HIGH SCHOOL WRESTLING: Blairsville has tools for another successful season
While a cluster of key cogs from last year’s team graduated in June, nothing has changed in terms of the lofty expectations looming in the Blairsville wrestling room.
Last year’s All-Gazette Coach of the Year, D.J. Doak, expects the same out of his large clan of leaders, and the second-year coach has once again challenged his team to meet one goal: earn a berth in the PIAA team dual championships.
The presence of two junior leaders, Drew Doak and Scott Thompson, make D.J. Doak comfortable in laying down such an arduous test. The duo enjoyed two of the best sophomore and freshmen campaigns in Bobcats’ history over the last two seasons.
Last year, Doak won his second straight District 6 title, became the first Blairsville sophomore to reach 80 career wins and became the first wrestler in school history to earn state medals in his freshman and sophomore years. A two-time runner-up at the Southwest Regional tournament, Doak sports a career record of 81-12.
Thompson won his second straight district title last year before placing second at regionals. A sixth-place finisher at states as a freshman, Thompson sat out the bulk of the season because of a broken wrist, although he still managed to advance to states for the second straight year. He finished with a mark of 16-3.
“It’s definitely the same goal,” D.J. Doak said. “We only lost five starters off of last year’s team. We’re returning nine starters off a team that had 16 wins and made it to the second round of the District 6 team playoffs.
“We have a bunch of leaders on this year’s team. It’s not just Drew and Scotty.”
D.J. Doak will also depend on steady production from senior Lucas Mowery (138, 145), juniors Nick Pecze (132, 138) and Channing Cavender (160), and freshmen Colin Weinell (106) and Mitchell Carr (113).
One of Doak’s offseason training partners, Derry sophomore Micky Phillippi, downright stole the show at last year’s PIAA tournament.
After a third-place finish at the regional tournament, Phillippi outscored his four opponents at the state meet 18-2 to cruise to the title at 113 pounds.
Phillippi became just the second wrestler in Derry history to claim state gold as a freshman. Jimmy Gulibon, another one of Phillippi’s training partners and a redshirt freshman at Penn State University, achieved the feat for the Trojans in 2008-09 before capturing three more gold medals to become the 10th wrestler in state history to win four titles.
The last person to best Phillippi, senior and three-time state medalist Justin Patrick, transferred from Ligonier Valley to The Kiski School this season. Patrick placed fourth for the second straight season at last year’s state meet. He’s won 75 matches in the last two seasons.
DERRY: Over the summer, Phillippi continued to stack up the accolades, and qualified for the prestigious Super 32 Challenge in Greensboro, N.C.
At the Super 32 in October, Phillippi won six of seven matches to reach the 120-pound title bout, where he got nipped 5-4 by Latrobe’s Luke Pletcher, the PIAA Class AAA title champ at 106 as a freshman last year.
A modest Phillippi admitted that competing in tournaments like the Super 32 and Flo Nationals makes life easier in PIAA competition.
“The harder the competition I wrestle the better I feel because I know I’m getting the best looks I can get,” Phillippi said.
Team captains and seniors Jarrett Dorazio (160) and Joe Kelly (182) and sophomore Stoney Kepple (126) will each help Phillippi steer the Trojans. Kepple won 27 matches last year, nine by pin, and placed third in the WPIAL Section 2-AA tournament.
INDIANA: Competing with at least three open weight classes in the stacked WPIAL Section 1-AAA will once again present a stiff challenge for second-year head coach Anthony Donatelli.
Donatelli will enjoy more depth this year in the heavier divisions, but the 1988 Indiana graduate will have to improvise with open slots at 106, 112 and 145 against traditional powerhouses like Penn-Trafford, Latrobe and Hempfield.
Sophomore heavyweight Kyle Nothnagel will pave the way for the Indians. Nothnagel finished 24-8 at heavyweight in his freshman campaign.
LIGONIER VALLEY: The Rams will have to adjust after losing the two most prolific winners in school history, brothers Joshua and Justin Patrick.
A three-time state placewinner, Joshua Patrick graduated in June and currently wrestles for Rutgers University. Justin Patrick opted out of wrestling for Ligonier Valley, and will spend his senior season at The Kiski School.
With the departure of the Patrick brothers, second-year coach Brian Matson hopes another set of brothers, seniors Daniel and Dereck Croyle, will take on more sizable leadership roles.
