High School Sports

High school wrestling: King of the Mountain becomes gold standard

Pick a weight, any weight, and the King of the Mountain Tournament boasts a returning ...

State champ? Perhaps.

State placewinner? Likely.

Medals aren’t the only way to measure the tournament’s progress since it started inviting more than 30 teams in 2002.

Tournament director Norm Palovcsik likes to tell the story of 2011-12, when eight wrestlers won state titles after failing to leave Mill Hall without KOM gold. The annual two-day tournament, which begins today at Central Mountain High School, has become that tough.

“Stuff like that allows us to say, ‘We’re at the end point now where this is a very, very good tournament,’” Palovcsik said.

An abundance of loaded weight classes suggest a few wrestlers in this weekend’s year could flip December heartbreak into March triumph.

Sixteen wrestlers, including four from Perry, Ohio, participated in last year’s tournament and reached state finals. Thirty-seven wrestlers in this year’s field, including Bellefonte’s Nick Shawley and Garrett Poorman, are returning state medalists. Parkland’s Ethan Lizak, Bethlehem Catholic’s Darian Cruz, Pen Argyl’s Mikey Racciato and Mifflinburg’s Nazar Mironenko won PIAA titles last season.

Cuyahoga Valley Christian’s Nathan Tomasello is a three-time Ohio state champion ranked No. 1 in the country at 120 pounds. Lansing’s William Koll and Connor Lopresi own New York state titles. See below for more on Koll.

This year’s KOM brings wrestlers from 35 teams, nine PIAA districts and six states to Mill Hall. Cuyahoga Valley Christian, Bethlehem Catholic, Fort LeBoeuf, Cumberland Valley and Colonial Forge (Va.) are high-powered newcomers.

“I think we have always had a pretty tough and very competitive tournament,” Palovcsik said. “This year just brings it to another level.”

Palovcsik said constructing an event to test wrestlers striving to participate in a state tournament represented his goal when he became tournament director in 2002. The top 24 teams earn return invitations, but loading the field has diminished the local flavor.

Bellefonte is the only Centre County participant. Central Mountain, Juniata and Mifflin County are the only other District 6 entries. Bucktail, Jersey Shore, Line Mountain and Mifflinburg give the tournament four District 4 entries. Central Mountain and Bucktail are part of the Keystone Central School District, which provides facilities for the event.

Palovcsik said he’s issued Bald Eagle Area an open invitation to join the field. The Eagles have opted to attend the Manheim and Escape the Rock Tournaments instead of staying close to home.

Palovcsik’s job presents emotional challenges such as not inviting teams whose coaches desperately want to test their top wrestlers. It’s even harder to turn down a team when its coaching staff has Clinton County ties.

“You try to make it a showcase while maintaining a local flavor,” Palovcsik said. “It’s bittersweet. When you grow in quality, it forces you to make some tough decisions. It’s never an easy thing.”

Still, the excitement for Friday and Saturday palpable. A crew from Flowrestling will collect footage for its popular website and multiple Division I coaches attend the later rounds.

“It’s a pretty dog-gone tough tournament,” Palovcsik said. “That’s why there’s a waiting list to get into it.”

Wrestling begins at 11 a.m. today. Finals and place bouts are scheduled for 4:45 p.m. Saturday.

Familiar name

Seeing Koll’s name as the No. 1 seed at 126 rekindles memories for Centre County fans.

Koll is the son of Cornell wrestling coach and former State College High School standout, Rob Koll, and grandson of former Penn State coach Bill Koll. William, a junior, finished third at last year’s New York state tournament. He won a state title as a freshman in 2011.

William Koll is the top seed at 126. Koll and Lopresi are Lansing’s only entries. Lansing coach Kris Harrington helps Rob Koll at Cornell and works as a coach at the Finger Lakes Wrestling Club.

Other top seeds: Joe Wheeling (106, General McLane), Lizak (113), Tomasello (120), Jason Nolf (132, Kittanning), Lopresi (138), Racciato (145), Austin Matthews (152, Reynolds), TC Warner (160, Cumberland Valley), Ty Walter (170, Mifflinburg), Shawley (182), P.J. Steinmetz (195, Council Rock South), Evan Daley (220, Fort LeBoeuf) and Mironenko (285).

Shawley and Poorman, the No. 2 seed at 285, are Bellefonte’s only seeded wrestlers.

Here they come

Another loaded team visits the area Saturday when Central Dauphin wrestles State College in the Little Lions’ first home Mid-Penn Conference meet.

The Rams entered the season ranked 12th nationally by Amateur Wrestling News. They return six PIAA qualifiers, including 152-pound champion Garrett Peppelman and 126-pound runner-up Tyson Dippery.

Central Dauphin has won seven PIAA team titles — three individual and four dual meet — since 2007.

State College lost at Carlisle 47-29 on Wednesday. The meet was the Little Lions’ first as a Mid-Penn member.