Last year’s high school wrestling season was special for Centre County’s teams.
There were four PIAA finalists and six athletes came back to the area with medals.
This season could be just as special as five of those medalists return with three of the four finalists back.
St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy’s Caleb Dowling, Bald Eagle Area’s Gage McClenahan and State College’s Cole Urbas each reached the finals last year but came up just short of their ultimate goal of gold. However, only Dowling and Urbas will get another shot this season.
McClenahan suffered a knee injury during the seventh week of the Eagles’ football season. He just had surgery at the beginning of November, which should put him in good shape for next season -- his senior year.
The Wolves also return Amonn Ohl and Zack Witmer, who finished sixth and fifth, respectively.
High school wrestling fans will see some changes for the postseason this year, too. BEA and Philipsburg-Osceola each dropped down a classification to Class 2A. This means that the Eagles and Mounties will join Penns Valley and St. Joseph’s in Indiana for the Southwest Regional tournament at the end of February.
“We are looking forward to writing a new chapter in Bald Eagle Area’s storied history,” BEA coach Ron Guenot said of the classification change.
The Red Raiders and Little Lions will have their usual postseason of back-to-back weekends in Altoona for districts and the Northwest Regional tournament.
Here’s a closer look at each of the six teams.
Bald Eagle Area
The Eagles would’ve looked to McClenahan for leadership on the mat this year after losing numerous seniors, which included Seth Koleno and Garrett Rigg. Koleno,who was a state finalist last year, and Rigg, who was a state qualifier, are now wrestling for Clarion and Lock Haven, respectively.
Instead, McClenahan will have to be a vocal leader, but look for guys like Dylan Bisel, Garrett Giedroc, David Close and Cooper Gilham to step up.
BEA finished 15-1 last year as the Big 7 and Mountain League champions as well as a runner-up finish in the District 6 Class 3A duals. It’s possible that the Eagles may not have such success this season. However, they do have a lot to look forward to with just four seniors on the roster.
“The success of this year’s squad will depend on whether every wrestler buys into the dedication and commitment that is necessary to make huge improvements throughout the year,” Guenot said.
According to coach Mike Maney, this may be one of the most talented teams he’s had.
Talent doesn’t necessarily mean experience, but in the few short days Maney has been with the team, he noted their work ethic and coachability sticks out.
“This group of student-athletes has been fun and exciting to work with so far,” he said. “We have only had a few practices due to the weather, but there is a strong group of leadership that becomes contagious in the practice room. I think this could be a very special group.”
The leadership is what Maney feels will define this year’s squad. They’ve got the guys for that.
Senior Cole Stewart is one of those guys. He will be looking to make the PIAA Championships again as he hasn’t been there since his freshman season. He is also nearing the century mark for wins in a career.
Sophomores Ethan Richman and Ethan Rossman are back, too, and those young wrestlers were big last season for the Red Raiders. Bellefonte also have Kyle Myers this year after he transferred from West Branch. Myers was a state qualifier for the Warriors last year and was one win shy of claiming a medal.
“As with any wrestling season, the lineup will continue to be a work in progress,” Maney said. “The wrestlers will work themselves to their certified weights and a weight class comfortable to them. Some of our new wrestlers will learn and adapt to the varsity level, but I am excited to see them progress and do some exciting things for our team this season.”
The Rams were set up to have a tremendous season last year as they had most of their team returning from a third-place finish in the District 6 team duals.
However, some wrestlers didn’t come out for the team and other wrestlers suffered injuries that kept them from competing. The subtractions forced Penns Valley to start some first-year wrestlers to the sport in their lineup.
This year’s squad is set up rather nicely with the return of all four of their regional qualifiers in Baylor Shunk, Clayton Royer, Abraham Allebach and Carter Felker. They also get back Andrew Sharer, who was a regional qualifier as a freshman two years ago.
The Rams will rely on that leadership. They have a plethora of talent in the wings with sophomore Malachi DuVall and freshman Hayden Yearick among some of the newcomers on the squad.
