2019 Mirror Athletes of the Year: Zinobile, Campbell garner top honors at banquet
Nick Rigby got a chance to meet everyone he’s been reading about the past four years Monday at the 14th annual Altoona Mirror Athlete of the Year Banquet at The Casino at Lakemont.
As Huntingdon’s boys basketball program’s all-time leading scorer accepted the Ron Rickens Sportsmanship Award, Rigby told his fellow 68 Athletes of the Week and their families in attendance that one of his favorite morning activities was reading about each one of them in the Mirror.
He had plenty of successful performances to read about.
Some of the most significant of those came from Juniata Valley senior Quinn Zinobile and Bellwood-Antis junior Alli Campbell, who were named the boys and girls Altoona Mirror Athletes of the Year.
“Playing baseball, basketball and football the past four years with my teammates meant everything to me,” Zinobile said. “I’ve worked really hard for this, and I know every athlete here has, and you can tell competing against them. I appreciate the Altoona Mirror for telling our stories.”
Zinobile was named the Mirror’s football player of the year after leading the Green Hornets to the District 6 Class 1A championship and the PIAA semifinals.
Zinobile was also a key part of Juniata Valley’s district title in boys basketball this season and helped the Green Hornets win a baseball district title as a freshman and sophomore.
Campbell, who has already scored more than 2,000 career points and has led the Lady Blue Devils to the past two PIAA Class 2A state championships, became the first underclassman to win the award. She was named the Mirror girls basketball player of the year for the second year in a row and has a chance to become Blair County’s all-time leading scorer next season.
“I was pretty surprised,” Campbell said. “The award usually goes to a senior. I’m really honored to receive this award, because it’s pretty special. There’s a lot of great athletes in this building tonight, and this is a really humbling award.”
Erica Dambach, the Penn State women’s soccer coach who led the Nittany Lions to the 2015 national title, was the guest speaker and had some advice for the athletes.
“So few athletes go out and train on their own,” Dambach said. “If you want to be great, make that a part of your routine. I meet so many players who wait for a coach to plan a practice or a get-together. When they get together, they do what the team needs. Sometimes what the team needs isn’t always what you need. That’s one of my big takeaways. As you grow, it gets harder and harder, get out with a ball and set challenges for yourself on your own.”
The quote really hit home with Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic’s Luke Ruggery, who took home the Dean Rossi Leadership Award.
“Way back in eighth grade when I really started focusing on basketball, the first thing I did was take shoes out in the driveway and set them up as defenders,” Ruggery said. “I’d go to the rim and finish or make moves and shoot. Honestly, I still do that today. That’s where my roots are and where it starts.”
Other special award winners included Tyrone’s Andrew Ferguson (Frank Kiraly Award, golf), Central Cambria’s Paige Wess (Angie Gioiosa Award, distance runner), Hollidaysburg’s Rami Alkhafaji (Herb Faris Award, tennis), Altoona’s Olivia Hudson (Erin Johnson Award, inspiration), Altoona’s Emily Albright (Erin Dodson Award, volleyball) and Claysburg-Kimmel’s Emily Claar (female Ron Rickens Sportsmanship Award).
Many of the athletes honored throughout the scholastic season could have been selected as an athlete of the week in many different sports. Philipsburg-Osceola’s Halle Herrington, Centre County’s all-time leading scorer in basketball, was honored for winning a district title in golf. Chestnut Ridge’s Logan Pfister, who just won three gold medals for the Lions at last week’s District 5 championships, earned his recognition from his play on the football field. Everett’s Kaitlyn Maxwell won her award for her play during basketball season but was a standout athlete in both soccer and track and field as well.
Being versatile as an athlete was something Dambach encouraged, though many would think a major collegiate coach would prefer the opposite.
“I am a huge proponent of high school athletes,” Dambach said. “I love the idea of students coming into our program being well-rounded athletes. That’s starting to go to the wayside of some of these higher-level athletes. Players get camaraderie, leadership and everything that tonight represents through playing many sports, and it is a big reason why high school sports are important.”