When the Penns Valley wrestling team finished third in the District 6 Class AA team tournament two weeks ago, the Rams traveled home from Tyrone wanting more.
Despite a school-record 22-5 dual meet record and that school-tying, third-place finish in the team tournament, Penns Valley enters this weekend’s District 6 Class AA Championships at the Altoona Field House with a burning desire to complete some unfinished business.
Standing in the Rams’ way will be the favorites — West Branch, Mount Union, Huntingdon and Blairsville.
Penns Valley counts seven seeded wrestlers among its 13-man contingent and head coach Joel Brinker thinks that’s enough to contend for the title.
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“We think we have as much high-end talent as anyone and we can push the favorites — West Branch, Mount Union, Huntingdon and Blairsville. We’re as good as those teams in high-end talent, so we can make it interesting,” he said.
“We took third in the district duals. We lost to the champs, West Branch. We think we’re in the hunt. The wrestlebacks will be just as important as the championship round. It’s going to be a team effort.”
If the Rams are going to contend, then a knot of six middle and upper weights — junior Seth Decker, senior Cole Confer, sophomore Corey Hazel, sophomore Drew Hurd, sophomore Michael Rogers and senior Maverick Swartz — will likely lead the way.
Decker (26-3) is seeded second at 145 pounds. Confer (25-5) is seeded fourth at 152. Hazel (28-1) is seeded second at 160 pounds. Hurd (24-7) is seeded eighth at 170. Rogers (29-1) is seeded second at 182. Swartz (26-4) is seeded third at 195.
“From 145 up, they’ve been doing it all year in dual meets. They’ll be counted on to do it again,” Brinker said.
“We need to wrestle above our seeds. Bonus points and staying in the championship bracket as long as you can will be important. If we do lose (in the championship bracket), we need to win a few in the consolation rounds.”
The rest of the Rams’ contingent includes: 106, freshman Isaac Bierly (14-16); 113, fifth-seeded freshman Curtis Confer (26-5); 120, sophomore Kolton Confer (9-17); 126, sophomore Jacob Confer (12-17); 132, junior Kyler Confer (1-9); 138, sophomore Matt Hosterman (11-19); 285, junior Mike Confer (11-18).
With more freshmen and sophomores than juniors and seniors in the lineup, the Rams are a young bunch. Brinker said that youth is deceiving.
“It’s a young group, but it’s pretty seasoned. A lot of the guys have done things in the offseason. We had three guys wrestling in Fargo at nationals, so they’ve been around big tournaments,” he said. “I’m more excited to see how they do on this stage.”
That stage starts at 10:30 Friday morning with the opening round. The quarterfinals are slated for 6 Friday night. Day 2 begins with fourth-round consolations at 10:30 a.m. Saturday and the semifinals at noon. The consolation finals will start at 5:30 p.m. with the championship finals at 6:45.
The top four placers at each weight will advance to the regional tournament next weekend.
With such a young team, Brinker admitted a good start in the opening round would provide a boost.
“The guys all year have known what our strengths and weaknesses are. I think the first-round matchups are good. Pretty much everyone on our team should win. We’ll hit some studs in the second round,” he said.
“We need to be able to bounce back when it’s over and done with in the championship bracket and place as high as you can.”
Despite having seven seeded wrestlers among the top eight at their respective weights, Brinker said the Rams can’t be satisfied with meeting expectations.
“We need to wrestle above our seeds. Bonus points and staying in the championship bracket as long as you can will be important. If we do lose (in the championship bracket), we need to win a few in the consolation rounds,” he said.
The good news for Penns Valley, Brinker said, is that despite being battle tested, the team is healthy.
“We’ve wrestled more than in years past. In the new league, we’re seeing teams like Bald Eagle Area, Bellefonte and Clearfield. That prepared us for this. And, the bottom line is, a lot of guys have bought in to the offseason. They’ve wrestled freestyle,” he said.
“The schedule prepped us for it. We’ve seen decent competition.”
All that’s left now is to go out and make that preparation pay off.