“(We’re) excited to see what this team can do,” coach Joel Brinker said. “(The) team and coaches have high goals for this group and believe they can attain each. (There are a) number of wrestlers (that) can be wrestling in March.”
Coach Brad Pataky is in his second year at the helm of the Mounties.
He has brought the Penn State attitude and mindset to P-O and it showed last year. The Mounties went 7-5 and had a third-place finish as a team in the District 6 Class 3A individual tournament.
Pataky will have some work to do this year as P-O lost eight seniors. However, the Mounties have some very experienced wrestlers back, with junior Chase Chapman and sophomore Hunter Weitoish spearheading the team
Pataky knows that his underclassmen will be huge for the teams’ success. He also feels there are some new faces who can contribute right away, too.
“We have a solid group of underclassmen who are looking toward building off of last season,” Pataky said. “Our mindset coming into the season is significantly ahead of the curve compared to last season.”
St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy
The Wolves have a ton of experience back from last season’s squad.
Not only do they have Dowling, Ohl and Witmer, but they added another state qualifier in Tyler Stoltzfus.
Stoltzfus was 41-5 last year and finished fifth in the state at 160 pounds competing for Mifflinburg High School.
St. Joseph’s also got the addition of freshman Kolby Franklin. Franklin won a Greco-Roman title this summer in Fargo, N.D., and also placed second in Freestyle as an eighth-grader. He also finished third in the Cadet Pan American Trials.
The Wolves don’t follow a dual season like other county schools but they still have a very tough schedule. They will take part in the prestigious Ironman and Powerade tournaments this year.
“I am looking forward to see us compete,” coach Pat Flynn said. “We have a good nucleus coming back and had a great summer training.”
The Little Lions didn’t lose too much in terms of wrestlers from last year. They had just a handful of seniors.
The same can be said for this year but they will lose a key guy in Urbas after this year.
Urbas is one of only a couple of seniors on the squad. However, he may not have to make the trip to Hershey alone this year for the PIAA Championships in March. He has been the lone State College wrestler there the past two seasons.
The Little Lions have Clayton Leidy, Owen Woolcott and Lance Urbas back from a 5-13 squad, but they got the addition of Evan Courts, Jacob Powers and Julian Simmons, who competed for St. Joseph’s the past two seasons.
Courts and Powers each qualified for the PIAA Championships last season but came up short in placing.
“We have strong upperclassmen leaders that are ready to lead a talented group,” coach Ryan Cummins said. “Some new wrestlers to the program should strengthen our lineup and help our dual meet season this year.”
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Bald Eagle Area
Head coach (years coaching overall, at school): Ron Guenot (third, third)
Assistant coaches: Kyle Wallace, Ed Hockenberry, Travis Stem, Kyle Fluke, Mike Cook, Steve Stern, Ken Shrik, Brian Johnson, Corey Bainey
Last season’s record: 15-1
Last season’s accomplishments: Big 7 and Mountain League Conference Champions, Ultimate Warrior Tournament Team Champion, Manheim Tournament Runner-up, District 6 3A Team Runner-up, Class 3A 7th Place team at PIAA Individual Championships
Key losses: Seth Koleno, Garrett Rigg, Lucas Holderman, Kurt Hall, Bailey Irvin, Rilee Bechdel
Returning letterwinners: Dylan Bisel, Sr.; Garrett Giedroc, Sr.; Alex Holt, Sr.; Richard Taylor, Sr.; Asher Burkett, Jr.; David Close, Jr.; Gage McClenahan, Jr.; Drew Koleno, Jr.; Cooper Gilham, Soph.; Drake Holderman, Soph.
Key newcomers: Noah Foltz, Fr.; Shane Eveleth, Soph.; Brady Proctor, Soph.; Nate Smith, Soph.; Nick Smith, Soph.
