Bellefonte produced 10 PIAA Class AAA placewinners in Mike Maney’s first four years as head coach, a gaudy total considering only six Red Raiders reached the podium from 1964-99.
Committed and talented athletes, strong elementary and junior high programs, improved facilities and quality coaching are behind the Red Raiders’ rise. The surge can also be attributed to ambitious scheduling.
For the sixth straight year, Bellefonte has traveled to the western Pennsylvania wrestling hotbed of Washington County for the Powerade Tournament. The two-day, 44-team event begins today at Canon-McMillan High School.
The Red Raiders are a regular presence at the state’s best regular-season tournament despite another demanding tournament in their own wrestling neighborhood. Two weeks ago, Bellefonte entered the King of the Mountain Tournament at Central Mountain. Many Pennsylvania wrestling gurus consider KOM the state’s second toughest regular-season event behind Powerade.
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Only seven programs are attempting the Powerade-KOM double this season. Kittanning, Latrobe, McDowell, Mifflinburg, Parkland and Penn Trafford are the others.
“I think the schedule is a big reason for our postseason success,” Maney said Thursday. “You want to expose the kids to the toughest competition out there and the competition you will see at regionals and states. You want to put them in tough, hard-fought matches, so it’s nothing new for them. You don’t want your kids intimidated by the Central Dauphins and Canon-McMillans when you show to Hershey and it’s their first time around them.”
Of course, entering two national-caliber tournaments comes with risks. Four Red Raiders went 0-2 at KOM. A few will likely encounter the same fate today. Traveling 170 miles to compete twice isn’t ideal.
Maney considered softening this year’s schedule because his lineup includes nine wrestlers who are freshmen or sophomores. But he said the positives of competing at Powerade and KOM outweigh the negatives. Powerade organizers held a junior varsity tournament on Thursday, so Bellefonte brought wrestlers to Canonsburg.
“The guys that go 0-2 aren’t just sitting around and eating nachos,” Maney said. “We want them to pay attention to what’s going on and learn why other wrestlers are successful.”
The benefits for Bellefonte’s top wrestlers are obvious. Former star Mitchell Port won Powerade and KOM titles before ending his senior season in 2010 as the program’s first state champ since 1991. The early-season tests enhanced Port, creating a polished, confident wrestler by March. Strong showings at Powerade and KOM showings convinced many college coaches to aggressively pursue Port, an Edinboro sophomore ranked fifth in Division I at 141 pounds.
“He was getting flooded with national attention after winning those tournaments,” Maney said.
Four Red Raiders — Nick Shawley, Garrett Poorman, Tom Traxler and Leo Wortman — qualified for last year’s state tournament. Only two, Shawley and Traxler, placed at Powerade. Traxler (Kutztown) and Wortman (Stevens) are wrestling in college. Shawley and Poorman return to Powerade as top-four seeds at 182 and 285 pounds, respectively. Shawley has signed with Division I Clarion.
This year’s Powerade field is impressive. Blair Academy, the defending champion and the nation’s top-ranked team, according to InterMat, brings a stacked lineup filled with future Division I wrestlers. Host Canon-McMillan won PIAA Class AAA team and individual tournament titles last season. The Big Macs are ranked sixth nationally.
Two potential finals are generating national buzz.
Kennard-Dale junior Chance Marsteller and Canon-McMillan junior Cody Wiercioch bring a combined four PIAA titles to the 170-pound division. Marsteller, ranked No. 1 nationally, owns a perfect career record. Wiercioch is ranked second in the country.
Good Counsel (Md.) junior Kyle Snyder and Solanco junior Thomas Haines are competing at 220 pounds. Snyder is ranked No. 1 in the weight class. The Haines is a two-time PIAA Class AAA champion.
Benton senior and Penn State recruit Zain Retherford is the top seed at 138. He’s ranked first in the country at that weight.
Bald Eagle Area is spending the holidays in a familiar place. The Eagles end their annual Manheim Tournament appearance today. BEA first entered the cozy event in 1970.
The loyalty comes with perks. Wrestlers stay with host families, allowing members of the Eagles to establish bonds with local residents. BEA and host Manheim Central are the only teams from the first field still invited to the event. The Eagles made it to Manheim again despite Wednesday’s punishing snow storm.
Penns Valley, Philipsburg-Osceola and State College are also returning to familiar gyms.
Penns Valley makes its annual trek to Perry County on Saturday for the eight-team Newport Tournament. The Rams are hoping to use the momentum generated by a 3-0 dual meet start to push defending champion Warrior Run and the Northern Tier’s Williamson for the team title. Newport, Camp Hill, Halifax, Tulpehocken and West Perry are also in the field.
P-O will bring similar momentum into Saturday’s Brockway Big Dog Tourmanet. The Mounties edged Central Mountain 32-30 last week, becoming the first District 6 team since 2007 to defeat the Wildcats. The Big Dog Tournament has been condensed into a one-day, eight-team format. The double-elimination event starts at 10 a.m.
State College is competing in Saturday’s Dale Bock Invitational for a second straight year. The Little Lions will wrestle five duals, including a Mid-Penn Conference meet against host Chambersburg. Bermudian Springs, Century (Va.), Chesnut Ridge, Southern Huntingdon and Fairfield complete the seven-team field. Pool matches begin at 8:30 a.m.