Thursday, September 28, 2017

Lions' dynamic duo proving everyone right

   McCoy and McGill.
   McGill and McCoy.
   Even as Chestnut Ridge was beginning to take over the District 5 wrestling stranglehold that belonged to rival Bedford a few years ago, much of the conversation centered around the future of the Lion program and how it could rise to greater heights.
   And that discussion never took long to get to two young men, Justin McCoy and Jared McGill, in whatever order you wanted to have them.
   Just before the 2013-14 season began, Eric Knopsnyder and I had a chat through Facebook Messenger which overall was about the district in general.
   I found it in my messenger archives yesterday. Here are the comments pertaining to McCoy and McGill.

   Ryan: "I actually think Ridge will be better next year (2014-15) despite losing (Austin) Buttry after this year. They have a couple decent freshmen (Morgan Deremer and Dylan Williams), and they have a stud eighth-grader coming (McCoy)."
   Eric: "At least one stud eighth-grader, right? Aren't McGill and McCoy both pretty good?"
   Ryan: "McGill is in seventh (grade) as far as I know."
   Eric: "Ok. Man, I've been hearing about him for years already!"

  As things turned out, my prediction (not to brag) that the Lions would be better the next year was right. With McCoy on board as a freshman 120-pounder, they had a total team effort in their memorable run to the PIAA Class AA team finals.
   On an individual level, McCoy and McGill have been brilliant. Like Eric stated having heard about McGill for years back then, so much was anticipated and expected out of both of them. They've surely delivered.
   McCoy has 122 wins and is well within striking distance of becoming Bedford County's top wins leader (Aaron Burkett, 152). He can also become Chestnut Ridge's first four-time state medalist. And of course, a second state title would place him in rarified air as Jan Clark is the only multiple-time state champ from the county.
   McGill is over the 70-win mark in two years and would have been higher in that column had he not missed a few matches his freshman season due to a broken nose. He's on track to eventually join McCoy as a four-time state medalist.
   Going back to my lead of 'McCoy and McGill', if one does, the other one is not far behind. On Sunday night, McCoy announced he has committed to wrestle at the University of Virginia. Just hours later, McGill signed on with Army West Point. Given their wrestling credentials, seeing these two advance on to Division I institutions in the near future is no surprise. I have stories on both college commitments further down in this blog.
   Just like former Bedford standouts Ryan Easter and Jonathan Gabriel, and some others I've had the pleasure of watching compete, the pair of Chestnut Ridge stars have lived up to the hype. Congratulations to Justin and Jared on what they've done so far on and off the mat, and I only wish them the best as they each shoot for more state hardware and eventual NCAA glory.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

McGill picks West Point

   Jared McGill still has two years left to wear the Chestnut Ridge singlet, and he already knows what colors he'll don at the next level.
   The Lion junior decided that Army West Point was the place he wanted to be a long time ago, so he didn't want to wait any longer. He made it official on Monday night in committing to the Cadets.
   "It's the most prestigious school out there," he said. "The campus is beautiful, and there's so much history there."
   McGill chose the service academy over Bucknell, Clarion, Penn, and Franklin & Marshall.
   At Chestnut Ridge, McGill is a two-time state placewinner, first finishing sixth at 132 pounds as a freshman. He then made a big weight jump last season, to 170, and took fourth in the PIAA tournament. He's likely to be at 170 again this year, and will be among the favorites if not the guy to beat for a state title.
   McGill joins teammate Justin McCoy in making a Division I college commitment. On Sunday night, McCoy announced he signed with Virginia.
   "I didn't expect to commit now, but West Point has always been a place I wanted to go. I know it's the place for me. Now I can focus on winning that state title at Ridge."

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Ridge champ McCoy picks UVA

   Justin McCoy has always believed in getting better every day, which has taken the Chestnut Ridge senior to enormous heights on the wrestling mat.
    He was a standout on the youth level and has parlayed that into much more success in the high school ranks, the biggest accomplishment coming in the form of a state championship last March. All of that and more made McCoy a hot commodity among some of the best NCAA Division I programs.
   Earlier tonight, McCoy made things official by choosing the University of Virginia as his next destination. He picked the Cavaliers over fellow Eastern wrestling powers Cornell, Lehigh, and Virginia Tech.
  "I chose Virginia because I felt like I really fit there," he said. "I felt really comfortable with the coaches and future teammates."
   McCoy will enter his final season at Chestnut Ridge with a career record of 122-16. That puts him 31 wins away from becoming the new victory leader in Bedford County history. McCoy's former teammate Aaron Burkett currently holds the mark at 152 wins. Last year, McCoy went 43-3 and swept the postseason wins at 145 pounds, culminating in his 5-2 decision over Bishop McDevitt's John Pipa for the state's Class AA title. Should McCoy take the gold again, he would join Northern Bedford legend Jan Clark as the only multiple-time state champions to hail from the county.
   "I'd like to be an undefeated state champion," he said upon his goals for the upcoming season.
   At Virginia, McCoy projects at either 165 or 174 pounds. He will probably compete at 152 for the Lions this winter. He's undecided as of now on an academic major in Charlottesville.
   Chestnut Ridge coach Greg Lazor holds high praise for McCoy.
   "It is great to see a young man who does the right things on and off the mat succeed at this level enough to get a great opportunity at the next level," Lazor said. "He's the most hardworking and dedicated wrestler I've had in 20 years of coaching. I couldn't be happier or proud about him."
   Also a standout on the football and baseball teams at Chestnut Ridge, McCoy is happy to have the recruiting process done.
   "It was actually pretty difficult and stressful at times. It was very long but I'm glad I was patient, and I feel I made the right choice."

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Cassidy to take mat for Lions

   Chestnut Ridge has been the dominant program in local wrestling for many years now, and it would appear on paper that the Lions have no designs on moving away from that top position anytime soon.
   Already with a strong nucleus set to return for the 2017-18 season, Chestnut Ridge is gaining another stud as Kaden Cassidy is expected to put the blue and yellow singlet on this winter.
   Cassidy, who will be a sophomore, competed at Bishop McCort in its first season as a varsity program in 2016-17, and he put together an outstanding freshman year. He won a District 6-AA and Southwest Regional championship before finishing third in the state at 106 pounds. He was 25-4 with the Crimson Crushers.
   During the offseason, the Cassidy family sold their home in the Bedford Area School District, and flirted with a permanent out-of-state move before returning back north and finding a home within the Chestnut Ridge district. Prior to attending Bishop McCort, Cassidy was a decorated youth wrestler, which included a Pennsylvania Junior Wrestling title for Bedford at 97 pounds in 2016.
   Gaining a wrestler with Cassidy's credentials surely makes Chestnut Ridge much more formidable. The Lions will already be returning reigning state champion Justin McCoy, two-time state medalist Jared McGill, and many other starters. The addition of Cassidy to that nucleus could make the District 5 power a major player on the statewide stage again, where the Lions reached the PIAA finals in 2015 and finished fourth in 2013.

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.