Head coach (years coaching overall, at school): Mike Maney (14th, 12th)
Assistant coaches: Nate Alterio, Richard Taylor, Keith Taylor, Evan Benner, Brandon Reish, Mark Maney, Brad Grieb
Last season’s record: 10-8
Last season’s accomplishments: District 6 Class 3A Duals 3rd, District 6 Tournament 6th
Key losses: Max Mondy, Caleb Putnam, Austin Smith, Andrew Davidson
Returning letterwinners: Aaron Little, Jr.; Alex Coppolo, Jr.; Cole Stewart, Sr.; Ryan Smith, Sr.; Logan Simpson, Sr.; Ethan Richner, Soph.; Ethan Rossman, Soph.; Alec Bossert, Jr.; Dan Orndorf, Sr., Andrew Howe, Sr.
Key newcomers: Aidan O’Shea, Fr.; Lane Aikey, So.; Kyle Myers, Sr.; Dylan Dann, Soph.; Max Barrier, Soph.; Stephen Ivicic, Soph.
Head coach (years coaching overall, at school): Joel Brinker (13th, 13th)
Assistant coaches: Michael Wise, Wayne Yearick, Colby Stover, Brian Royer, Nick Brown, Jaron Cunrod, Aaron Smith, Tyler Myers, Bob Myers, Weston Frame
Last season’s record: 8-12
Key losses: Carl Mundt
Returning letterwinners: Justin Darlington, Soph.; Baylor Shunk, Sr.; Clayton Royer, Jr.; Charles Martin, Jr.; Clayton Upcraft, Sr.; Zach Royer, Jr.; Carter Felker, Sr.; Abraham Allebach, Sr.; Andrew Sharer, Jr.; Caelob Packer, Jr.; Dillon Covalt, Sr.
Key newcomers: Hayden Yearick, Fr.; Cole Felker, Fr.; Malachi DuVall, Soph.; Dristen Wolfe, Soph.; Nate Long, Fr.
Head coach (years coaching overall, at school): Bradley Pataky (second, second)
Assistant coaches: Jake Krupa, Matt Lobb, Jeremy Weller
Last season’s record: 7-5
Last season’s accomplishments: ninth place at Conestoga Valley Holiday Classic, sixth place at West Branch Ultimate Warrior Tournament, third place at District 6 Class 3A Individual Championships, fifth place at Northwest Class 3A Regional Championships
Key losses: Noah Twoey, Matt Johnson, Kyle Taylor, Ian Klinger, Mason Martin, Brandon Anderson, Josh Hubler, Jordan Smith
Returning letterwinners: Nick Bryan, Jr.; Aaron Foster, Jr.; Chase Chapman, Jr.; Hunter Weitoish, Soph.; Gabe Dunkelberger, Jr.; Cole Hoover, Jr.; Alex Dunkelberger, Jr.; Braedon Butler, Sr.; Tristan Beauseigneur, Sr.; Matthew Shimmel, Sr.
St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy
Head coach (years coaching overall, at school): Pat Flynn (fifth, fifth)
Assistant coaches: Brian Witmer, JR Wert, Ronnie Garbinsky
Last season’s record: 5-1
Last season’s accomplishments: District 6 Class 2A individual champions, second place at Southwest Class 2A regionals, fourth place at PIAA individual championships
Returning letterwinners: Amonn Ohl, Soph.; Zack Witmer, Soph.; Caleb Dowling, Jr.; Keegan Rothrock, Jr.; Zak Rosenberger, Sr.
Key newcomers: Mike Lavallee, Jr.; Tyler Stoltzfus, Jr.; Kolby Franklin, Fr.
Head coach (years coaching overall, at school): Ryan Cummins (16th, sixth)
Assistant coaches: Bud Price, Tim Haas, Max Miller
Last season’s record: 5-13
Key losses: Ian Barr
Returning letterwinners: Cole Urbas, Sr.; Clayton Leidy, Jr.; Owen Woolcott, Soph.; Lance Urbas, Soph.
Key newcomers: Jude Swisher, Fr.; Evan Courts, Jr.; Jacob Powers, Sr.; Julian Simmons, Jr.