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Experience a big key at state wrestling meet

March 8, 2012
By Todd Irwin, , The Altoona Mirror

They have seen the glitz of the PIAA Class AA Championships before, and the pressure to get through rugged weight classes that come with the tournament.

Experience is what everybody wants - both in the work force and in state wrestling tournaments - and these area wrestlers certainly have that:

n Claysburg-Kimmel's Ty Dively (138) is making his fourth appearance in Hershey, where he placed fourth at 125 last season.

n Central Cambria's Tony Risaliti (160) is a three-time state qualifier who placed seventh at 152 a year ago.

n C-K's James Dodson (132) and Chestnut Ridge's Tyler Dibert (170) are three-time state qualifiers who will be looking for their first medal.

n Bedford's Ryan Easter (113) and Central Cambria's Ben Rager (126), who are returning fifth-placers, Northern Bedford's returning seventh-placer Quinton Hixson (285), C-K's Josh Brown (106), Penn Cambria's Nick Szala (138) are all returning qualifiers.

While the area's group of 16 qualifiers is smaller than last year's gaudy 21, it's certainly an experienced group.

"I think it's a huge advantage," C-K coach Dave Marko said of being there before. "So often kids get on that floor and get stagefright. These guys having been there before will hopefully keep that from happening."

"They haven't said one thing about being excited or not being excited," CC coach Bob Nikolishen said of Rager and Risaliti. "One is worried about getting his homework done and the other just grinds his teeth. They've been there before and know what emotions are released, good and bad. They are taking a veteran approach and just have a let's go to work kind of look on their faces."

Tyrone's Dylan Weston (145) and Jared Beckwith (182), Moshannon Valley's Dylan Ludwig (182) and James Stodart (195), Bellwood-Antis' Jared Woomer (120), Ridge's Shane Pfaunmiller (126) and Bedford's Jacob Krupa (220) are all making their first trip to Hershey. Krupa's visit count should come with an asterisk though because he's wrestled there in the PIAA Duals.

The tournament begins at 9 this morning. A win will assure of them of a berth in Friday's quarterfinals. A loss means they'll have to wrestle again at 12:15 p.m. and face an intimidating route through the consolations to get a medal.

Very talented wrestlers make up the field in the tournament, including Derry Area 126-pounder Jimmy Gulibon, who will try to become the first four-time state champion since McGuffey's Jeremy Hunter in 1996, the 10th overall and the first Class AA wrestler since Warrior Run's Jason Betz in 1995.

"When you bring in the top wrestlers in the state together, there are no easy matches," Bedford coach Brian Creps said. "The wrestlers that hold it together mentally usually are the ones that get on the podium. Those wrestlers that mentally break usually have an early exit."

"This is the toughest tournament in the country," Marko said. "The great Iowa State wrestling coach Bobby Douglas once said, 'To win an NCAA national championship, you have to either recruit Pa. kids or beat Pa. kids."

Of the returning area wrestlers, none are favorites to win a state title, but the most intriguing possibility to make it to the finals is Risaliti, who could wrestle Forest Hills pal Cody Law for the fifth time this season. Law has a 3-1 edge, and the two have split in both tournament finals.

Risaliti (33-3) opens with Greenville's Northwest third-placer Randy Perkins (37-5), and the winner will likely get Central Columbia's unbeaten Kurt Meske (37-0) in the quarterfinals.

"He has a very long road ahead of him, and he knows it," Nikolishen said. "Many people are expecting him and Cody in the finals, and that may be. If so, it will be [like] a remake of Rocky IV - Ivan Drago vs. Rocky Balboa."

Dodson (37-0) is the last area wrestler with an unbeaten record. The Southwest Regional champion opens the tournament with Pottstown's Southeast fifth-placer Trenton Clifford (37-4). If he wins, he'd most likely get Bethlehem Catholic's returning state runner-up Randy Cruz (38-2), who beat Dodson, 11-2 in the quarterfinals en route to a 6-5 loss to Gulibon in the finals.

"James is a different wrestler than he was a year ago when he wrestled Cruz," Marko said. "That said, he was right in the match as it was 4-2 to start the third period. We just need to pick up the pace, score on our feet and see what happens. James is as ready for this tournament as he has ever been."

And what about his teammate and grizzled veteran Dively? The regional champ and current school wins leader (by one over Dodson) opens with Pequea Valley's Drew Jackson (37-7). Reynolds' returning state runner-up Austin Matthews (45-1) is a possible semifinal foe, and Pen Argyl's returning state champ Mike Racciato (43-1) awaits in the top bracket.

Dively reached the 125-pound semifinals last year with ease before falling to Towanda's eventual runner-up Cody Wheeler, 11-1.

"Every draw at the state tournament is tough," Marko said. "You don't become a state qualifier by accident. Ty, like the others, need to keep doing what has made them successful, and they will be fine."

"It should be pretty tough competition at 138 down there," Dively said. "We'll see how it comes out. Our district at 138 was pretty stacked, and wrestling the kids there will help a lot wrestling other regions."

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