Area underclassmen have strong showings

Area wrestlers had some of the best results at the PIAA Championships that have been turned in recently. Eleven of the 22 qualifiers placed, including 10 of the 17 Class AA wrestlers.

The numbers also show that eight of the placewinners are underclassmen, which bodes well for next season and beyond.

What the numbers don’t show is that most of them wanted to place higher than they did, including Bedford 113-pound runner-up Jonathan Gabriel. It’s the second year in a row a Bedford wrestler has had to settle for silver, with Ryan Easter taking second last year, and the area hasn’t had a state champion since Tyrone’s A.J. Schopp won in 2010.

It’s that yearning for more that will drive wrestlers in the offseason. Heck, some won’t take much of a break before their training for next season begins.

“I think I’m going to Young Guns tomorrow,” Central Cambria freshman Max Murin said on Saturday afternoon after placing fifth at 106 pounds. “I hope not being where I want to be drives me to do better next season.”

Murin, pretty much unheralded coming into the season, was 35-0 going into the state tournament, and he made it to the semifinals before suffering his first two losses. He rebounded with a pin of Chestnut Ridge’s Aaron Burkett in the fifth-place finals.

“He’s definitely not satisfied with where he finished,” Central Cambria coach Bob Nikolishen said, “which is OK too because that’s only going to make his training that much tougher. His dad has already sent me a text stating now they’re going to have to get up at 5 instead of 5:25. That’s something that Max will enforce. He’s going to continue on the path he’s taken. He’s just going to rev it up a little more.”

Burkett, a sophomore. made a lot of strides this year after being a small 106-pounder last season. He also made the semifinals, using a late cement mixer in his quarterfinal to beat Lancaster Catholic’s eventual fourth-placer Joe Lobeck, 8-7, before losing his last three bouts, including a 3-1 decision to Bethlehem Catholic’s eventual state champ Jake Riegel in the semis.

Ridge coach Greg Lazor says Burkett will need to fine-tune his wrestling in the offseason.

“We’ve got to get more offensive than defensive,” Lazor said. “There are a couple areas that we need to work on this offseason. One is our defensive leg attacks and second is working on bottom. We found some weaknesses and we came home with a state medal, so it was a good weekend.”

The Huntingdon duo of 113-pound sophomore Collin Glorioso and 145-pound freshman Jacob Oliver, who took fifth and fourth, respectively, and are the only 40-bout winners in the area, will be looking to improve on their seasons. It was the second state medal for Glorioso, who opened the tournament with a 3-1 loss to Karam. Karam won last year’s meeting in the semifinals, 11-0.

“I’m really looking forward to it, just to see how I came back out here and did this,” Glorioso said. “I came closer in matches that I was last year, like my semifinal match last year. This year, I face the kid and it was 3-1. If I can keep making jumps like that, I can’t wait to see how much better I can get.”

“I’m looking forward to it a lot,” Oliver said. “I’m feeling pretty good about next season. I definitely have to lift, get in the gym more, and improve on my technique. I know I have a lot more I can do throughout my high school career.”

Not everybody will get started on their training right away. Cambria Heights junior Levi Niebauer, who finished sixth at 160, will soon have to get surgery on his elbow, which he injured about the third week of the season and was wrapped up during the tournament.

“After I’m done getting surgery, I’ll definitely be working hard again,” Niebauer said. “I’m definitely looking forward to getting better for next year.”

“He’ll get to it this summer,” Heights coach Mike Eckenrode said. “If he works hard this summer, he’ll be all right. Hopefully he gets healed up, gets back at it and we’ll see where he goes.”

Appreciating the greats

Another one of those underclassmen is junior D.J. Hollingshead, who was being interviewed after his fourth-place finish when Kennard-Dale four-time champion Chance Marsteller was wrapping up a 14-2 win over Pittsburgh Central Catholic’s Kyle Coniker in the 170-pound finals.

The crowd at the Giant Center erupted in applause and cheers for Marsteller in the final seconds. He became the 11th wrestler in state history to win a fourth title, and Solanco’s Thomas Haines became the 12th when he won at 285.

“He’s one of the greats,” Hollingshead said. “I think this is the first year we’ve had two four-timers in one year. I can say I wrestled when one of the greats wrestled. That’s always a good experience.”

Maines, Pecora take second

This year’s state tournament is the first one since 2009 that no District 6 wrestler won a title, but there were two that made the finals in Class AA in Richland senior Nico Pecora at 170 and West Branch junior Buzzy Maines at 220.

Maines came the closest of the two, dropping a 3-1 decision to Avella’s Jake Temple in a rematch of the Southwest Regional final. Pecora was beaten by Kane’s Evan Delong, 12-3.

Maines and Temple turned in a nailbiter in the regional, with Temple riding Maines out in the ultimate tiebreaker for the win. But this time, a Temple takedown at the edge of the mat in the first period was the difference.

“We thought which guy would get the takedown first [would win],” West Branch coach Jason Bainey said. “We were going to try and push the issue in the first period to get a takedown, but we reached a lot with that left hand and he tied us up. They scouted us pretty good too in the last match and shut our Russian [tie] and our underhooks down.

“Buzzy wrestled good and finished second. He’s only a junior and that gives him a little more motivation for next year to work a little harder to get on top of the podium.”

Maines had to survive another gutcheck against Kittanning sophomore Jacob Robb in the semifinals to get to the finals. Maines rallied to beat Robb in the semis at regionals, and this time they went to the tiebreaker tied, 1-1. Maines won, 3-1, cradling Robb for two points in his 30-second ride.

“That was a big win over Robb,” Bainey said. “We knew the cradle was there, but we waited until overtime to try it and got the two back points. That got us into the finals, which was big. And then all of the pressure is off. I thought we wrestled a lot better in the finals than we did in the semis, but Jake is tough. He doesn’t get out of position. He stays in good position all of the time and sort of frustrated Buzzy, but he wrestled well.”

One of the questions surrounding Maines: Will he stay at 220 or move up to 285 next season? Teammate Morgan Selepack, who didn’t make it to states at 285 because of a head injury at regionals, will be graduating this year.

“We talked about that all of this week,” Bainey said. “Of course, we’re going to get him the better matchup every time at 220 and 285, and then we’ll wait until the end of the year and let him make the call with what he wants to do whether he wants to go at 220 or 285. He’s little for 285. He’s only a 215-pounder right now, but we’ll look at the brackets and see where we have our best shot and go from there.”