Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Class AA States: A look at Thursday's action


   The state tournament is here, as wrestlers were getting prepared on the mats of the Giant Center during today's open workout. Action begins at 9 a.m. tomorrow, and here's a look at some of the first round bouts to watch:

132 pounds - Jared McGill, Chestnut Ridge vs. Todd Lane, Southern Columbia
   Any first round bout at 132 is key as the winners I believe will have a much better chance of getting a medal. In my opinion, the overall bracket may be deeper than any other, including 126 where there are three returning state champions and a runner-up. There's not many places to hide here at 132.
   McGill took third in the Southwest Regional while Lane was second in the Northeast. If you don't remember Lane, the Southern Columbia junior was a state finalist as a freshman, before an injury cut his season short last year. McGill is one of the state's top freshmen, with his highlight win of the year over Bedford state champ Jonathan Gabriel.

138 pounds - Cole Aaron, Brookville vs. Carnell Andrews, Westmont-Hilltop
   Another regional 2nd against regional 3rd place here, and this should be a good one. Aaron and Andrews were both state qualifiers last season. Aaron pushed Gabriel to overtime in the opening round at 126 a year ago, while Andrews fell one win short of the medal stand in the 120-pound class. Despite the presence of unbeaten Zack Lebarron and returning placewinner Matt Schmall in this quarter of the bracket, it would not surprise me to see the Aaron/Andrews winner in Friday night's semifinals.

145 pounds - Keith Batkowski, Montoursville vs. Seth Baney, Huntingdon
   This is also a matchup where I believe the winner could reach the semifinals. Batkowski earned a sixth place medal at 138 a year ago. Baney was a breakout performer in last year's postseason and has continued that for most of this season.

220 pounds - Toby Cahill, Berlin vs. Cole Rickert, Reynolds
   In my view, Cahill is Berlin's best opportunity at a high medal this weekend. His tournament begins with a bout against Rickert, who cannot be overlooked despite having 15 losses. Rickert seems to have been up and down this season, but remember that he was a state placewinner a year ago, seventh at this same weight.


Saturday, March 5, 2016

SW Regional Semifinal Eyecatchers

   We're down to four days left in the high school season, which means its Day 2 of the Southwest Regional. While many of the semifinals are worth a look, here's a few matchups that catch my eye:

106 - Garret Cornell, Everett vs. Josh Boozel, Mount Union
   Everett freshman Cornell has had a strong season so far, though he's been a little under the radar because Chestnut Ridge's Aaron Burkett gets most of the county and D5 attention, and rightly so. But Cornell is making a name for himself, and that continued on Friday with a pair of wins to earn a trip to the state tournament next week. Today, he'll take on Boozel in a rematch from an early-season dual meet. Boozel won that one, 4-3, though there were a couple of good scrambles in the bout where Cornell had opportunities to score.

126 - Max Murin, Central Cambria vs. Tyler Alberts, Ellwood City
Jonathan Gabriel, Bedford vs. Jihad Ratliff, Valley
   I'm not expecting either of these semifinals to be that close, but I highlight them here because Murin and Gabriel obviously need to avoid any hiccups in this round to set up the much anticipated state champion vs. state champion battle in the finals tonight. There's not much more to say about that championship bout we should see, so sit back and enjoy.

132 - Collin Glorioso, Huntingdon vs. Ian Ostrowski, Central Cambria
   This will be a rematch of the District 6 semifinals two weeks ago, where Glorioso pulled out a 1-0 decision. Some of that could be Glorioso dealing with a broken nose and having to wear a mask. But Ostrowski has had a fine season and I would not be surprised to see this one be close again.

138 - Justin McCoy, Chestnut Ridge vs. Tyler Scott, Huntingdon
   In the tournament's deepest weight, where 8 previous state qualifiers are battling for six spots, both McCoy and Scott ensured their state tournament trips last night. This semifinal could be one of the better ones. McCoy was impressive in his quarterfinal win over South Park's Dallas Bulsak, while Scott got past Southmoreland's Evan Myers. I think the edge here belongs to McCoy, but Scott has wrestled very well and earned some big wins over the last month.

160 - Braden Fochtman, Berlin vs. Dominic Fundy, Beth-Center
   After a year away from wrestling, Fochtman was one of four Berlin wrestlers to advance to the semifinals in Friday's action. He'll see Beth-Center freshman Fundy, who is perhaps the story of the tournament so far. Fundy's overtime takedown on Moshannon Valley's Larry Brown gave him a big upset and a trip to Hershey. Can he continue his run?

