Altoona celebrates senior night in style

The Altoona Mountain Lions couldn’t have acted out their senior night wrestling script much better.

The Mountain Lions closed the books on their 8-9 dual meet season with a 37-25 win over Westmont Hilltop at the Altoona Area Junior High School gymnasium, and many of the team’s graduating seniors played a key role.

T.J. Brandt established the school’s all-time victory record, winning his 117th career match with an 8-3 decision over Mike Walsh at 138 pounds. Four more of Altoona’s seniors who were honored with their parents prior to the match also won Tuesday. They were: Mante Barnes, who carved out a 7-4 victory over Don Shovestull at 220; Markief Knode, who closed the dual with a 10-0 major decision over Colin Barron at 170; Dylon Rodgers, who decisioned Seth Ray, 12-5 at 152, and Damian Smith, who pinned Christian Roman in 2:21 at 285.

It was the 23rd victory of the season for both Brandt and Barnes, and the 20th for Knode. Brandt, a three-time District 6-AAA champ and three-time state tournament qualifier, broke the previous school record of 116 wins set by 2010 graduate K.J. Walters.

Brandt built an 8-0 second-period lead with two takedowns and two near falls to best Walsh, a senior who has won 18 matches this year.

“That was a good win for T.J.,” Altoona coach Joel Gilbert said. “Mike Walsh has been around for awhile.”

Barnes also enjoyed a solid victory against Shovestull, who had entered the 195-pound bout with 22 wins on the season. Barnes scored three takedowns in the decision.

“It was their two studs against our two studs,” Gilbert said of the Brandt and Barnes matches. “Those wins made a big difference in the match.”

Westmont Hilltop held a 22-21 lead before Brandt started an Altoona rally that produced four victories in the last five bouts. Following Brandt’s decision at 138, sophomore D.J. Hollingshead (28-3) pinned Mark Barbera in 37 seconds at 145, and Rodgers used a five-point, first-period headlock to take control in his decision over Ray at 152, which gave Altoona a 33-22 lead.

“Rodgers lost to that kid, 6-5, in the Powerade Tournament [at Canon-McMillan High School in late December],” Gilbert said. “He came out for redemption tonight and really stepped it up.”

Knode closed the evening with his major at 170.

“He’s one of the hardest workers we have on the team,” Gilbert said of Knode. “I think he has as good a chance as anybody in his weight class to win a district championship this year.”

Altoona opened strong as well, with sophomore Trent Kephart pinning Drake Leech in 59 seconds in the night’s first bout, at 182, and junior Nic McCarthy pinning Jake Barnes in 2:38 at 195. Barnes’ decision and Smith’s fall had Altoona ahead, 21-0 after four bouts.

“Altoona was more aggressive and more intense than we were through the entire dual meet,” said Westmont coach Matt Beaujon, whose team is 8-4. “They took it to us.”

Gilbert was also pleased with the Mountain Lions’ fight.

“It was a tough, physical, gutsy performance by everybody who wrestled,” Gilbert said. “I’m real happy for these guys.”

Meet notes: Two other graduating senior wrestlers, Phil Dillen (160 pounds) and Austin Rosenberry (285) were honored before the match, along with senior team manager Kayla Holliday … Altoona had a 16-8 edge in takedowns … Nate Scheinberg scored a fall for Altoona in one of the two exhibition matches contested prior to the varsity bout.

182-Kephart, A, pinned Leech, :59. 195-McCarthy, A, pinned J. Barnes, 2:38. 220-M. Barnes, A, dec. Shovestull, 7-4. 285-Smith, A, pinned Roman, 2:21. 106-Dorian, WH, maj. dec. Bryan, 15-3. 113-Yost, WH, dec. Querry, 5-0. 120-Blackburn, WH, won by forfeit.

126-Mical, WH, won by forfeit. 132-Zipf, WH, dec. Bender, 8-4. 138-Brandt, A, dec. Walsh, 8-3. 145-Hollingshead, A, pinned Barbera, :37. 152-Rodgers, A, dec. Ray, 12-5. 160-Shropp, WH, dec. Dillen, 3-1. 170-Knode, A, maj. dec. Barron, 10-0.

Records: Westmont Hilltop (8-4); Altoona (8-9).

Official: Nate Chapman.