Sunday, March 12, 2017

McCoy gets the gold

   There may not be another wrestler who smiles as much as Justin McCoy.
   And he may never stop smiling again - nobody would blame him for that.
   McCoy punctuated his fantastic junior season at Chestnut Ridge with the biggest prize of all on Saturday, a state championship. He claimed the 145-pound title with a solid 5-2 victory over Bishop McDevitt's John Pipa.
   The win makes McCoy just the second state champion in Chestnut Ridge's wrestling history, and he joins a small fraternity of champions from Bedford County. In the 80 years of PIAA finals, here's your list of county champs:
   John Heacock, Ron Hamilton, Jan Clark, Paul Clark, Gary Pfahler, Jonathan Gabriel, and now Justin McCoy.
   "The feeling (of winning the championship) is unexplainable," McCoy said in a text message. "It can't be described."
   McCoy scored all five points on Pipa in the second period, and was never in any trouble late to secure the gold medal. After having his hand raised - with that trademark smile of course - he shook hand with Pipa's coaches before leaping into his own coach Greg Lazor's arms for a long embrace.
   "I knew Pipa had a good front headlock so I worked to stay out of that," he said. "I also worked a lot on keeping legs out and staying in the crab ride position, which Pipa is good at."
   An outstanding talent on the youth level, McCoy also became his school's second three-time state placewinner, after Aaron Burkett accomplished it last year. He finished 43-3 this season and went past the 100-win career mark during the year, and he won his second Thomas Tournament title, his third District 5 crown, and his first Southwest Regional. His only losses were to both Class AAA finalists at the same weight, Jarod Verkleeren and Brock Port, and to AAA state qualifier Joey Blumer. Saturday was his second win over Pipa, now a three-time state runner-up.
   While McCoy already had a sixth and seventh-place state medal to his credit, it was a change in mentality that allowed him to reach the top in 2017.
   "I worked harder than ever this year," he said. "I felt like I held back a little last year in the practice room, but I didn't do that this year. Also, my focus was on scoring as many points as possible this year. Last year, I just tried to win matches.
   "The offseason training (which included a national freestyle medal) has helped me a ton. I go to many camps and tournaments, learning so much with myself and from other people."
   McCoy's championship came on the same day that Pfahler was laid to rest after passing away recently in Florida. When Pfahler was celebrated at the school after his title nine years ago, McCoy was one of the youngsters in the crowd and on the floor of the gym with the first Lion to win it all.
   "It's pretty hard to describe winning this with Gary. After his passing, I really wanted to join him as a state champion and do it in his honor."


Monday, March 6, 2017

Class AA Tournament Breakdown

   Here we are, the final weekend of the Pennsylvania high school wrestling season is just days away. Below is my tournament breakdown for Class AA, with my choice for each of the 14 individual champions come Saturday afternoon.
   As I did when I covered the sport for the Bedford Gazette, please keep in mind that my choices are my opinion and are not meant as a slight to any wrestler if I did not choose them.

106 Pounds
   The favorites: Beau Bayless, Reynolds; Kaden Cassidy, Bishop McCort; Nate Smith, Bishop McDevitt
   Other contenders: Elijah Bundro, Wilson; Josh Boozel, Mount Union; Jacob Blair, Muncy
   Spring's take: This weight is always one of the tougher ones to call, even in the state tournament, as so many competitors are young and lack state tournament experience on the varsity level. Bayless finished fourth a year ago, but I'm not certain he's a clear-cut favorite over the likes of Cassidy and Smith. Bayless and Cassidy could meet in a semifinal, while Smith's on the opposite side of the draw. All of that said, I'll take a little more experience in this one when other stuff cancels out.
  The pick: Bayless.

113 Pounds
   The favorite: Jaret Lane, Southern Columbia
   Other contenders: Chase Shields, Bishop McDevitt; Keelan Kunselman, Brookville, Wyatt Lutz, Montoursville
   Spring's take: Hard to go against Lane here. I like Shields a lot, but I'll always think of Lane throwing Jefferson-Morgan stud Gavin Teasdale to his back in the state tournament two years ago. Teasdale survived that one and went on to win the title and is still unbeaten in high school (see 126 later), but Lane is battle tested and undefeated this season (44-0). Locally in Bedford County, I think Chestnut Ridge's Dylan Williams and Everett's Garret Cornell both got favorable draws and could find the medal stand.
  The pick: Lane.