Monday, February 29, 2016

Southwest Regional Bracket Analysis

   It's back to wrestling this week as the Class AA Southwest Regional hits the mats at Canon-McMillan this weekend. Action begins with the opening round at 3 p.m. on Friday, followed by quarterfinals and the first round of consolations. The top six placewinners in each weight class advance to the state tournament next week in Hershey.
   I have provided a link to the brackets below as well as my analysis of each weight. My picks for the state qualifiers will appear in Friday's edition of the Bedford Gazette.

2016 SW Regional Brackets - http://live.pa-wrestling.com/2015-2016/region-south-west-aa/

Analysis
   106 Pounds - Chestnut Ridge senior Aaron Burkett is a strong favorite to capture his first regional championship, as he has been ranked #1 in the state all season by both Off the Mat and PA Power Rankings. The Lehigh recruit has a bye in the first round and will meet the winner between Chartiers-Houston's Ty Mazutis and Westmont's Derrick Christie. The other district champions here are Mount Union's Josh Boozel and Freedom's Zach Ward. Burkett pinned Boozel in a first round bout last year. Those two could meet in the finals.

   113 - Certainly a big edge here goes to Jefferson-Morgan sophomore Gavin Teasdale, who is still unbeaten in his high school career and is ranked #1 in the nation by several outlets. Last year's 106-pound state champion looks primed to get title number two next weekend. Chestnut Ridge district champion Dylan Williams is in the bottom half of the draw along with Penns Valley's Darren Yearick, the D6 champion. Williams was within 15-20 seconds of a spot at states last year here before losing that quarterfinal in overtime, then another one in the consolation bouts.

   120 - The bottom half of this bracket is pretty tough to call. Northern Bedford's Zach Clark owns a pair of District 5 titles now and will look to get to the state tournament for the first time. Also on the bottom is West Branch's Joey Couteret, the District 6 champ. Also on the bottom is an interesting first round rematch from last year between Huntingdon's Izac Benson and McGuffey's Gage Nicolella. Benson pinned Nicolella in what was one of the surprises of last year's first day. Everett's Liam Flaherty is in the top of the bracket, along with Southmoreland's Tyler Griffiths, who won D7 and gets the bye at this weight.

   126 - This is probably the most talked about weight in Class AA as we get set for regionals. How often do you get two returning state champions in one bracket at a regional tournament? But that's what we do have here with Bedford's Jonathan Gabriel and Central Cambria's Max Murin, who happen to be good friends as well. Murin, the 113-pound PIAA champ a year ago, got the bye here. Gabriel, who won it all at this same class in 2015, is in the bottom of the draw. It would be a shocker to not see this as a final. One first round bout of interest should be Portage freshman Cole Sossong against Ellwood City's Tyler Alberts. I haven't seen much of Sossong in person, but he's been highly talked about among freshmen, while Alberts was a state qualifier last season.

   132 - Huntingdon senior Collin Glorioso, a two-time state placewinner, is in the top of the bracket with the bye at this weight. Nursing a broken nose in which he is wearing a protective mask, Glorioso won the D6 title that included a narrow 1-0 semifinal win over Central Cambria's Ian Ostrowski. Those two could meet in the regional semifinals as well. Down below, I'm looking forward to seeing Chestnut Ridge freshman Jared McGill without his mask, which was the result of a broken nose as well during the middle of January. McGill has been wrestling with it since but is now cleared to go without it. His high junior wrestling credentials coupled with a 10-8 win over Bedford's Gabriel in December made him the talk of the area for awhile. He'll probably see Mount Union's Jake Boozel in Friday's quarterfinals, in what could be a barnburner. McGill is ranked fifth in the state by Off the Mat and sixth by PA Power, while Boozel is eighth and 10th, respectively.

   138 - The top half of this bracket appears stronger on paper, though it is easily led by Derry senior George Phillippi, who is a two-time state champion. He has the bye. Others on top who should make noise include Westmont's Carnell Andrews, Penns Valley's Curtis Decker, and Berlin's Joey Swank. Swank drew South Fayette's Shane Ging in an opening round bout and that will be a rematch of a bout last year where Swank was called for a slam and disqualified, while Ging came back from the injury and advanced to the state tournament. Down below, Chestnut Ridge sophomore Justin McCoy has been wrestling as well as anybody locally for a while in my mind. That said, Huntingdon's Tyler Scott and Ligonier Valley's Dalton Clark could provide threats to McCoy's shot at the finals. Scott has wrestled well of late, including an impressive performance in the D6 tourney a week after beating Reynolds' Seth Hogue in the state duals. Clark was a state qualifier last year.

