All in all it was a good day for the Centre County squads as the first day of the King of the Mountain wrestling tournament unfolded at the Central Mountain High School gymnasium.
Bellefonte and Penns Valley combined to qualify five wrestlers for the quarterfinals of the meat grinder, the Red Raiders coming in with a trio while the Rams feature a pair of wrestlers still alive for a possible gold medal.
Bellefonte got off to a solid start with six advancers in the first championship round, a group that included Nate Wert (113 pounds), Aaron Witherite (120), Luke Leathers (126), Brock Port (132), Trevor Corl (152) and Dillon Kephart (170).
Wert received a first-round bye, while Witherite decked Trey Carr of Greater Latrobe in 3:25, Leathers was all over Mason Wyatt of Benton for a 20-3 technical fall in 5:21 and Port followed with a tech fall of his own, a 16-1 effort in 3:49. Corl and Kephart both picked up falls the old-fashioned way, with Corl nailing Jacob Linde of Fort LeBouef in 2:10 while Kephart hardly worked up a sweat in taking care of Nate Van Campen of South Western in 37 seconds.
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“It is a little tough to get a true assessment of where your kids are, because in this tournament you are going to see some of the best wrestlers in the state,” Bellefonte coach Mike Maney said. “The seeds went pretty much according to the brackets. It was certainly an up-and-down day for us but in a tournament like this you always want to set your expectations high. We lost some close matches (two by one point) in the early round that I thought we could have won, but for some of those guys, it was their first experience in a tournament like this. You have to battle for the whole six minutes and you can’t let up because it will hurt you. Hopefully they will learn that lesson.”
In the championship round of 16, the Raiders stumbled a few times, but still managed to keep Witherite, Port and Corl alive for gold.
Witherite picked up his second fall of the day in 3:25 over Brandon Sauers of Cathedral Prep, while Port nudged Chad Haegele of Archbishop Wood 1-0 and Corl was all over Mason Luskewicz of Hempfield for a 23-8 technical fall in 3:56.
“He (Corl) is wrestling very well right now,” said Maney. “One thing we talked to him about coming into the season is not to shut down because that hurt him last year in the state tournament. We want him to stay on the attack for the entire six minutes and right now he is wrestling as well as I have ever seen him wrestle.”
While Corl is the most experienced, Witherite and Port have also been through some tough battles.
“Port wrestled a tough kid who wrestles pretty much defensive and sometimes those kids tend to frustrate you,” Maney said. “He lost some close matches last year in states so his 1-0 win was him focusing to win a close match. For Witherite it was a nice win for him. He is getting the bonus points, which is big for him and hopefully his efforts will continue (Saturday).”
Penns Valley found the road through the first round a little rocky as the Rams came up with four winners in 10 tries.
Advancing to the round of 16 for the Rams were Curtis Decker (132) with a 12-0 major decision over Kyle Frantz of DuBois, Andrew Hurd (160) with a bye, top-seeded Corey Hazel (182) with a fall in 2:25 over Matt Zawatski of Benton and Corey Rimmey (195) with a 43-second deck of Nate Reganor of Erie McDowell.
“This is obviously a brutal tournament, so getting four through the opening round wasn’t all that bad,” Rams coach Joel Brinker said. “Things went as expected to a point with the kids who are a little more experienced and seasoned winning. As for the other guys, I think they are getting their eyes opened up as to where they need to get to and I think it is a good experience for them as well. They are battling, fighting and scrapping and that is what we want to see. Obviously you want to get more kids through with more wins, but at the same, you have to be realistic.”
In the round of 16, the Rams went 2 for 4, getting wins from Decker and Hazel. Decker was strong for the day with a 12-0 major decision and a 10-4 regular decision, while Hazel was a 6-1 winner over Jersey Shore’s Max Mason to advance.
“He (Decker) is on his way down to 126, so he is weighing in light and wrestling 132-pounders,” said Brinker. “He has had two good matches thus far and he is coming back from a significant surgery so that makes it even more remarkable. We are looking for more good things from him.”
If there is a kingpin on the Ram squad, it would have to be Hazel.
“Corey is Corey,” Brinker sai with a smile. “I don’t think he has had a practice this week because we had two dual meets and he received forfeits in both of them. He wanted to go deep into his matches today to work on conditioning, but I am not worried at all about Corey. He’ll be fine and I am anxious to see how he does the rest of the way.”
Wrestling continues Saturday with a round of consolations at 10 a.m., with the championship quarterfinals to follow.