MERCER COUNTY will send eight wrestlers to the PIAA State Class AA Tournament this week at Hershey Giant Center. But while the total number isn’t as high as some years, it is a talented group that should bring home a slew of medals.
Last year the county sent 10 wrestlers to Chocolatetown and 7 brought back medals. So I look for big things from this group as well.
Will we have four in the finals like last year? Doubtful. But many should finish high on the medal stand.
Also in 2012, Reynolds only sent three wrestlers — Dylan D’Urso, Austin Matthews and Blake Heim — but D’Urso and Matthews finished as runners-up, while Heim took third and the Raiders earned a state runner-up trophy.
This year Reynolds was somewhat a surprise to most people. Not only did they win district and regional team titles, the school sends 5 wrestlers to Hershey.
While they will strive again for team honors, it wouldn’t be easy with returning champ Bethlehem Catholic a heavy favorite to repeat. At the PIAA AA Team Duals earlier, Beth-Catholic beat Reynolds in the finals.
Reynolds coach Casey Taylor commented after the regional tournament how the Raiders have overachieved all year and many people would have thought that senior star Matthews would be the only guy heading back to state.
“Austin is a real leader,” said Taylor. “He makes the other kids better because they want to do what he does. And (regional 145-pound champ) Levi Stoyer works with him every day. You have to get better. In fact, Levi helps Austin too. When Levi wins in front of him, it gives Austin more incentive and confidence.
“Jamar (Henry, runner-up at 182) has made so much improvement too. Then we are taking a freshman and sophomore. Seth Hogue (106) and Michael Bartolo (113) are making their own mark at Reynolds and starting their own traditions.
“Part of the team success also has to be attributed to our seniors — Austin, Jamar, Cam Cianci, Matt Leise and Logan Rickert. They provided a lot of leadership for the younger kids and set the example.”
Leading the way for our local group to state of course is Matthews, who has already placed 8th, 2nd and 2nd. He’s ranked No. 1 at 152 and barring an upset will finally get the gold medal he deserves.
Both of his finals losses came against Mickey Racciato of Pen Argyl, who is back and favored at 145 this year.
I mentioned to Casey Taylor that I would like to have seen Austin wrestle Racciato again. He replied with a smile, “So would I - just not in the state finals.”
Matthews is wrestling at such a high level right now, he demolished previously unbeaten Kyle Bova of Coudersport, 18-6, in the region finals.
Matthews (45-1) has a career mark of 180-16 and moved him into second place in the all-time Reynolds list for wins. Mason Beckman finished his career a couple years ago with 196 victories.
ä A pair of Sharon matmen — seniors Jarray Norris (126) and Michael Bonner (138) — as well as junior heavyweight Sam Breese of Lakeview will join the Reynolds contingent at state. And all should earn spots on the medal stand.
Norris is making his third trip to state. And while he has won some matches, he has yet to make the medal stand. Right now he is dominating and should have a solid showing.
Bonner also is a good candidate to medal. He very well could be the regional champ, except for a controversial stalling call with about 3 seconds left in the finals match that ended up costing him the crown.
But the main thing at regions is placing and getting on to the state tournament. While people have high regard for District 10 champs because that means you are the best in your area, not many remember who regional champs are. The key is getting on to state and doing well there. And sometimes finishing second at regions can get you a better draw than winning.
ä It was good to see former Sharon High star Jordan Moss return to pass out the awards at the regional finals. Moss was a state champion and four-time state placer for the Tigers and Coach Dave Ciafre.
Moss is a member of the University of Pittsburgh team, but his career has been sidelined by injuries and surgery.
ä Clarion University will be the recipient of several of the top wrestlers who appeared at the regional tournament.
Ciafre said Norris and Bonner are both headed to join the Golden Eagles of coach Troy Letters. Reynolds’ Austin Matthews signed with Clarion earlier, as did the 220 regional finalists Cam Cyphert of Cochranton and Evan Daley of Fort LeBoeuf.
Slippery Rock senior Forrest Christmann is committed to rival Edinboro. Christmann finished fourth at regions, another loss that resulted from controversial stalling calls. Naturally, Rockets coach Tyler Allen was very upset after the match that cost Christmann a trip to Hershey.
The same ref from District 9 earlier called a penalty point on Christmann when he lost by one point to Lakeview’s Breese in the semifinals.
Heavyweight was an extremely loaded weight this year at districts and regions and there were so many matches decided by 1 point or by referee calls. That’s why Lakeview coach Tom Tingley was very thrilled that Breese pinned Union City’s Jeff Burger in the finals so there was no question.
The fans appreciated it as well.
Breese was also a state qualifier last year and he very well could get a high spot on the medal stand this weekend.
While Christmann just missed a trip to state, three other locals also finished fourth in their weights to fall short of Hershey — Grove City sophomore Luke Walter (132), Hickory senior Joe Hines (182) and Reynolds senior Logan Rickert (195).
ä College recruiters often watch the talent at the regional tournament. Bucknell head assistant coach Jim Gibson was there looking over the group. Bucknell is trying to build a strong program.
Gibson is best known as the one-man team at Kennedy Catholic High School the final year of the program in 2002. He finished as state runner-up that season.
Another former Kennedy star was on hand - Chris Elliott, who went on to a strong career at Slippery Rock U. in the final years of that program. Elliott, former collegiate coach, has returned to the area and now runs a wrestling and physical conditioning program for athletes in West Middlesex known as Cloverfield.