   145 - South Fayette's Mike Carr continues his quest for a second state championship and has the bye here. The likeliest biggest opposition in the top of the draw would be Central Cambria's Tommy Opdenhoff, though Carr has had Opdenhoff's number in several recent meetings. Down below, Somerset's Austin Hemminger, Huntingdon's Seth Baney, Freedom's Kody Komara, and Bentworth's Hunter Neely look like probable quarterfinalists. Hemminger won a D5 title last year and then went out rather quietly at Canon-Mac. We'll see what happens the second time around for the Somerset junior.

   152 - A really good weight here. Ligonier Valley's Robby Patrick has the bye. The sophomore made it all the way to the state finals last season. Others to watch in the top would include Jeannette's GioVonne Sanders, South Fayette's Ben Previte, and North Star's Gus Strasiser. The bottom half of the draw is tough, with Chestnut Ridge's Morgan Deremer, Huntingdon's Jon Wagner, and Burrell's Damon Greenwald. Deremer and Wagner in a quarterfinal should be a good one. Deremer and Greenwald, should they meet in the semifinals, have split two bouts this season.

   160 - South Park's Jake Wentzel, the state champion at 152 last year, is the favorite here though there are some names to know. They include Moshannon Valley's Larry Brown and Berlin's Braden Fochtman, the D6 and D5 champions, respectively. Others are Penn Cambria's Austin Farabaugh, South Allegheny's Cody Jenkins, Cambria Heights' Austin Gill, and Bellwood's Nate Claar.

   170 - There's quite a bit of top quality in this weight. It includes the top three in the state by both ranking services, in Westmont's Anthony Walters, Huntingdon's Jacob Oliver, and Beth-Center's Anthony Welsh. Walters beat Oliver in the District 6 finals, while Welsh is unbeaten and has the bye as the D7 champion. Oliver is in the top bracket with him. Berlin's Storm McDonald, the D5 champ who is ranked sixth by Off the Mat and eighth by PA Power, is in the bottom half along with Walters. Northern Bedford's Lucas Kolinchak and Burrell's Anthony Marra also have state rankings tied to their names.

   182 - Another defending state champion here with South Park's Greg Bulsak, who won it at 170 a year ago. He has the bye. The other district champions are Everett's Wes Graham (D5) and Penn Cambria's Jacob Driskel (D6). In my opinion, Graham along with Everett teammates Garret Cornell (106) and Liam Flaherty (120) received favorable draws for a potential state berth.

   195 - Chestnut Ridge senior Conner Buttry is on a roll, having pinned 18 consecutive opponents. That streak could be put to the test this weekend at regionals, but the D5 champion and West Virginia bound Buttry will surely be satisfied with a title at Canon-Mac no matter how it's done. It's possible he'll see Burrell's Robert Scherer in the semifinals. Buttry has owned Scherer over the past couple of years, including wins over him in the regional and state tournaments last season and a pin for the Thomas Tournament title last month. In the bottom half are Jefferson-Morgan's Bill Bowlen and West Branch's Clayton Green of note. Bowlen interestingly moved up to 195 for the postseason, and that looked good for him last week in his decision over Scherer for the D7 crown.

   220 - Two straight District 5 champs with the bye as it goes to Berlin's Toby Cahill at the 220-pound slot. Westmont's Josiah Jones is in the bottom half along with Burrell's Alex Moses. Jones won D6 and Moses took the D7 title. Others to watch could include South Fayette's Rasaun Culberson, West Branch's Vince McDowell, and Mount Union's D.J. Bookwalter.

   285 - Southmoreland's Jake Beistel has his sights set on a state championship now that previous nemesis Allan Beattie has graduated. Beistel, ranked #1 in the state and a defending PIAA runner-up, has the bye and is the prohibitive favorite in a bracket that includes Mount Pleasant's Josh Lind, Berlin's Anthony Collins, and Southern Huntingdon's Nick Winfield. Lind, Collins, and Winfield, who are the next three highest ranked 285-pounders in the field, are all in the bottom half of the draw.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Verkleeren denied a wrestleoff