Daniel Croyle (145) finished 25-12 last year and placed sixth at the district meet, and Dereck Croyle (170) finished 23-15 and took sixth at districts.
“They both won over 20 matches last year and I expect both of them to step up and become team leaders,” Matson said of the Croyle brothers. “I don’t know about the finals, but they’ll certainly be right there in the hunt to get to regionals. Neither one of them has a ton of experience, but I think they’ll be right there in the top three or four in the district.”
Four other Rams’ who notched 10 wins or more last season will return to complement the Croyle brothers. Those wrestlers are sophomore 126-pounder Gordon Matson (19-11), junior 132-pounder Max Caldwell (14-7), junior 220-pounder Ray Marsh (11-15) and junior 160-pounder Joe Neiderhiser (10-12).
MARION CENTER: Going to battle with another inexperienced and undermanned group, second-year coach Chris Stewart looks to maximize the potential of seniors Brandon Heberling (138) and Phil Crook (160) and sophomore David Wiles (113).
A two-time regional qualifier, Heberling won 26 matches last season before placing fifth at the district meet, failing to make his third straight trip to regionals.
Crook, a sixth-place finisher at regionals as a sophomore, also placed fifth at districts but earned a bid into the 152-pound class at regionals when the district’s fourth-place finisher pulled out with an injury. He won 29 matches last year and has 82 career victories.
Wiles won 27 matches and took fourth at last year’s district meet at 106 pounds. He finished 1-2 at regionals.
“I don’t really want to pick out certain people. I’d rather try to get everyone to fall into a leadership role,” Stewart said. “I think the kids really turned it around last year and did a complete three-sixty with their attitudes. Everyone knows they have a job to do and they’re all ready to get it done.”
Stewart also expects senior J.T. Holley and junior Isaac Stewart each to qualify for regionals for the first time this year.
NORTHERN CAMBRIA: Second-year coach Mike Zemrose returns six starters from a team that struggled with numbers last year and won just four matches.
Spearheading another shorthanded Colts’ team this year are returning starters Willy Davis (120), Tyler Gaston (138), Bryan Nealen (145), Gus Yahner (152), Brad Mikitko (160) and Joe Frontino (195).
Frontino failed to place at the district meet but paced the team with 13 wins last year.
“We’re looking forward to a better season and we’re hoping a couple guys can move on past districts,” Zemrose said.
PUNXSUTAWNEY: The Chucks sport a full lineup and longtime coach Eric Eddy will enjoy the guidance of returning PIAA Class AAA qualifiers and District 9 champs Joel Bowers (senior) and Kaleb Young (sophomore).
Bowers, a senior, won 24 bouts and placed third at the Northwest Regional tournament at 120. A two-time district champ and two-time state qualifier, Bowers will start the year at 132.
Young, a 138-pounder and the younger brother of former Punxsutawney standout Kody Young, wrestled masterfully in his freshman campaign, winning district and regional tournaments to earn a trip to states. Young won his preliminary bout in Hershey before dropping two straight. He finished the season 27-3.
Along with Bowers and Young, Eddy expects junior Perry Arrington (145), senior Andrew Bullers (120), senior Josh Schuckers (152) and junior Jeff Bottenhorn (138) each to make solid contributions.
Arrington placed second at the district meet at 138 while Bullers took fourth at 113, Schuckers placed fourth at 132, and Bottenhorn finished fourth at 145.
UNITED: With a full roster and a cluster of seasoned wrestlers, second-year United coach Tim Riskus will attempt to lead the Lions to their second straight winning season.
Last season, sophomore Tyler Oliver guided the Lions to a 13-11 regular-season mark before placing second at the district meet and fourth at regionals at 195. Oliver narrowly missed a trip to Hershey and finished 28-4.
A 220-pounder last year, Andrew Deitman also enjoyed a stellar sophomore season and finished with a mark of 25-4. The team’s most valuable wrestler last year will make the bump to heavyweight this season.
Senior Tyler Mack led the team in pins last year and won 20 matches at 145. He’ll wrestle at 152 behind third-year starter Grant Ingalls (160).
WEST SHAMOKIN: A pair of returning WPIAL Class AA qualifiers, senior Brian Brown and junior Brendan Glover, offer experience to another unseasoned group of Wolves, who have a new coach in Tyler Altmeyer.
Brown finished 16-8 last year and won one match at the WPIAL championships at 145 before pulling out of the tournament due to injury.
Glover won 25 matches and qualified for the WPIAL Championships, only to pull out because of an injury.