120 Pounds
   The favorites: Cole Rhone, Benton; Gavin Park, Brookville
   Other contenders: Bronson Garber, Upper Dauphin; Bailey Wehr, Northwestern Lehigh; Josh Jones, Saucon Valley; Jacob Powers, Saint Joseph's
   Spring's take: This is one of the tougher weights as well, largely because I don't think any one wrestler is that much better than anyone else in this bracket. Park, Wehr, Garber, and Powers are all in the top half of the draw here. It really wouldn't surprise me to see a final between a pair of non-regional winners.
   The pick: Garber.

126 Pounds
   The favorite: Gavin Teasdale, Jefferson-Morgan
   Other contenders: Nobody else for the gold
   Spring's take: This weight is Teasdale, and then everyone else. As I said at the top, nothing is meant to slight any other wrestler here, but the J-M junior (92-0 in his career) is by far the biggest lock in the field this weekend on the Class AA level. Those battling for high spots on the podium should include Austin Clabaugh of Bermudian Springs, Brian Earlston of Line Mountain, Kollin Myers of Boiling Springs, and Gage Bayless of Reynolds.
   The pick: Teasdale.

132 Pounds
   The favorite: Brian Courtney, Athens
   Other contenders: Carnell Andrews, Bishop McCort; Gabe Miller, Pequea Valley
   Spring's take: Courtney is poised to defend a title to remember from last year, when he defeated three defending champions in succession to win his first gold. With Jonathan Gabriel graduated, and Max Murin and Cole Matthews up at 138, Courtney is the favorite for sure to win his second crown. His biggest test could be a semifinal matchup with Andrews.
   The pick: Courtney.

138 Pounds
   The favorites: Max Murin, Central Cambria; Cole Matthews, Reynolds
   Other contenders: Sammy Hepler, Tri-Valley
   Spring's take: Murin and Matthews, two champions from 2015, would each love to get back to the top this time around. It's hard to see either of them not reaching the final, but Hepler has the ability to make things difficult for Matthews in a likely semifinal. So tough to call here on a winner, but I'll stick with the four-time District 6 and Southwest Regional champion.
   The pick: Murin.

145 Pounds
   The favorites: Justin McCoy, Chestnut Ridge; John Pipa, Bishop McDevitt
   Other contenders: Todd Lane, Southern Columbia; Kody Komara, Freedom
   Spring's take: I have McCoy and Pipa as co-favorites here, although others such as Lane and Komara can make noise. Lane is a former finalist, while Komara took third a year ago. Potential highlight bouts before the finals here include Pipa-Komara in the quarterfinals and McCoy-Lane in the semifinals. If McCoy and Pipa meet up for the title, it should be a barnburner after McCoy's 8-7 win over Pipa at King of the Mountain in December. I obviously know McCoy pretty well, and while I've taken a step back from coverage this season, I love the offensive mentality that he has had this winter. Couple that with my opinion that he left something on the table last season in Hershey (and I think he knows that), and give me the Chestnut Ridge junior.
   The pick: McCoy.

152 Pounds
   The favorites: Edmond Ruth, Susquehanna Township; Robby Patrick, Ligonier Valley
   Other contenders: Kaidon Winters, Athens; Josh Haley, Wyalusing; Caleb Clymer, Northwestern Lehigh; Chase Anklam, Pen Argyl; Caleb Hetrick, Brookville; Brock Biddle, Central
   Spring's take: This might be the deepest weight from top to bottom in the tournament. I'll go with a Ruth-Patrick final here, though any of the other contenders listed could certainly pose a challenge. Patrick has to be chomping at the bit after a disappointment last year, going from state finalist as a freshman to out of the medals as a sophomore.
   The pick: Ruth.

160 Pounds
   The favorites: Ryan Farber, Northern Lehigh
   Other contenders: Larry Brown, Moshannon Valley; Morgan Deremer, Chestnut Ridge; Seth Baney, Huntingdon; Creighton Edsell, Wyalusing; Gavin Wilkerson, Reynolds
   Spring's take: I label Farber as the favorite, but in reality, I'm not sure there is one at this weight, as anyone else I mentioned is capable of getting it done this weekend. Brown and Edsell are in the top half of the draw, with Farber, Deremer, Baney, and Wilkerson down below. Deremer suffered an injury in the regional finals but should be good to go. Baney gave Edsell his only loss. Not an easy choice here.
   The pick: Edsell.