   Word late this afternoon out of District 7 is that Belle Vernon star Jarod Verkleeren has been denied a chance to wrestleoff for a spot in the lineup for the postseason, which begins in the WPIAL this week with the sectional tournaments.
   This has obviously been a hot topic in the WPIAL and across the state. Joe Tuscano of the Observer-Reporter has been on top of it and posted a story about the ruling here: http://www.observer-reporter.com/20160225/judge_denies_verkleeren_request_for_wrestleoff.
   Verkleeren had filed an injunction in Westmoreland County seeking the wrestleoff within the Belle Vernon practice room, but the motion was turned down by Judge Alfred Bell. With that ruling, Verkleeren sees his season end with a record of 35-5.
   The issue dates back to the PIAA Team Championships, where Verkleeren weighed in up from his normal class of 145 pounds. His older brother, Derek, was suffering from an injury, and Jarod Verkleeren weighed in up for the Leopards' Class AAA third-place match with Nazareth. He competed at 160 that day, losing to Nazareth's Travis Stefanik.
   According to what Verkleeren has said, he was told by the Belle Vernon staff that weighing up for that match would not affect his status at 145 for the postseason. The Belle Vernon coaches and administration have not commented publicly on the matter as of yet.
   Through some form of misinformation, what he was told was not correct. What Verkleeren, a state placewinner in March and Cadet World Champion last summer, weighed would not allow him to get back down to the 149.1 via his weight loss plan, which only allows wrestlers to lose a small percentage of their weight each week. He needed to be at that 149.1 to qualify for 145.
   Verkleeren was then reportedly denied the opportunity to challenge at 152 or 160 for either of those spots, as he would have been permitted to compete at one of those. His brother is at 152, and Mitch Hartman is at 160. They are both seniors, while Jarod is a junior. His family went to court seeking the wrestleoff with Hartman at 160.
   So what happens going forward?
   I think the first obvious question is whether we will see Jarod Verkleeren wrestling for Belle Vernon as a senior. While I am not very close to the situation, it's hard to imagine he would be at this point. One would have to believe there's some animosity between Verkleeren and the coaches, etc.
   Do those potential feelings smooth over? Sure, it's possible, but I'd honestly be surprised to see Verkleeren in Belle Vernon's lineup next season.
   If he's not there, where does he go? It's highly unlikely that you would see him at another public school, certainly another one inside the WPIAL, because it would be nearly impossible for Verkleeren to argue that it's not for athletic intent.
   Will we see Verkleeren at a prep school like Kiski or Wyoming Seminary? With his high wrestling credentials already, he'd surely fit in at such a place.
   Hopefully, we can be done talking about all this stuff off the mat and turn our attention to what should be a great couple of weeks of wrestling.
 
 

Friday, February 19, 2016

Early Postseason Thoughts

   I haven't had a post on here since late last week when Chestnut Ridge was at the state team duals in Hershey. I kept busy while I was there covering the Lions, and received sad news over the weekend that someone close to me and my immediate family had passed away unexpectedly, so that and my normal job duties have taken up my time.
   With the district and/or sectional tournaments taking place this weekend (D6-AA in Altoona already underway despite a delay with reported bracketing issues), here's a couple of tidbits.
   Hopefully you've checked out my preview of tomorrow's District 5 Tournament, which was in today's Bedford Gazette. The tournament is a one-day only event at UPJ, beginning at 9 a.m. with the preliminary bouts.
   In looking at sectional brackets around the state, a couple of things caught my eye. Jefferson-Morgan's Bill Bowlen has moved up to 195 pounds for the individual postseason. Bowlen, a state placewinner at 182 last season, had begun the year back there and finished second to Greenville's Blake Reynolds at the Thomas Tournament. There are two defending state champions at the weight, Franklin's Dakota Geer and South Park's Greg Bulsak.
   One that I thought was a bit surprising is Reynolds' Seth Hogue deciding to go at 145. The state runner-up to Bedford's Jonathan Gabriel last year at 126 has wrestled at 145 a good bit during the team season, but I would have guessed he would be at 138 or even at 132 come mid-February. Hogue competed at 132 in the Powerade Tournament in late December.
   I've been talking about 126 all season in Class AA and it's going to be be fun. Why, you ask? Because we have three, yes three, returning state champions at this weight for the postseason. Gabriel won 126 a year ago, while Central Cambria's Max Murin took the 113-pound crown, and Reynolds' Cole Matthews won it at 120.
   I know there have been years where two state champions are at one weight class when we get back to Hershey, but has there ever been this loaded of a field with three of them? Besides those studs, we need to throw in Athens' Brian Courtney, the state runner-up to Matthews, and Lancaster Catholic's Joe Lobeck, the state runner-up to Murin. Wow!
   We saw a mini-preview at the Thomas Tournament, with Gabriel beating Courtney 6-5 for the title while Courtney edged Murin by the same score in the semifinals.
   It will be interesting to see this how this state bracket looks in three weeks. While the brackets are pre-drawn and randomly chosen, the state will separate state champions if there are two in a certain class. How will it look with three? Well, we can probably bet that Gabriel and Murin will wrestle in the Southwest Regional finals. Regional finalists are also placed in opposite halves of the state bracket. Let's say the regional champions will be either Gabriel or Murin in the Southwest, Matthews in the Northwest, Courtney in the Northeast, and Lobeck in the Southeast. That would leave the Gabriel-Murin loser hitting another of these standouts in the quarterfinals. As a fan, you don't want to miss this weight class.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Thursday Thoughts from Hershey

