Bearcat wrestlers in search of first team title

Huntingdon has set the pace in District 6 this season, beaten everybody in its path and now the Bearcats will be looking to pull off what West Branch did last season – win the District 6 Class AA Tournament team title for the first time.

And on paper, that outcome seems like a good possibility: Consider what the Bearcats have going for them:

n They have four No. 1 seeds in sophomore Collin Glorioso (113), seniors Devon Green (132) and Nathan Russell (138) and freshman Jacob Oliver (145). All should score a lot of teams points, especially Glorioso (30-0) and Oliver (30-1).

n The Bearcats also have a No. 2 seed in Matt Norris (182) and four No. 3 seeds in Tyler Scott (120), Jon Wagner (152), Eric Lynn (160) and Logan Fisher (170).

n More of a dual meet team that a tournament team in the past, the Bearcats won the Sheetz Holiday Classic and finished third at the 25-team Conestoga Valley Tournament, a point behind PIAA Duals semifinalist Hamburg.

“I just think we’re going to go out and wrestle like we have been all year long,” Huntingdon coach Jon Mykut said. “We’re going to be physical and wrestle hard, tough six-minute matches. If our guys do that, we’ll put ourselves in a good position.”

Huntingdon beat West Branch, 52-21, in the District 6 Duals finals, and the Warriors have been hampered by injuries. Star 145-pounder Parker Bumbarger has a tear in the AC joint of his shoulder and didn’t wrestle in the dual meet, but the third seed will wrestle this weekend. Junior Luke Slippey is out for the season with a torn MCL. Still, 2013 Coach of the Year Jason Bainey isn’t ready to give the title to the Bearcats.

“You always have that [team title] shot,” he said. “We could have as many as four guys in the finals, I think. There are some teams that have the balance like we had last year. We just have to go out, with the 14 guys we have, get some upsets and place a little higher [than the seeds]. I think if we can get six or seven guys to regionals, we can contend then.”

The tournament begins at 10:30 a.m. Friday at the Altoona Fieldhouse with the pigtail round. The second round will follow at 11:30 a.m., and the quarterfinals are set for 6 p.m. Three rounds of consolations will be wrestled the first day.

Wrestling resumes at 10:30 a.m. Saturday with the fourth round consolations. The semifinals are slated for noon. The third and fifth-place finals are set for 5:30 p.m., and, after a short District 6 Hall of Fame and coaching recognition ceremony, the championship finals will take place at about 6:45.

While there will be a lot of focus on the team race, this part of the season is more about the individuals. Only the top four wrestlers at each weight qualify for the Southwest Regional Tournament.

Huntingdon doesn’t have the market cornered on talented stars, either. There’s two other top seeds in Central Cambria’s 26-0 freshman Max Murin (106) and Tyrone’s once-beaten senior Jared Beckwith (195), who missed last year’s tournament with a kidney injury sustained in an automobile accident.

The second seed at 106 is West Branch’s Joey Couteret, but many people will expect to see another battle between Murin and Penn Cambria’s third-seeded Nolan Link in the finals. Link has come the closest to beating Murin within the district in 6-2 and 1-0 losses.

“We’re the third seed, and we have to take care of some business before we get there,” PC coach Todd Niebauer said. “The best thing to do is not look ahead. I know everybody is talking about that at 106, but the second seed is not a bad kid either,”

There are three wrestlers in the field ranked in the top three of their respective weights by Off the Mat in the second-ranked Glorioso and West Branch’s second-ranked Buzzy Maines (220) and Blairsville’s third-ranked Scott Thompson (182). Glorioso lost to Forest Hills’ Triston Law in the district finals last year, but he won the Southwest Regional and finished third at states.

“Obviously, he has his goals set high,” Mykut said. “This is a starting point for him to get to the regional and state level. He’s got to take care of business first. He didn’t win a district title last year, so that’s something he’s had sights set on all year-long. I think he’s ready to go at it.”

Two-time district champs return in Blairsville’s top-seeded Andrew Doak (152) and Thompson (182), and Law returns at 120.

Cambria Heights’ second-seeded Joe Davis (126) will be looking for his first title after finishing second the previous two years. Richland’s Adam George is the top seed at the weight, and teammate Nico Pecora is the top seed at 170.

Heights’ Levi Niebauer (160) and Aaron Gill (285) are also returning runners-up and seeded second at their weights. Juniata’s Derek Beitz is the top seed at 160, and Mount Union’s Nikolas Smith is the top seed at 285.

Central’s Brock Biddle (113) and Nick Hoenstine (138) are seeded second, as are Penn Cambria’s Zach Stevens (132) and John Wilkinson (220). Central Cambria’s Tom Opdenhoff (136) and Tyrone’s Jason Schopp (138) are third seeds.

Many teams and coaches have had to work around forfeits all season, but now, as the postseason trail begins, the focus turns to the wrestlers they have on the mats.

“We have low numbers, but these guys are ready,” Niebauer said. “We don’t have a lot of guys, they have a lot of heart and they wrestle well. We’re trying to peak at the right time. I always look forward to the postseason, and I tell the kids that’s what we get ready for.”

“I’m just excited,” Mo Valley coach Justin Fye said. “I know the guys are looking forward to Friday. It’s been a crazy season. We had a few weeks off because of the weather, and we’ve wrestled a lot in the last couple weeks, so I think the guys are ready to get on the mat and wrestle at districts.”