170 Pounds
   The favorite: Jacob Oliver, Huntingdon
   Other contenders: Jared McGill, Chestnut Ridge; Dalton Group, Susquenita; Gaige Garcia, Southern Columbia; Joel Leise, Reynolds
   Spring's take: Being a defending champion makes you a favorite, but Oliver's status here over McGill to name one is pretty slightly, given a 5-3 decision in the regional final two weekends ago where McGill gave Oliver all he wanted. To potentially get a rematch for the state title, McGill will have to beat Leise and Group probably. McGill is just a sophomore, while Garcia is a freshman who has returned strongly from a serious leg injury in football season.
   The pick: Oliver.

182 Pounds
   The favorite: Cody Mulligan, Saegertown
   Other contenders: Luke Funck, Northern Lebanon; Dominic Fundy, Beth-Center
   Spring's take: The three mentioned above are in my opinion a cut above the rest in this bracket. Funck and the unbeaten Fundy are in the same half, with Mulligan in the bottom part of the draw.
   The pick: Funck.

195 Pounds
   The favorite: Gavin Hoffman, Montoursville
   Other contenders: Anthony Walters, Bishop McCort
   Spring's take: Going with a Hoffman vs. Walters final here isn't going to surprise anyone. Hoffman's a defending champion, while Walters finished as a runner-up to Oliver a year ago. Could be a real dandy as well in the title round.
   The pick: Hoffman.

220 Pounds
   The favorite: Cole Nye, Bishop McDevitt
   Other contenders: Josiah Jones, Bishop McCort; Blake Reynolds, Greenville
   Spring's take: Nye beat Jones in the 220-pound final last year, 2-1 in overtime. Will they meet again in a rematch? That's certainly possible, but Greenville's Reynolds is a serious threat in a potential semifinal with Jones. He's only wrestled 10 bouts this season, but his tall and lanky frame make him a matchup problem for many.
   The pick: Nye.

285 Pounds
   The favorites: Dan Scheib, Tri-Valley; Toby Cahill, Berlin; Evan Sweesey, Freedom
   Other contenders: Nick Winfield, Southern Huntingdon; Cole Rickert, Reynolds; Dawson Otis, Wyalusing; Garrett Kieffer, Line Mountain
   Spring's take: A really good field at heavyweight here this year. Cahill's only loss was to Sweesey at the Thomas Tournament, and he avenged it in strong fashion with a 9-0 major over the Freedom wrestler in the Southwest Regional final. The top half of the draw is brutal with Scheib, Sweesey, Winfield, Rickert, and Otis all there.
   The pick: Scheib.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Remembering Gary Pfahler

   In what was expected to be a quiet week in between the Southwest Regional and the state tournament, the area is mourning another loss of a former wrestling champion.
   Just days after North Star legend Nick Roberts was found dead on campus at UPJ, word spread that Chestnut Ridge's first and still only state wrestling champ Gary Pfahler has passed.
   Pfahler was a state medalist as a sophomore, but saved his best for last in his final high school tournament, with a memorable run to capturing the 140-pound championship in 2008 by winning three one-point matches in a row. The final, a dramatic 4-3 decision over Burrell's Jordan Shields, made Gary the first champion from Bedford County since Everett's Paul Clark won in 1983.
   It was the first state tournament I covered for the Bedford Gazette, and boy, what a way to go in, trying to use mere words to describe an amazing moment for Pfahler, Chestnut Ridge, and Bedford County. And to go with it, it was the final day for Jim Clark as head coach of the Lions.
   I stayed at the Giant Center until midway through the Class AAA finals that night trying to get the stories as I liked. To this day, I'm as proud of the one on Gary winning and another on Jim's retirement as any piece I ever have done.
   Days later, I was asked to attend a school assembly for Gary at Chestnut Ridge, to honor its new champion. The moments I'll always remember from that time was a number of youngsters in the Ridge program surrounding Gary for photos with him and his gold medal. Some of those pictures have circulated in the past 24 hours on Facebook.
  It was a tremendous accomplishment, and it helped pave the way for Chestnut Ridge's immense success in recent years. So many of those faces seen in those photos were or currently are standout wrestlers in their own right.
   Not long after that state tournament, Clark was inducted into the Pennsylvania Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame. I attended the banquet in State College, and in a conversation with him, Jim spoke of such admiration for Gary's hard work and dedication, just as he had on that Saturday afternoon in March.
   Personally, I'll remember Gary for that dedication, and also a lot of the same attributes that I wrote about Roberts in my last blog posting on Sunday. Though I know that Gary had some struggles off the mat, his attitude while either giving me an interview or just chatting informally as we had on occasion were always first rate.
   My sincere sympathies go to those in Pfahler's family and the Chestnut Ridge community.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Remembering Nick Roberts