   As Chestnut Ridge gets ready for consolation action, here's a couple thoughts on the loss to Boiling Springs in Thursday's first round:

   The coin toss was huge. This meant a great deal in this matchup, and Boiling Springs winning it meant the Lions were going to have to beat the Bubblers without dictating key matchups. Ridge coach Greg Lazor was hoping to get Morgan Deremer on A.J. Kostyak and Josh McGill against Nick Kostyak. That said, McGill wrestled well in a 10-7 loss to A.J., who is a returning state qualifier. Not having the flip hurt at the end as well, as the Lions would rather have put Justin McCoy on Cole Wetzel and Levi Hobson on Zach Martin. If Chestnut Ridge wins the toss, the Kollin Myers victory over Aaron Burkett might not have meant as much.

   I thought even in not having the matchups, Chestnut Ridge fared well up top, down 18-14 when the lineup flipped over. I agree with Lazor sending Cody Brown at 106. Brown was someone you thought could get bonus and he did with a quick pin. Burkett had a good first period against Myers, but it was all Myers in the second and third, as he scored two sets of back points. I thought Boiling Springs was slightly favored at 126, and Tristan Hanshaw got a major there that put the Lions up against it with three to go.

   Chestnut Ridge should not have much trouble with Lake Lehman this morning. Lake Lehman is expected to have two forfeits as well. After that, the Lions draw the Huntingdon-Reynolds loser. Reports say Huntingdon's Collin Glorioso may have an injury. You have to figure the Bearcats go all in, with Glorioso and/or Jacob Oliver taking the mat against the Raiders. I think that's the only way Huntingdon can get to the semifinals. If Huntingdon doesn't win, do they sit either or both in a consolation match against Chestnut Ridge, a match that won't mean as much given the individual district tournament is just a week away.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

State Duals - What to Look For

   In about 24 hours, Chestnut Ridge will begin its quest for a third state team medal in the last four years. The Lions take on Boiling Springs in the first round of the tournament tomorrow afternoon at 4 p.m., in the second wave of Class AA action for the opening day.
   I posted some other things and my breakdown of the match with Boiling Springs yesterday, so scroll down on the blog to find that information. Here are some overall thoughts on the tournament:

— Is this Chestnut Ridge's year?
    It very well could be, but I think this Class AA field is fairly deep and in my mind, there's not a clear cut favorite going in. I do think the #3 ranked Lions will finally get past Boiling Springs, who they've lost to in each of the last three years, including the state final last February, 36-21. That in itself should be serving as extra motivation for Greg Lazor's crew, given that the Bubblers are the first opponent tomorrow. I've said before that I think Chestnut Ridge has as much top level talent as anyone in the state, and it will be up to them to provide the needed wins and bonus points to lead the way.

— How good is Saucon Valley?
   The District 11 champions are undefeated at 23-0. Their signature win was 36-33 over District 6 champ Huntingdon at the Juniata Duals. Other than that, the Panthers haven't really been tested in a dual meet. That bottom part of the bracket may be the toughest in the tournament, as #4 ranked Saucon would face either #5 Wyalusing Valley or #6 Fort LeBoeuf in the quarterfinals. This will be the fourth straight year for Saucon Valley in the state duals, so experience is there for the Panthers.

— Any darkhorse candidates?
   If I were to pick one, it would be Fort LeBoeuf, though Northern Lebanon falls into that category as well. Of the top six or eight ranked teams, #6 LeBoeuf might be the least talked about team statewide to date. The Bison had an early lead on Reynolds before losing the District 10 final, 33-29. Fort LeBoeuf always tends to wrestle well in Hershey, and while I have them losing in the first round tomorrow to Wyalusing, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Bison make some noise in the consolation matches.

— Spring's Class AA Predictions
   My completed bracket is below, and you can click this link to Jeff Upson's predictions for PA Power Wrestling.