Bedford’s Easter goes for fourth District 5 wrestling title

It’s been an interesting and very competitive season among the top teams in District 5, and the District 5 Tournament shouldn’t be any different this weekend.

Among the various dramas and subplots to the tournament are a few interesting items:

* The team title might not be decided until the championship finals and shapes up to be a battle between Chestnut Ridge and Berlin Brothersvalley.

* Bedford’s Ryan Easter is going for his fourth district title, which hasn’t been done by a Bedford wrestler since Eric Gibbons since Eric Gibbons won from 1999 to 2002.

* The seeding point system created some odd seeding in which wrestlers have been seeded lower than the guys they beat during the regular season.

No matter what the seeds are, area District 5 coaches and teams are ready to stop shoveling snow and get the postseason started.

“We are excited about the district tournament,” Chestnut Ridge coach Greg Lazor said. “We feel we have a real balanced team and should be able to compete for advancement in most weights.”

“We’re pretty excited about the tournament,” Bedford coach Brian Creps said. “This is the individuals’ chance to shine at this point in the season. This is the team when you want to give your best effort.”

The tournament begins at 2 p.m. Friday at Windber High School with the preliminaries. A quarterfinal round will follow at around 3:30, and the first day ends with a consolation round at around 6:30. Wrestling resumes at 10 a.m. Saturday with the semifinals. The consolation finals are set for 6 p.m., and the championship finals will follow at 7.

The top three placers at each weight class qualify for next week’s Southwest Regional Tournament.

Ridge and Berlin battled twice in dual meets, and the Lions won both, including for the District 5 Duals title, but the Mountaineers eased to the Thomas Subaru Tournament crown by 49 points over Ridge, which was without 285-pounder Austin Buttry at the time.

“It should be a very close district tournament this year,” Lazor said. “There are several good teams competing for the title. As for us and Berlin, we both have some weight classes we are favored to win and others we should make the finals. The battle between us will be decided by the number of wrestlers who battle back in the consys.”

Ridge has three No. 1 seeds in Aaron Burkett (106), Derek Claar (138) and Buttry and No. 2 seeds in Trent Crouse (145) and Conner Buttry (182). Berlin’s No. 1 seeds are Joe Swank (120), Braden Fochtman (145), Taylor Cahill (152) and Bryce Fochtman (160).

“I feel our top seeds have the ability to win titles if they wrestle their best,” Lazor said. “The postseason is always a little different and some wrestlers change their mindset and style. If they can stay consistent and do what they have all year, all three and others have a chance for a title.”

Bedford has top seeds in Jonathan Gabriel (113) and Easter (132) and No. 2 seeds in Garrett Thomas (138). Northern Bedford’s Jared Helsley (126) is seeded first, and teammate Lucas Kolinchak (170) is second. Everett’s Devin Reed (285) is also a second seed.

Easter (22-3), a returning state runner-up and the school’s all-time wins leader, has bigger postseason goals, but a fourth title would be something to cherish.

“Ryan has been wrestling well all season,” Creps said. “There’s only been three or four in Bedford history to win four titles, so that would be a real special thing for him. His frame of mind is good, and he’s ready to go for the postseason. He’s real excited about that. Winning four is real hard to do in any district.”

Easter isn’t the only Bedford wrestler returning as a champ. Gabriel, Thomas and Toby Brett are also returning champs. In fact, Brett, a senior, has won two titles, but, with a 10-9 record, he’s the fourth seed at 145.

Which brings us to the seeds. The weights where the odd seeds really stand out are at 138, where Claar is seeded ahead of Thomas even though Thomas beat him, 6-4, in the Thomas Subaru finals, and at 145, where Braden Fochtman is seeded ahead of Crouse, a two-time runner-up who has beaten the Berlin sophomore twice.

“Yeah there was some strange seedings with Crouse and Fochtman, but it was just as weird with Claar getting seeded over Thomas,” Lazor said. “It goes by a point system that you have to be within so many points to challenge. Its something the district has to look into. But I have no ill feelings. Fochtman wrestled a tough schedule and earned his seeding points.”

“There was a lot of places where that happened,” Creps said. “It’s obvious that the system is broken, and District 5 has to acknowledge that it’s broken, The current system is like three years old and it’s just a knockoff of what we had before. The coaches weren’t real happy about it. In a small district like this, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be using head-to-head as criteria. But in the end, if you place in the top three, you’ll make it anyway.”

Notes: Burket, Blake Dunlap (113), Claar and Austin Buttry are also returning runners-up. … Claar won a district title in 2012 at 106. … Bryce Fochtman, Meyersdale’s Gavin Berkley (182) and Hope for Hyndman’s James Bennett (195) are the other returning champions.