   I woke up this morning to the sad news that Nick Roberts passed away last night, and while I don't have the time to blog much anymore without covering wrestling full-time, this news deserves such a posting.
   I first got to know Nick in 2009, during his run to winning the 103-pound state championship in his freshman season at North Star. At the state tournament, I helped the Somerset Daily American with its coverage during the first two days of the event, while also being there for my normal duties with the Bedford Gazette.
   After Nick won his semifinal bout, I couldn't find him right away, and I asked former North Star head coach Pat Berzonski to let him know I wanted to speak with him. Nick found me inside the arena, and the interview ended up being conducted on the floor of the Giant Center, matside as I was covering the 130-pound semifinal for Hyndman's Logan Sheldon. I'll always remember those few minutes for Nick's patience and maturity as a ninth grader, who probably had better things to do rather than wait to chat with some guy from Bedford he didn't really know.
   The following year, I featured Nick as the lead story for the Gazette's Thomas Tournament preview section. We spoke for the story prior to North Star's dual meet with Chestnut Ridge that season. Again, Nick was very gracious with his time.
   We also ran into each other at a Sheetz in Bedford one night and chatted for a few minutes. The last time I spoke to Nick was at a match at Chestnut Ridge. At the time, rumors of him transferring from Ohio State to UPJ were circulating, and I just wanted to wish him the best.
   Obviously, his wrestling credentials speak for themselves. Three state high school championships followed by a D2 national title. But when someone asks me about Nick Roberts, I'll talk about maturity, politeness, and patience.
   My prayers and deepest condolences go out to Nick's family, his friends, and those he touched in the wrestling world.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

January check-in

   Hello again wrestling fans. No, I'm not back to covering the sport full-time, but I do intend to keep this blog in a modified form. There won't be daily or weekly posts as had been the normal. Hopefully, I will be able to check in from time to time. This season is the first in some 20-plus years that my live wrestling viewing has been limited to as little as a few hours.
   That said, I have been keeping tabs on the local action as the 2016-17 season is quickly heating up.
   Those last few hours of seeing some wrestling took place two weekends ago when I brought my 3-year old son to Everett's Bloody Run Duals. Of course, it was nice to shake hands (high fives in my son's case) and chat with some people I hadn't seen since I left the Bedford Gazette one month ago today.
   Here's some local wrestling things that have caught my eye.
   * Stars Shining: A number of veteran wrestlers are off to strong starts, among them Chestnut Ridge's three returning state medalists, Everett's trio of state qualifiers, and Northern Bedford's Zach Clark. Ridge's studs include 145-pounder Justin McCoy, who is currently ranked first in Class AA by Mark Dugan of Off the Mat. Despite the fact that McCoy collected his second state medal last season, I got the sense that he left the Giant Center in March with a bit of a bad taste in his mouth. The junior has been really good so far this winter, with a big win over two-time state finalist David Pipa at King of the Mountain. He placed second there and also won a medal at the Powerade.
   * New Names Making Names: My last Bedford match for the newspaper in December was highlighted by Riley Steinbuch's overtime win over Penn Cambria's Chase Proudfit, who was a state qualifier last season. Steinbuch has continued to impress with a 15-2 record to date at 126. That includes another victory against a PIAA qualifier in Westmont's Derrick Christie. Steinbuch is definitely someone worth watching going forward.
   Others worth a look are Northern Bedford's Ian Sherlock and Chestnut Ridge's Caleb Holderbaum. Also, Bedford's Kaden Cassidy is doing very well at Bishop McCort and Dugan currently has the freshman ranked second in the state at 106 pounds.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Saying Goodbye, for now

