For eight Centre County wrestlers from four different schools, the final leg of a more than three-month journey starts today at the Giant Center in Hershey.
When the first whistle blows at 9 this morning signifying the start of the 2013 PIAA Championships, Penns Valley’s Corey Hazel and Mike Rogers, Bellefonte’s Trevor Corl and Nick Shawley, Philipsburg-Osceola’s John Prentice and Bald Eagle Area’s Jake Taylor, Aaron Varner and Nate Sharkey will each be battling for state gold.
Each individual of each team faces a slightly different degree of difficulty in his quest for a place on the podium in Hershey. Here’s a brief look at each team and the individual(s) that represent it:
For Hazel and Rogers, who are both sophomores, this is their first trip to the state tournament. Everything will be new for them.
“We’ve talked about it, the environment, how you have to block that stuff out and look at each match one at a time. The dimensions of the mat are the same. It’s all the Hoosiers stuff. The other guy puts his singlet on one leg at a time,” Rams coach Joel Brinker said of his message to Hazel and Rogers.
“At this stage, these guys are pretty even, so you’ve gotta wrestle your match. Don’t fall into his match, his style, his aggressiveness. Control the pace, the tempo and the ties.”
Hazel, fresh off a 160-pound third-place finish at the Class AA Southwest Regional, will face a somewhat familiar foe. He meets Jeric Kasunic of Benton, a junior with a 32-8 record who placed second in the Northeast Regional.
“Corey wrestled the first kid he’ll meet several times last summer in Greco-Roman,” Brinker said.
Rogers draws Southeast Regional 182-pound champion Adam Mackie from Brandywine Heights. The senior, who owns a 36-1 record, placed sixth in 2012.
“Rogers’ kid we don’t know much about,” Brinker said. “We’re looking at paper work. We don’t have any video.”
No matter the opponent’s past performance or pedigree, Brinker said neither Hazel nor Rogers will be satisfied with just getting to Hershey.
“They have big goals,” he said. “They want to walk out of there with medals.”
Corl, a sophomore 120-pounder, and Shawley, a senior 170-pounder, have opposite levels of experience at the PIAA tournament.
For Corl, it’s his first trip. For Shawley, it’s a chance to improve on his fourth-place finish at 195 pounds last year.
“We want our guys to wrestle with confidence, not show anyone too much respect. They need to stick to the game plan and make them react to you. You don’t worry about the record or name,” Red Raider coach Mike Maney said.
“Some guys go down there and shut down, hold back a little bit, especially in the early rounds. We tell them they are there for a reason. You can compete with these guys. Go out and let it fly.”
Corl will meet Nazareth junior Tyler Tarsi, a third-place finisher at the Northeast Regional with a 21-14 record.
Maney wants Corl to alter the approach he took in the regional final Saturday when he couldn’t recover from a slow start in a 6-4 loss.
“Believe in yourself, believe in your ability, believe in your training. Don’t hold back. You’re giving the guy an advantage if you give them too much respect. We saw in Altoona that our conditioning was better,” Maney said
Shawley faces junior Noah Wilps of Chartiers Valley, the Southwest Regional runner-up who owns a 30-8 record. Wilps’ older brothers — Matt and Tyler — are starters at Pitt.
“One thing Nick does have is experience,” Maney said. “He was a regional runner-up and was fourth place last year. He has higher expectations as a senior. He knows how to bounce back from a loss.”
No matter the previous experience or the opponent, Maney said each of his wrestlers can succeed.
“We’ve tried to reinforce what we’ve been training for all year long. They have to believe in their training, believe that the schedule we wrestled put them in situations to be successful,” he said.
“They belong on the podium. If you wrestle hard for six minutes, guys who get to the podium go out and don’t let up on the edge of mat or at the ends of periods.”
No matter how you slice it, the Mounties’ only state qualifier, Prentice, faces a daunting half of the 170-pound bracket.
“He’s definitely up against it. Hey, it’s states. There are no easy matches,” P-O coach Tim McCamley said. “He’s looking forward to the challenge. His first opponent is 41-0 and it doesn’t seem to faze him. He loves a challenge.”
That opponent is Central Bucks South senior Dominic Rigous, the Southeast Regional champion who owns a 41-0 record.
Also in Prentice’s half of the bracket are undefeated Tom Sleigh of DuBois and defending champion Cody Wiercioch of Canon McMillan, whose only loss is to Chance Marsteller of Kennard-Dale, 3-2 in an ultimate tiebreaker. The junior two-time PIAA champion is the nation’s top-ranked wrestler.
“He looks forward to it. Someone said to him, ‘Maybe your first match will be Wiercioch.’ He said, ‘that would be good,’” McCamley said.
Prentice figures to wrestle Rigous the same way he wrestles every opponent — full speed ahead.
“It’s the only way he knows how to wrestle. He’s looking to score points at all times. It’s the way he’s always been,” McCamley said. “His mentality is that what he does, he does well.”
Bald Eagle Area
Taylor, Varner and Sharkey all return to Hershey with their own degrees of unfinished business. Taylor placed third last year, Varner sixth and Sharkey didn’t make the podium.
“They’re comfortable. We talked about what the weekend is. Mentally they’re confident. They all know that everyone there has the physical ability to do what they want to do,” BEA coach Steve Millward said. “They know, physically, the kids who qualify are tough. Mentally they prepared to do what they need to do.”
Taylor starts out with Cedar Cliff freshman Josh Colello, the Southcentral 182-pound fourth-place finisher with a 36-7 record. Millward said he doesn’t think Taylor will overlook a freshman.
“I don’t think he looks at anybody like that. He’s not dumbfounded by anyone. He thinks, ‘I am how I am, I do what I do.’ Thursday that’s just another person standing in front of him,” he said.
Varner figures to have the toughest matchup of the three. He has a showdown with Kiski Area senior Matt McCutcheon, a Penn State recruit with a 34-1 record. He was the champion at 182 last year. McCutcheon’s only loss came in last Saturday’s Southwest Regional final.
“(Aaron) doesn’t know what kind of trouble he’s in until the trouble is there. We’re well aware of who McCutcheon is. He may have lost last weekend, but he didn’t forget how to win,” Millward said.
Sharkey gets Council Rock North junior Tyler Callender, a Southeast Regional third-place finisher with a 22-4 record.
“(Nate)’s motivated. He saw what his teammates could do last year. He’s been in the same group of guys for two or three years, maybe since eighth grade. He knows what he’s capable of. It’s just a matter of going out and doing it,” Millward said.
“They all have high expectations. There would be nothing more wonderful than to have all three come home with medals. I wouldn’t count any of them out. They’re the guys that make the coaching part fun. They have been wonderful for Bald Eagle.”