Adam Ripple | Fall sports ready to kick off in year unlike any other | Somerset

There was great uncertainty whether or not scholastic sports would take place this fall. A vote of 25-5 by the PIAA Board of Directors affirmed there would at least be a start to scholastic sports this season.

With golf and girls tennis already underway across the area, it is a good sign for what will hopefully be another memorable sports year across the county and state.

On the links, Rockwood has been the team to beat in the WestPAC and District 5, claiming four straight conference titles and five consecutive district crowns.

The team will be led by seniors Vileska Gelpi and Chase Bouras. Behind that duo is a plethora of sophomores and freshmen.

One team that will likely give the Rockets a battle for the District 5 title will be Somerset. The Golden Eagles went unbeaten during the regular season a year ago and nearly everyone from that squad, including seniors Andrew Platt, Braden Lohr Chase Stoy, Josh Augustine and Brayden Custer, return.

Meanwhile, the Somerset girls tennis team is coming off its second straight District 5 team title.

The Golden Eagles will have to replace three starters. The team will rely on returning players Abby Burtner, Kylie Walker, Violet Lopaze and Mia Rosman, who won a District 5 doubles title with sister Abby in an all-Somerset final last season.

In cross country, the Windber girls edged Meyersdale for the District 5 girls championship. The Somerset boys will likely have another strong contingent this season.

Conemaugh Township won District 5-A gold a season ago in girls soccer. The team lost of bevy of talent to graduation, including eight starts. Senior Chloe Shaulis is back in goal and will be an anchor for the Indians.

A team always in contention for conference and district titles is Windber. The Ramblers return eight starts from a squad that was bounced in the district semifinals a season ago. Natalie Buza and Kylie Ashbrook will be two seniors that play key roles for the Ramblers.

In the LHAC, Somerset surprised many, including themselves, finishing with a 15-4 mark. The Golden Eagles dropped a heartbreaker to Bedford in the District 5-6 Class AA semifinals.

Second-year head coach Brett Gardner brings back seven starters from a team that will look to take the next step this season.

Like the girls team, the Conemaugh Township boys also had a successful year, finishing District 5-A runner-up. The Indians graduated 11 seniors from a 13-4-2 team a year ago.

Rockwood and Windber will be teams to watch. Coach Dan Weaver has turned the Rockets into a top-tier program.

Meanwhile, Kris Thompson takes over at Windber for veteran coach Brett Hoffman, who stepped down after 10 seasons leading the Ramblers.

The conference and District 5-A race will be wide open this season with teams like Berlin and North Star looking to make an impact. Everyone will look to knock off defending champion McConnellsburg.

In District 5-6 Class AA, Somerset stood tall down the stretch, capturing gold in a 2-OT thriller over Everett, before falling in the first round of the PIAA playoffs.

The Golden Eagles won 17 games a season ago under veteran coach Mark Wassilchalk. The program continues to breed talent, and will vie for another LHAC and district title this season.

Berlin and North Star have been the cream of the crop in girls volleyball.

The Mountaineers won their fourth straight District 5-A title in a five-set spectacle against Conemaugh Township, and advanced to the state semifinals after finishing PIAA runner-up in 2018.

Berlin has eight seniors on the roster, including two-time all-state selection Grace Dorcon, who will be a driving force alongside setter Carlyn Hay.

Conemaugh Township lost only four seniors from a year ago. The Indians, along with Shanksville, Shade and Meyersdale will all be teams attempting to knock off the Mountaineers.

Meanwhile, the Cougars earned their 16th straight District 5 championship last year. Three-time all-state selection Syd Ashbrook returns to guide North Star — a team that is very young behind her.

Head coach Tony Crisafulli will have to instill his vast knowledge of the game on a young crop of players to bring home a 17th straight district title.

In the LHAC, Somerset will face tough competition every match. The Golden Eagles fell in the District 5-6 Class AAA title game to Hollidaysburg a year ago.

Seniors Anna Lane, Mackenzie Wolff and Shaelyn Walker will be called upon to lead a youthful club.

Last year in the WestPAC was a special one. Berlin, Meyersdale and Portage finished tied at the top with the Mustangs earning the trip to the Appalachian Bowl.

The Mountaineers are experienced and have depth, which will bode well.

Windber is a team that also has camaraderie and is steeped in tradition. The Ramblers return their core players and a physical line.

The conference boasts some big hitters at the forefront. However, the teams in the middle of the pack will provide strong challenges to the contenders.

Somerset has new direction with Brian Basile taking over for the Golden Eagles. Without a lot of seniors on the roster, the underclassmen will gain valuable experience this season.

When the fall season fully opens in the upcoming weeks, there will be a full gamut of action to keep tabs on across the county, not matter where we are forced to watch from.