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March 4, 2014

WRESTLING NOTEBOOK: It's a young group of county matmen headed to state

OPINION — THERE’S definitely a youth movement in Mercer County wrestling as demonstrated by the group of 11 matmen who are advancing to the PIAA State Class AA Championships on Thursday.

Eight of the locals are underclassmen. The only seniors are Lakeview’s Sam Breese (285), Reynolds’ Levi Stoyer (145) and Jamestown’s Mohamed Messai (182).

Breese and Stoyer are the only returning state place-winners. Breese, who has verbally committed to Kent State University to wrestle next season, won the heavyweight class and is seeking a second gold medal. Stoyer placed 7th at 145 and wants to climb much higher on the medals stand.

This marks the first trip to Hershey for Messai, who placed third at regions.

Eleven is a pretty solid number of state qualifiers for our county. While we had 10 in 2012, we had only 8 last year. But 6 of the eight brought home medals last season after 7 the year before.

Breese and Reynolds senior Austin Matthews (152) won state titles. Joining Stoyer as medal-winners were Sharon seniors Michael Bonner, 3rd at 138, and Jarray Norris, 5th at 126; as well as Reynolds senior Jamar Henry, 7th at 182.

Reynolds’ Seth Hogue and Michael Bartolo were qualifiers, but didn’t place. They both return for another shot at medals this season. The experience of getting to state as an underclassman is very important for wrestlers, even if they don’t place.

The group of youngsters this year includes six from Reynolds. Those Raiders and places at regions are: freshmen Gage Bayless (2nd, 106) and Cole Rickert (1st, 220); sophomores Hogue (3rd, 113) and Gene Ringer (3rd, 285); and juniors Bartolo (2nd, 126) and Mike Millero (3rd, 170).

The other underclassmen are freshman Michael Lineman (3rd, 106) from Greenville and Jamestown’s Faris Messai (2nd, 113).

ä In my 40-plus years of covering postseason tournaments, I have witnessed several close finishes for the team titles. As close as 1/2 point in one event when I was actually the official scorer. You think that wasn’t tense?

But the battle between Reynolds and Brookville for the team title at the Northwest Region was a thriller.

The Raiders seemed to have a pretty solid lead heading into the finals of 17 points, but that disappeared quickly as Raiders Bayless and Bartolo lost close matches in the finals, while Brookville picked up bonus points with a pair of wins.

Reynolds had Stoyer and Rickert as the lone remaining Raiders who could score points and Stoyer faced a crucial bout with Brookville stud Zach Vroman, who beat Stoyer earlier in the year. But Stoyer came through with a victory which was key because Brookville’s Brock Zacherl won at 152 by major decision.

Later, Rickert came through with a victory and the final team total showed Reynolds by a 147-138 margin. If Stoyer had lost and Zacherl and Rickert has still won by the same scores? The team total would have been Reynolds winning 143-142. Hey, that’s more than 1/2 point!

ä The Lineman family has come full cycle!

Neal Lineman, regarded as “The Father of Reynolds Wrestling,” made a lot of trips to state in his coaching days. But this year will be even be more special since he and wife Mary will be watching their grandson Michael compete at 106.

Neal was a three-time District 10 champ for Greenville and went on to wrestle at Purdue. Reynolds wanted to start a wrestling program and wanted Neal to be coach, but he had one more year in college. So Principal Ray Bost recruited Athletic Director Dick Sherwood to coach the first year, even though Dick knew little about the sport.

It was a great move. Neal took over the following year and started the tradition of greatness at the school. In his career, he built an unbelievable dual meet mark of 201-10.

But now Neal is back at Greenville, enjoying the career of his grandson in the sport he loves.

ä I really enjoy talking to former coaches like Neal Lineman, my Hickory coaches George and Tom Lewis, Jamestown/Hickory coach Bob Moore and many other “oldtimers” at the various tournaments.

One of the points Neal made when we talked was how few matches we wrestled when he, the Lewises and Moore were coaching. He pointed out that his grandson Michael, who is 39-6 as a freshman, has wrestled almost as many matches as he did his entire high school career.

“And when I tell kids that only the winner kept advancing in the tournaments at the end of the year, they don’t believe me,” said Neal with a laugh.

In those days, you either won or went home.

When I wrestled for Hickory in the 1960s, we were only permitted 12 dual meets and one four-team tournament each year. Even in college when I wrestled for Kent State, we only wrestled 10 dual meets and a couple of big tournaments. We actually had time to go to class and get an education.

Today, Division I wrestling is tough. You compete in a lot more  matches and are on the road a lot. It’s a real grind, physically and mentally.

ä A lot of credit goes out to site director Chris Osborne and his great staff at Sharon High School for the work they did at the section, district and region tournaments.

Assistant site director Gary Gulla, Ryan Mergl on mike, Janice Raykie on the computer, and many others from table workers to maintenance crew helped make the tournaments run smoothly.

Sharon High is the perfect site for wrestling tournaments and the school administration and school board deserve a lot of thanks as well for making it available each year.

It is a huge benefit to the various athletic clubs at the school, who run the concession stands different weeks at tournament time. It is a plus to restaurants and businesses in Sharon who pay school taxes.

And it is a big help to businesses in neighboring communities, from gas stations to hotels, who benefit from the weekend tournaments.

District 10 Wrestling Commissioner Jack McIntire would be the first tell tell you how valuable the facility and the staff are to making tournament time a great experience for wrestlers, families and fans.

ä Mars High School student Courtney Shaffer did a tremendous job of singing the National Anthem at districts and regions. Courtney is a daughter of Don Shaffer, former Reynolds High wrestler and the official historian of the team.

Don does a great job on radio broadcasts of wrestling for Cool 101 and its affiliate stations at tournament time.

Lynn Saternow is sports editor of The Herald. He can be reached at lsaternow@sharonherald.com.

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