While the area’s returning PIAA Southwest Class AA Regional placewinners have pristine wrestling résumés, they’ll each strive for the same goal this weekend, capturing a first regional title.
Returning placewinners Micky Phillippi (Derry), Drew Doak (Blairsville), Scott Thompson (Blairsville) and Tyler Oliver (United) were each awarded first-round byes for Friday and Saturday’s regional tournament at the Cambria County War Memorial in Johnstown.
Sophomore Phillippi (120 pounds) and juniors Thompson (182) and Oliver (195) were each awarded top seeds and junior Doak (152) garnered the No. 2 seed. Also, Marion Center’s Brandon Heberling (138) and Isaac Stewart (145)and Ligonier Valley’s Dalton Clark (132) each nabbed No. 4 seeds.
Other area regional qualifiers include: Blairsville’s Nick Pecze (170), Ligonier Valley’s Carlos Chavez (106) and Ray Marsh (220), West Shamokin’s William Hockenberry (106) and Brenden Glover (182), Derry’s Cole Wano (113), Stone Kepple (126) and Derek Baker (152) and United’s Seth McLendon (220).
The top five wrestlers in each weight class advance to the PIAA championships, which begin March 6 at Hershey’s Giant Center.
Doak (31-3) placed second at the regional tournament in his freshman and sophomore campaigns, and Thompson (33-1) took third his freshman year and second last season.
Eleven days ago, Doak and Thompson won their respective weight classes at the District 6 tournament to become the first wrestlers in school history to win the event three times.
Blairsville coach D.J. Doak said Drew Doak and Thompson will settle for nothing less than first-place finishes.
“Their expectations are to win and they’ve been working really hard to follow through with those plans,” D.J. Doak said. “We practiced with Latrobe today and they’re right where they want to be physically. They wrestled some tough guys over there and looked really good.
“If the guys we have keep the mindset that they’re going to win their first match and then worry about the next match after that I think they’ll be just fine.”
Phillippi (34-4), the eighth-ranked 120-pounder in the country, according to Intermatwrestle.com, won a PIAA title at 113 last year.
Before his run in last season’s state tournament, Phillippi got pinned in the semifinals of the regional tournament by former Ligonier Valley’s stalwart Justin Patrick, a senior who transferred to Kiski School this year.
Phillippi bounced back and won three straight matches in the consolation bracket to place third. He then beat each of his four foes at the state tournament, where he outscored his opponents, 18-2.
Needless to say, the momentum from winning state gold has carried over into Phillippi’s sophomore season.
Three of Phillippi’s four losses this year came at the hands of returning state champs. Phillippi lost twice to Latrobe’s Luke Pletcher, once to Parkland’s Ethan Lizak and once to Erie Cathedral Prep’s Jake Gromacki.
Pletcher, a PIAA Class AAA champ at 106 last year, is the country’s top-ranked 120-pounder. Lizak, a two-time PIAA Class AAA champ, is ranked sixth, and Gromacki, a returning state medalist, is ranked ninth.
“The attention he’s getting this year doesn’t really matter to Mick. He’s just excited to wrestle,” Derry coach Mike Weinell said after Phillippi became the fourth Derry wrestler to win back-to-back WPIAL titles Saturday. “And now that he has a target on his back, it’s just something else for him to get excited about. That might actually be a little extra fuel for him.”
Oliver (28-3), a District 6 runner-up at 195 as a sophomore, got pinned in the semifinals of last year’s regional tournament before dropping two straight consolation bouts to place sixth.
Oliver avenged one of his three losses this year and decked Tyrone senior Jared Beckwith to claim his first District 6 title on Feb. 15.
Beckwith, the No. 4 seed, is the only wrestler in the 195-pound bracket with a win over Oliver, who was the No. 3 seed at the district tournament.
A senior and three-time regional qualifier, Heberling (30-3) got nipped 2-1 by Tyrone senior Jason Schopp in the District 6 138-pound title match.
Heberling passed former state champ Cam Plocus as Marion Center’s all-time leader in wins earlier this year. He’ll face Burrell sophomore Damon Greenwald in the opening round.
Junior Stewart (27-4) upset second-seeded Richland senior Nick Naglic in the district semifinals to reach the finals for the first time, where he dropped a 7-1 decision to Huntingdon freshman Jacob Oliver.
Stewart will face off with Washington senior George Rogers in his first career regional match.
Clark (22-11), a sophomore, placed second at districts to qualify for regionals for the first time. He’ll face Freedom freshman Dean Ward in the opening round.