   I'm sure many of you have already heard the news that I will be leaving the Bedford Gazette in less than two weeks. I wrote a column about my departure in last Saturday's edition of the paper, and word travels fast in these parts.
   Frankly, I'm a little overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and well wishes I've already received from a number of people. Of course, I also got a couple of looks like "You know it's wrestling season, right?"
   Yes, I do, and it should be another strong one around here.
   I began this blog a few years ago not knowing really if it would take off at all, but it didn't take long for me to realize that it would, thanks to all of you. My mindset was to add more, and different, local content to what I was already being paid to do for the Gazette, while also trying to expand to statewide and even national wrestling matters, mostly on the high school level.
   Covering wrestling for the last 10 years here has been one unbelievable ride. And it's been an absolute honor to get to write about accomplishments such as Chestnut Ridge's first-ever state champion (Gary Pfahler), Bedford's first in 50+ years (Jonathan Gabriel), and Chestnut Ridge's trip to the state team finals in 2015. Obviously, there's so much more on the local level, as well as seeing so many high-level wrestlers around the state. From Zain Retherford and Jason Nolf to Spencer Lee and Gavin Teasdale, the list goes on and on and on.
   Like I said in Saturday's piece in print, there's no way I can thank all of the local sports community enough for their friendship and hospitality over the years.
   As for my next move, I'm departing out of journalism on a full-time basis. Priorities change as we get older sometimes. In reality, writing was never something I thought I'd be in anyway. After one high school season at the local newspaper near my hometown, I moved to Bedford County and enjoyed the last decade immensely.
   I'm proud of what I did here and to get what I did out of it for 11 years. I feel truly blessed to have been a part of such awesome moments, not just in wrestling but in all of local sports.
   So as the new wrestling season begins, I will still be around for the first week of it and plan on seeing a few matches. And if time and needs warrant, I might be at an event to help out.
   To the wrestling community and beyond, thank you.
———
   Here's a quick rundown of what I see this year.
   — Numbers, and enthusiasm surrounds many of the local schools as much as ever at places where wrestling has seen a recent downturn. That's good news overall for the sport.
   — Individual success should be very good this season when the state tournament rolls around. Chestnut Ridge has three state placewinners back in Justin McCoy, Jared McGill, and Morgan Deremer. Everett has three state qualifiers in Liam Flaherty, Garret Cornell, and Wes Graham. Cornell and Graham fell one win short of a state medal, as did Northern Bedford's Zach Clark.
   Look for some youngsters to make noise as well. A lot of eyes will be on Bedford native Kaden Cassidy, who is wrestling at Bishop McCort in its first year as a program. Cassidy won a Pennsylvania Junior title last season. Also keep an eye on Northern Bedford's Ian Sherlock, who has some high credentials coming into his freshman year.
 
   I also would like to give a hat tip to Eric Knopsnyder for creating a regional media day that was held this past weekend. While I would have liked to have been there, even though I had already accepted a new job, I chose to spend time home with my family as I have been putting in a lot of time at the Gazette. Eric's idea is so good for the sport, and he promotes wrestling as good as anyone in the state in my opinion.
 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Season Almost Here

   Yes, the new high school wrestling season is nearly here, as official practices in Pennsylvania begin on Friday. I had a little bit of time today to start looking at schedules and here are some new additions for my local teams.

Bedford 
@Bishop McCort, December 22
   Obviously, a lot of regional talk has centered around the new program that starts this winter at Bishop McCort. The Crimson Crushers are scheduled for a number of high profile tournaments, including the Beast of the East and Brookville's Ultimate Duals, but a dual meet circled on the calendar is likely an early-season date with Bedford. Bishop McCort will have a handful of very talented wrestlers in its lineup, and that should include Bedford native Kaden Cassidy, an incoming freshman who decided to head to the Johnstown school after a highly impressive youth career, which ended with a PJW state title last March.

Chestnut Ridge
@King of the Mountain Tournament, December 16-17
   Chestnut Ridge will be the third local school to ever compete in the King of the Mountain Tournament at Central Mountain. Claysburg-Kimmel went in the early years of the event, while Bedford attended for several seasons. This is another strong test for the Lions' core of top wrestlers, which will include returning state medalists Morgan Deremer, Jared McGill, and Justin McCoy.

Claysburg-Kimmel
@HOPE for Hyndman, January 10
   I'm not sure if Claysburg and Hyndman have ever wrestled in a dual, but they will this year just after 2017 rings in. Two good fan bases here should make for an entertaining night.

Everett
@Sheetz Holiday Classic, December 16-17
   Last season was a tremendous one for Everett, and the schedule is a little better this year with the addition of the Sheetz Holiday Classic at Mount Aloysius. Remember that the Warriors have three state qualifiers returning and some other talent.
   On another note, it appears that a home dual held at Southern Fulton (where Everett has a co-op) will not take place. I know that Everett athletic director Brian Koontz wanted to make this a reality, and hopefully something can be worked out for the 2017-18 season. Everett has some wrestlers from Southern, notably returning regional champion Liam Flaherty.

HOPE for Hyndman
   Hyndman has a number of new changes, including that dual with Claysburg mentioned above. The Hornets are also slated for the season-opening Conemaugh Township Tournament, as well as a return to the Winner's Choice Tournament in West Virginia, which they regularly attended in the past. Also on the card is a home dual with Ligonier Valley.

No changes appear for Northern Bedford or Tussey Mountain.