HIGH SCHOOL WRESTLING: Seven from area head to states in search of gold
While Derry’s Micky Phillippi and Blairsville’s Drew Doak and Scott Thompson each know how to progress through the rigors of the state wrestling tournament, United’s Tyler Oliver and Derry’s Stone Kepple have yet to test their valor in Hershey.
Phillippi (120 pounds), last year’s state champ at 113, and Doak (152) and Thompson (182), both three-time state qualifiers, will join first-time qualifiers Oliver (195) and Kepple (126) in their pursuits for gold medals at the PIAA Class AA Championships beginning Thursday at the Giant Center.
Also, Punxsutawney’s Joel Bowers (132) and Kaleb Young (138) each qualified for the Class AAA tournament. Bowers will make his third straight appearance in the tournament, and Young will make his second.
The 77th annual PIAA championships will begin with the Class AA preliminary round at 9 a.m. on Thursday and will conclude with the Class AAA finals at 7 p.m. on Saturday.
Earlier this month, Phillippi (38-4), the country’s seventh-ranked 120-pounder, according to Intermatwrestle.com, won his second straight WPIAL title before capturing his first Southwest Regional crown Saturday.
After getting pinned by former Ligonier Valley stalwart Justin Patrick in the semifinal round of last year’s regional tournament, Phillippi won six straight matches, including four in the state tournament, where he outscored his opponents 18-2. One of the two points Phillippi allowed was due to an illegal full-nelson hold.
Phillippi said he’s aware that he’s the wrestler to beat in his bracket, but said he feels no different than he did last year.
“The target thing’s awesome,” he said. “Everybody kind of has a target on them. Whoever I wrestle, I just want to beat, so I don’t really care who it is. It’s not any different this year. It’s honestly just a drive to keep myself going harder because now I have a little chip on my shoulder.”
If he executes his plan, Phillippi could meet Boiling Springs standout Korbin Myers in the finals. Myers, a two-time state placewinner who sports a career record of 143-8, dropped a 2-1 decision in overtime to Phillippi in one of the state tournament’s most talked-about matches last year in the semifinals.
Doak (33-4), got nipped, 3-2, in an ultimate rideout by Burrell’s Steve Edwards in the regional final Saturday. Edwards, a sixth-place finisher at states at 138 last year, is the state’s top-ranked 152-pounder. The school’s first three-time District 6 champ, Doak will next set his sights on becoming Blairsville’s second state champ and its first three-time state medalist.
“The seeding, in my mind, I don’t think it matters as much because you’ve got to go through everyone to win a state title,” said Doak, the first wrestler in Blairsville history to claim state medals in his freshman and sophomore seasons. “It doesn’t matter if you wrestle the best guy in the finals or you wrestle him in the prelims, you’ve got to go out and not take anyone for granted and get the win.”
Thompson (35-2), the third-ranked 182-pounder in Class AA, dropped a 7-3 decision to his nemesis, Valley’s Terrell Fields, in the regional finals. Thompson, a sixth-place finisher at 182 as a freshman, became the second wrestler in Blairsville history to win three district titles just minutes after Doak accomplished the feat.
Thompson hopes the vanilla game plan he’s formulated will carry him in his third straight appearance in the 182-pound division at states.
“The goal is definitely to just keep advancing,” Thompson said. “I’m just going to take it one match at a time. It doesn’t matter if I win by one point or I pin them. It’s just all about advancing now.”
Two weeks after winning his first District 6 title, Oliver (30-4) dropped a 3-2 decision to Hyndman’s James Bennett to finish second at regionals and punch his first ticket to the state tournament. Like Doak, Oliver said a one-point loss in the regional finals won’t damage his confidence.
“I feel like I’m carrying a ton of momentum into Hershey,” Oliver said. “It doesn’t mean anything coming out of regionals in second place, really. I could come in, beat the No. 1 seed and still make it to the finals. It doesn’t really matter.”
Kepple (34-12), a fourth-place finisher at the WPIAL tournament, blanked three-time District 6 runner-up Joe Davis, of Cambria Heights, 4-0, in the consolation semifinals at regionals to earn his first trip to states. A Section 2-AA runner-up, Kepple will face once-beaten Northwest Regional champ Cody Blankenship of Kane in the preliminaries.
Bowers (28-2) suffered just his second setback of the season when he fell in the Northwest Regional title bout, 3-1, to Trevor Corl of Bellefonte. A three-time District 9 champ, Bowers will shoot to garner his first state medal.
Young (29-1) lost for the first time this year in a 4-2 decision to Hayden Hidlay of Mifflin County in the regional finals. Young has claimed two district titles and a regional title, and like Bowers, he’ll hope to nab his first state medal.