McMillen ready to defend title
Bollman, Cassidy also top-seeded
If three area wrestlers perform up to their seeds at the PIAA Championships, they will be bringing home gold medals from Hershey.
Glendale returning state champion Brock McMillen (32-3) is the top seed at 132 pounds, while Chestnut Ridge freshman Calan Bollman (37-3) and Bedford senior Kaden Cassidy (34-0) are the first seeds at 106 and 138, respectively, in the Class 2A tournament.
McMillen is a two-time Southwest Regional champ who earned Glendale’s first state title last season after being a state runner-up as a freshman. He’ll look to cap off a year that he endured heart problems with another gold medal.
“I’m looking forward to it,” McMillen said after winning his regional title. “I just want to continue to progress, and I’m excited for another shot at a state title.”
Southwest Regional champ Bollman will have to handle the pressure of being the No. 1 seed as a freshman.
“He’ll be OK,” Ridge coach Josh Deputy said. “Calan has been in this environment before. He’s one of our kids who have had success at PJWs, and he’s wrestled in a lot of big events. Of all of our kids, he’s probably been in this environment the most growing up. I don’t think he’ll be awestruck.”
Cassidy has placed third twice in his career, once as a freshman 106-pounder for Bishop McCort and last year as a 132-pounder for Bedford.
There are other area wrestlers who are candidates to be standing atop the medals stand at the Giant Center.
Altoona’s Matt Sarbo, who has been dominant at 132 pounds in the postseason, is the second seed at his weight in Class 3A. Seneca Valley two-time state champ Allejandro Herrera-Rondon (39-3) is the top seed at 132.
“There are good kids here just like there are (at regionals),” said Sarbo, who is trying to become the first Altoona state champ since Steve Maurey in 1974. “I’m not going to treat it any different. I’m just going to go out and wrestle hard.”
Ridge’s Kai Burkett (36-5 at 113), a two-time Southwest Regional runner-up, finished fifth at last year’s tournament.
“He’s excited,” Deputy said. “He’s been training really hard. He puts in more hours than anyone on our team and it shows. He’s a veteran down there, and he’s ready to let it rip.”
Glendale’s Cory Johnston (36-4) finished sixth at last year’s tournament and is coming off of a second-place finish to Ridge’s Duane Knisely (39-3) at the much talked about 220-pound weight class at regionals. Knisely is seeded third at the loaded weight.
“He’s going to give me his best, and that’s all I can ask for,” Deputy said of Knisely. “When you’re in Pennsylvania, there’s nowhere to hide. That’s why Pennsylvania is the best state. If you make it there, everyone’s got a shot.”
“Cory is just like Brock. He’s had two good days of practice this week,” Glendale coach Billy Dubler said. “He’s looking sharp. He’s excited for the weekend. He got a new haircut, so he’s ready to go.”
Chestnut Ridge’s Nathan Holderbaum, who finished third at 120 at the regional, caught fire at the state tournament last season en route to a fourth-place finish at 113.
Another subplot in the tournament is the team championship. Chestnut Ridge is coming off of winning its third Southwest Regional Tournament team title. It will try to unseat perennial power Reynolds, as well as besting PIAA State Duals nemesis Southern Columbia, Southwest runner-up St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy and Notre Dame-Green Pond.
“We’ve talked about it a bunch,” Deputy said of a possible title. “We know that Notre Dame, Southern Columbia and Reynolds are the favorites, but they’re always the favorites. No one ever really expects us to do anything, but our kids are used to that arena, used to that environment, and I expect them to put us in the mix.”
The Lions, who have never won the state team title, have eight wrestlers competing in the tournament attempting to place in the top eight at their weight classes.
Ridge’s other medal contenders are Ross Dull (126), Kaleb Miller (132), Luke Moore (152) and Daniel Moore (160), who are all making their first trip to the individual state tournament.
“We’re super excited,” Deputy said. “We’ve had two good weeks of practice. We’re coming out of things healthy. We’re ready to go.”
The Class 2A tournament begins at 9 a.m. Thursday with a short preliminary round, followed by a first round. A win in the first round means wrestlers are done until Friday. A loss means they will have to wrestle in the consolations at 1:15.
The Class 3A action begins at 4 p.m. Thursday with a short preliminary round, followed by the first round. The first round of consolations will follow at 8:15.
Twenty-eight area wrestlers have qualified for the Class 2A Tournament, while there are two in Class 3A.
Philipsburg-Osceola’s Chase Chapman (138) and Hunter Weitoish (160) are making return appearances, as are Tyrone’s Hunter Walk (113) and Huntingdon’s Myles Baney (182).
Glendale’s Zeke Dubler (113) and Tristan Rutter (145), Bellwood-Antis’ Alex Taylor (160) and Evan Pellegrine (285), Northern Bedford’s Ian Sherlock (138) and Colby Imler (170) and Tussey Mountain’s Hunter Horton (126) and Matt Watkins (285) are making their first trips to states.
Huntingdon’s regional runner-up Roland Mills (120), Bedford’s Ashton Dull (195), Cambria Heights’ Ian Eckenrode (182) and Central’s Jaxon Matthews (106) are also wrestling in the Class 2A tournament for the first time.
“We’re looking forward to it a lot,” Billy Dubler said. “With Tristan, Zeke, Brock and Cory, they all have a good shot at doing well down there. They’re all good wrestlers, and they just need to be confident. They need to go out and wrestle like they can and not let the Hershey stage be too big.”
Hollidaysburg’s Campbell Walls (160) is making his Class 3A debut.
The tournament has some of the best wrestlers in the country battling to get through deep weights filled with upsets waiting to happen.
“It’s the toughest in the country,” Deputy said. “I just talked to (Cornell assistant coach and two-time NCAA champ) Gabe Dean a few minutes ago and he said ‘Hey, good luck. If you’re in the state tournament in Pennsylvania, you’re good.”’