Manley getting his last shot to add to his Altoona history

By Todd Irwin

For the Mirror

Altoona coach Joel Gilbert found star 132-pound senior Cole Manley doing back flips in the wrestling room before the Northwest Regional Tournament started.

It didn’t exactly make Gilbert’s day to see that, but Manley was excited and ready to go.

The PIAA Class 3A Championships start at 2 p.m. Thursday after the Class 2A wrestlers open at Hershey’s Giant Center, and Manley’s excitement is probably at its peak.

It’s Manley’s fourth and last shot at winning a state title, something an Altoona wrestler hasn’t done since Steve Maurey won in 1974. He qualified as a freshman, suffered a heartbreaking 3-1 loss to Nazareth’s Tyson Klump in the 106-pound finals as a sophomore and finished third at 126 last season.

Manley (21-0) was ranked second by PA Power Wrestling behind Hazleton’s Jimmy Hoffman, whom the Virginia Tech recruit could meet in the semifinals, going into regionals.

Hoffman, though, lost to Northampton’s KJ Fenstermacher in the Northeast Regional finals. One of Hoffman’s three losses was to Central Cambria’s Max Murin, 6-2, in the Sheetz Classic. Fenstermacher, in the other bracket, has beaten Athens’ returning Class 2A state champ Brian Courtney.

“I expect him to take it one match at a time,” Altoona coach Gilbert said. “You have to go out and do your thing, the things that you do best. You don’t change what you’ve done all year-long and is career, and I think Cole Manley will be just fine.

“Experience is vital down there, just getting used to wrestling in big environments, which he’s done since he’s been at the varsity level with us. He is a veteran down there. He’s accumulated well over eight to 10 matches there, and that’s a lot of matches for any student-athlete down there. I think his chances are good, but you have to go out there to wrestle and compete, and I think he’ll do that.”

Manley is one of six area guys wrestling in the Class 3A field. Altoona has four, including Northwest runner-up Parker McClellan (195) and third-placers Hunter Hileman (120) and Brinton Simington (170). Hollidaysburg is being represented by regional runners-up Nathan Swartz (138) and Hunter Gill (285).

“I think our guys are real excited,” Gilbert said. “We have three seniors and a junior. It’s their last time around, and they’re where they want to be at this time of year. I think we have some great draws, and I think our guys are ready to go.”

“It’s always awesome to go down there to Hershey, have kids there and watch them compete at the highest level of high school wrestling,” Hollidaysburg coach Mike Moore said. “We’re fortunate to have two guys going down this year, and I think they are two guys who could win some matches and possibly get on the podium.”

Simington and Gill are making return visits to the state tournament. Gill went 1-2, including an ultimate tiebreaker loss in the consolations, while Simington went 0-2. Simington injured his knee at regionals on Saturday, but that didn’t stop him from making it to states.

“He’s doing all right,” Gilbert said. “He’s taking care of that injury he had, that little ding-up. I think he’ll be ready to go. I think he has a decent draw his first match. If he wins his first one, I think he’ll have a good opportunity to do well in his second one.”

“Even in Hunter’s first time there, I didn’t see some of the deer in the headlight looks from him,” Moore said. “I thought he competed at a high level, but, unfortunately, a couple matches didn’t go his way. I would expect the same from him down there as well.”

For Hileman and McClellan, a junior, this will be their first state tournament experience.

“I know this is Hunter’s first trip to the state tournament, but we’ve taken these guys to the Powerade three times,” Gilbert said. “So, he’s used to wrestling this competition. And he’s Cole Manley workout partner, so he’s worked out with one of the best.”

“Parker is ready to go,” Gilbert said. “He put a lot of time in over the summer. He’s wrestled at Disney, wrestled at Young Guns all fall. He went to every camp he could have. He’s used to wrestling these kinds of kids, and I think he’s going to have a great tournament.”

Moore said he doesn’t think the regional final losses will affect either of his wrestlers in Hershey.

“It’s a new tournament,” he said. “I would anticipate that those losses are behind us, and it’s about moving forward. I think both of those guys will have that approach and be ready to go.

“They’re bracketed OK. If we wrestle well and get hot at the tournament, both of them are capable of advancing far. I wouldn’t put anything past them to reach the finals. It’s Nathan Swartz’s first state tournament, but Nathan has wrestled in a lot of big summer tournaments and put himself in high-level competition. An individual like him, he’s probably not going to be as gun-shy in that kind of environment.”

Still, though, nothing compares to the PIAA Tournament, where some of the best wrestlers in the country will be competing for the top eight spots at every weight.

“It’s the toughest high school state tournament in the country,” Moore said. “It’s a grind. Every match is a tough match. There are no easy matches. You’ve got to stay focused and wrestle one bout at a time. There’s so much in Pennsylvania wrestling that you can’t look past any match. You’ve got to let it fly. You’ve got to be ready to go into battle.”

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