and try out this summer for the US Junior National Team, sponsored by USA Volleyball.
Harmotto will leave in July for Austin, Texas. After practices and matches, 12 players will be selected to the team. The U.S. team will play in the NORCECA Championships Aug. 3-8 in Winnipeg, Canada.
Harmotto is considered one of the top volleyball players in the state. Although she has one year left in high school, she already has made a verbal commitment to Penn State.
It's a challenge
Taking a cue from the Big East-ACC Challenge in college basketball, boys' basketball teams in two WPIAL Class AAAA sections will play each other in the Quad North-Quad South Challenge next basketball season.
Teams from Section 3 will play teams from Section 4, all in one day at LaRoche College and Washington & Jefferson. Four games will be played at each site. Proceeds from the event will go to the Coaches vs. Cancer organization.
Section 3 and Section 4 are made up of teams north and south of Pittsburgh. Chartiers Valley coach Tim McConnell and Seneca Valley coach Victor Giannotta, formerly of Peters Township, talked about the idea a few months ago.
"We kind of just took the ball from there," McConnell said. "We took the idea off the Big East-ACC Challenge. All the coaches liked the idea and some of the athletic directors really helped."
Upper St. Clair coach Danny Holzer said, "It's something that might spark a little more interest in WPIAL basketball. I think it adds an exciting date to next year's basketball schedule."
Coaches and some athletic directors met Wednesday to determine matchups. At Washington & Jefferson, the matchups are Seneca Valley vs. Trinity, New Castle vs. Ringgold, Fox Chapel vs. Upper St. Clair and Butler vs. Mt. Lebanon.
At La Roche, the matchups are North Allegheny vs. Canon-McMillan, Pine-Richland vs. Peters Township, Shaler vs. Chartiers Valley and North Hills vs. Bethel Park. Shaler and Chartiers Valley are the defending champions in their respective sections and figure to be among the top Class AAAA teams next year. Chartiers Valley is the defending WPIAL champion.
"It's a nice idea and I think what really makes it a special event is the money going to charity," North Hills coach Joe Falletta said.
It wouldn't be a stretch to call North Hills' Ian Fitzgerald one of the best distance runners in WPIAL history. He now holds Class AAA championship meet records in both the 1,600 and 3,200-meter runs. North Hills coach John Wilkie said one of the main reasons for Fitzgerald's success is his hard-working attitude. It was evident Thursday after he broke a 19-year-old record in the 3,200 at the Class AAA championships.
About 15 minutes after the race, Fitzgerald wanted to know what time he could practice Friday and yesterday. This was despite North Hills' senior prom being Friday night.
Fitzgerald wanted to practice. It has been almost two years since Fitzgerald took a day off from running.
"June 16, 2002," Fitzgerald said without hesitation.
That's the last time he didn't run at least a few miles. And he's still upset he took off that day.