Last season, Penns Valley wrestling coach Joel Brinker took a veteran-laden team to the Altoona Field House knowing the Rams would make some noise in the District 6 Class AA Wrestling Championships.
A year later, Brinker’s 12-man contingent is decidedly younger. Only two seniors will take the mats when the first whistle blows this morning. That doesn’t mean, though, that the coach doesn’t think his team isn’t capable of wrestling above its seeds. An ambitious schedule, he hopes, will allow for that.
“We’re hoping so with the schedule we wrestled. It was a very competitive schedule for a AA school. We wanted to have our guys have their feet in the fire,” Brinker said.“We scheduled the Grove City tourney as a prelude to districts. It got them used to listening for bouts, getting warmed up, getting mentally ready for bouts.”
That will all start at noon with the first round, followed by the second round and first-round consolation bouts. Second-round consolations will follow later in the afternoon. The evening session opens at 6 p.m. with quarterfinal action, followed at 8 p.m. with third-round consolations.
Penns Valley will be represented at the first 12 weights, having no entries at 220 and 285 pounds.
The Ram dozen is paced by a pair of No. 2 seeds. Senior 152-pounder Seth Decker is seeded second with a 28-2 record, behind No. 1 seed Andrew Doak of Blairsville. Decker was runner-up a year ago. Junior 170-pounder Corey Hazel is 27-3, behind No. 1 seed Nico Pecora of Richland. Hazel finished second last year.
Four other Rams are seeded among the top eight at their respective weights. Sophomore 120-pounder Curtis Decker is No. 4 with a 25-5 record. Decker finished fifth a year ago. Freshman Jared Hurd has a 22-8 record and is seeded No. 6 at 126. Junior Andrew Hurd, with a 22-6 record at 160, is seeded seventh. He finished sixth in 2013. And, at 132, junior Jacob Confer (19-10) is seeded eighth.
The rest of the contingent includes: 106, freshman Darren Yearick (4-5); 113, junior Kolton Confer (6-13); 138, sophomore Isaac Bierly (3-10); 145, sophomore Owen Carper (5-16); and, 182, senior Jason Thoms (15-10).
For any of the 12 to move on they would have to place among the top four at their weight, in a tournament that features wrestlers representing 26 different schools.
“Seth (Decker) has Doak (seeded ahead of him). We’re very familiar with Doak. He was a district champ as a freshman and he’s a two-time state placewinner. He’s a tough kid. If he (Decker) can get to the finals, he can figure out a little bit of a game plan and execute it. He definitely can. He can definitely beat him. He’ll have to fire on all cylinders. He’s hungry for it. He would like to be a district champ,” Brinker said.“Hazel has Picora (seeded ahead of him). If you look at similar matches, competition and opponents, it would be a good match. He can definitely beat Nico. We’re hopeful to have two district champs this year, or more.”
As for the rest of the Rams? Brinker thinks the schedule has prepared them to potentially surprise.
“I think they’re ready to go. Curtis Decker is a sophomore, but he was one place from moving on regionals. Hurd is a freshman, but he can run with anybody among the top few seeds. At 132 we have Jacob Confer. That’s a wide-open weight. Anybody can take it,” he said. “We don’t have any major injuries at the moment. Our weights are solid. We’ve prepared for this all season.”
Note: First-year team Saint Joseph’s Catholic Academy has one entry in this year’s tournament. Sophomore Austin Emel carries a 12-10 record into the tournament at 138 pounds.