Once a formality, a Centre County wrestling team hasnt qualified for the PIAA Class AAA team tournament since 2007.
Ending the skid might take a group effort.
The county has two entries in todays District 6 Class AAA semifinals, and Bald Eagle Area and Bellefonte bring succinct goals to the rowdy Tyrone High School gym.
The fourth-seeded Eagles will try to upend five-time defending champion and top-seeded Central Mountain. The third-seeded Red Raiders face second-seeded Mifflin County, a 2012 finalist regarded as one of central Pennsylvanias rising big-school powers.
The semifinals begin at 5 p.m. The finals are scheduled to start at 7 p.m. Only the district champion qualifies for next weeks PIAA team tournament in Hershey.
No current county wrestler has participated in a dual meet at the Giant Center. The county had an entry in every PIAA team tournament from 1999 to 2007. The PIAA implemented the state duals in 1999.
Heres one way to examine the length of Central Mountains streak: Mitchell Port was a freshman when Bellefonte qualified for the 2007 state duals. One week ago, Bellefonte faced Greenville at Edinboro University, where Port is a third-year sophomore ranked fifth in the country.
BEA last qualified for the state team tournament in 2006, when its lineup included a sophomore named Quentin Wright. Many current Eagles view Wright, a fifth-year senior at Penn State, as one of their wrestling idols.
To reach the district finals, BEA must topple a team it hasnt defeated in a dual meet setting since 2007.
BEAs recent history against Central Mountain is intriguing. The neighbors have entered the same gym three times this season. Both teams opened the year at the Top Hat Tournament. Central Mountain (10-1) finished second in the 18-team event. BEA (10-2) placed 10th.
Five weeks later, the teams wrestled in Mill Hall, with Central Mountain winning the Big 7 dual meet 37-21. The meet included some wild bumping, and four decision victories, including two by one point, aided the Wildcats.
Two weeks ago, both teams competed at the Escape the Rock Tournament, a demanding 32-team event at Council Rock South. The Eagles finished seventh in the team standings with 129.5 points. Central Mountain placed eighth, seven points behind the Eagles.
If wrestlers remain at individual postseason weights, key bouts include (with BEA wrestler listed first): Travis Giedroc (19-7) vs. Keanan Bottorf (16-8) at 113, Ben Verbitskey (17-9) vs. Devin Stacey (16-1) at 170 and Aaron Varner (21-3) vs. Blaze Buckwalter (21-5) at 195. Giedroc edged Bottorf 3-2 at ETR and Stacey defeated Verbitskey 4-3 in the dual meet. Varner and Buckalter, a pair of returning PIAA returning qualifiers, have met twice. Buckwalter won 11-2 in the Top Hat finals. Varner won 8-0 in the ETR consolation finals.
Their kids are solid wrestlers, BEA coach Steve Millward said. They have a little bit of an attitude that you want to have in a wrestler. They expect as a team they are going to cover each others backs. If their butts are up against the wall, the next guy coming out really doesnt worry about what happened before him. They have that dont quit attitude.
Millwards wrestlers are relishing their second dual-meet crack at the Wildcats.
We lost to them earlier in the year, senior 138-pounder Joe Powers, but that doesnt mean we cant turn things around.
Bellefonte (13-3) and Mifflin County (15-5) have little 2012-13 history beyond their appearances in Decembers King of the Mountain Tournament. But the programs share one defining characteristic youth.
The teams start a combined seven seniors. Neither program has a junior or senior competing at a weight below 132 pounds. Bellefontes Luke Leathers (106), Aaron Witherite (106/113) and Trevor Corl (120) and Mifflin Countys Hayden Hidlay (113) and Noah Stewart (120) are among the districts top lightweights.
Bellefonte coach Mike Maney called the lightweight bouts very important.
Right now, from an overall standpoint, those are our most consistent guys, Maney said. Its the same way with them. We both have some really good young lightweights. These guys have wrestled each other throughout the years, so they are somewhat familiar with each other. There are going to be some interesting matchups.
Both teams have wrestled demanding schedules. Bellefonte is the only area school to compete in the King of the Mountain and Powerade Tournaments. Mifflin County competes in the brutal Mid-Penn Commonwealth Conference, a seven-team division that includes District 3 Class AAA finalists Central Mountain and Chambersburg.
Based on experience, yeah, I would consider us an underdog, Maney said. But I want our kids to continue to set high expectations and goals for the team. Starting this season, our goal was to be district champions. We are going down to Tyrone with that mindset.
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