PIAA tourney toughest in the land

State titles or appearances in the PIAA Class AAA championship finals have been rare for wrestlers from Altoona, Hollidaysburg and Philipsburg-Osceola.

A medal of any kind in this tournament, which is usually dominated by wrestlers in the Northeast, Southwest and Southcentral regions, is a big thing for wrestlers from District 6 Tournament and the Northwest Regional Tournament.

Altoona, which has four wrestlers in this year’s tournament, hasn’t had a medalist since Joe Ciampoli earned his second in 2004, finishing seventh. Hollidaysburg hasn’t had a placer since Brian Shaw took fifth at 171 in 2006. P-O’s last medalist was 285-pounder Mike Horton, who took fifth in 2008.

This year’s best shot at making the finals, or at least placing, is Altoona state tournament veteran T.J. Brandt, who is 2-6 in three state tourney appearances, narrowly missed making the medal round two years ago.

If he’s on his game, aggressive and healthy, and he has been in the postseason, it appears Brandt has a shot at making the semifinals, which would earn him a medal.

Once there, he would probably tangle with Central Dauphin’s Tyson Dippery, who is a returning 126-pound state runner-up. Lots of things can happen in Hershey, and often do, but I’m giving the edge to Dippery in that bout.

After that, it will depend on Brandt’s mindset. Many times, wrestlers who lose in the semifinals aren’t able to bounce back mentally from the loss, and they lose again in the consolation semis. Here’s hoping the accomplished Brandt can place as high as possible.

His teammates – 132-pounder D.J. Hollingshead, 195-pounder Mante Barnes and 285-pounder Austin Rosenberry – are all wrestling in their first state tournament, so they’ll have to overcome nerves and some brutal early-round matchups to get to the medal round.

Same goes for P-O 170-pounder Jay Prentice, who has an unbeaten first-round opponent in a star-studded bracket that includes Canon McMillan’s two-time state champ Cody Wiercioch and DuBois machine Tom Sleigh, and Hollidaysburg 285-pounder Matt Barton. Both are in their first state tournaments.

Nothing is easy when it comes to the state tournament. It’s the toughest state tournament in the nation, and it’s very unforgiving.

It’s where the stars shine, and the biggest star is Kennard Dale superstar junior Chance Marsteller, who should win his third state title and beat another state champ, Central Dauphin’s Garrett Peppelman, in the finals. He’s my pick to win the Outstanding Wrestler award.

Seven returning state champs are among the Class AAA field this year, so it made my state picks a little bit easier, but there are always upsets. I do need a boost because my regional record in both regionals was awful.

We all need to be on top of our games this week.

106 POUNDS: Finalists: Luke Pletcher, Latrobe vs. Connor Sheehan, Solanco. Champion: Pletcher. Comment: Not many of the 106-pounders have been to Hershey before. McLane’s Wheeling could make it through.

113 POUNDS: Finalists: Ethan Lizak, Parkland vs. Zack Fuentes, Norristown. Champion: Lizak. Comment: First-round matchup between North Allegheny’s Forys and Pennridge’s Parker was 106 third-place bout last season. Same bracket as Lizak.

120 POUNDS: Finalists: Grimaldi Gonzalez, Liberty vs. Sam Krivus, Hempfield Area. Champion: Gonzalez. Comment: Bellefonte’s Corl will get Krivus in quarterfinals.

126 POUNDS: Finalists: Michael Kemerer, Franklin Regional vs. Connor Schram, Canon McMillan. Champion: Schram. Comment: Wyoming Valley West’s unbeaten Kresavage will look to stop Southwest rematch on Schram’s side.

132 POUNDS: Finalists: Tyler Smith, Franklin Regional vs. Patrick Duggan, Cumberland Valley. Champion: Duggan. Comment: If he wins his first one against Easton’s Rizzolino, Altoona’s Hollingshead gets Smith in quarters.

138 POUNDS: Finalists: John Dutrow, Council Rock North vs. Tyson Dippery, Central Dauphin. Champion: Dippery. Comment: Interesting semifinal in top bracket between unbeaten Dutrow and Franklin Regional’s Maruca.

145 POUNDS: Finalists: Chris Vassar, Cedar Cliff vs. Solomon Chishko, Canon McMillan. Champion: Vassar. Comment: Vassar placed second at 138 last year, while Chishko was third at 138.

152 POUNDS: Finalists: T.C. Warner, Cumberland Valley vs. Garett Hammond, Chambersburg. Champion: Hammond. Comment: Hammond avenges regional loss to Warner in rematch of last year’s 145-pound finals.

160 POUNDS: Finalists: Chance Marsteller, Kennard Dale vs. Garrett Peppelman, Central Dauphin. Champion: Marsteller. Comment: Second year in a row Marsteller beats a returning state champ. Last year it was Central Mountain’s Brill.

170 POUNDS: Finalists: Cody Wiercioch, Canon McMillan vs. Nick Shawley, Bellefonte. Champion: Wiercioch. Comment: Looking forward to seeing quarterfinal between Wiercioch and DuBois’ unbeaten Sleigh.

182 POUNDS: Finalists: Brett Harner, Norristown vs. Jake Taylor, Bald Eagle Area. Champion: Taylor. Comment: These two wrestled during the regular season, and Taylor squeaked out a win.

195 POUNDS: Finalists: Jacob Hart, Hampton vs. Matt McCutcheon, Kiski Area. Champion: Hart. Comment: I have a feeling Hart will be able to repeat his regional win over returning state champ McCutcheon.

220 POUNDS: Finalists: Tom Haines, Solanco vs. Zach DeLuca, Central Catholic. Champion: Haines. Comment: Bald Eagle Area’s Sharkey could meet two-time champ Haines in semifinals.

285 POUNDS: Finalists: Brad Emerick, James Coughlin vs. Aaron Bradley, Nazareth. Champion: Bradley. Comment: Picking a heavyweight winner is always tough, but going with a Southwest rematch.

OUTSTANDING WRESTLER: Chance Marsteller, Kennard Dale.

TEAM CHAMPION: Central Dauphin. Comment: Franklin Regional and Canon McMillan will push Central Dauphin for the top spot.

LAST WEEK’S NORTHWEST REGIONAL CLASS AAA RECORD: 14 out of 29 correct situations. OVERALL RECORD: 81 out of 148 correct situations.

Todd Irwin can be reached at 946-7464 or at tirwin@altoonamirror.com. He can be followed on Twitter at ToddIrwin1.