ALTOONA — Penns Valley proved that in postseason wrestling, it’s possible to be both disappointed and pleased in the same tournament.
Rams head coach Joel Brinker was disappointed that his team didn’t quite have enough horsepower to challenge for the team title of the District 6 Class AA championships. But he was more than pleased to advance a quintet of wrestlers to the Southwest Regional Tournament in two weeks, on March 1-2 at the Cambria County War Memorial.
Seth Decker (145), Cole Confer (152), Corey Hazel (152), Mike Rogers (182) and Maverick Swartz (195) all earned regional berths. Isaac Bierly (106), Curtis Decker (113) and Andrew Hurd (170) all fell short.
“I’m digesting it all right now. It was a good day,” Brinker said. “On paper, we knew what we were up against here. We’re walking out with five guys going to Johnstown, so I’m pleased with that. You always want more. I’m happy with what we’ve got.”
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Penns Valley finished fifth in the team race with 131 points. West Branch won the team title, and head coach Jason Bainey won Coach of the Year honors, as the Warriors crowned two champs and amassed 153 points. Mount Union (145) was second, followed by Cambria Heights (139) in third and Blairsville (138.5) in fourth.
Decker, Hazel and Rogers advanced to the finals, but all three lost.
“In the finals, we hit tough kids,” Brinker said. “There’s four state placewinners here and we hit two of them. It was a tough round.”
Decker, a junior, won 6-2 in the semifinals to set up a finals matchup with No. 1 seed Noah Tarr of Blairsville. Tarr scored two first-period takedowns to build a 4-1 lead after one and led, 5-1, after two. But Decker rallied with an escape and takedown but could get no closer in falling, 6-4, in the 145-pound final.
At 160, Hazel, just a sophomore, had the misfortune of running into returning state placewinner and Penn State commit Cody Law, the No. 1 seed from Forest Hills. Hazel scored the initial takedown, but it was downhill from there as Law amassed 10 takedowns in a 22-12 win. For his dominating effort in the tournament (Law posted falls in :54, 1:20 and 3:17 and the major decision in the finals), Law was voted by the media as the tournament Outstanding Wrestler.
Rogers, the No. 2 seed at 182 as a sophomore, faced another returning state placewinner in Blairsville sophomore Scott Thompson, the No. 1 seed. Rogers scored the initial takedown in a back-and-forth first period that ended with Thompson leading 5-4. The match went into the third period tied 5-5 and Rogers was in on what could have been the winning takedown. Thompson, however, scored a counter takedown and held on for an 8-6 win.
“We wrestled to our seeds for the most part. We would have liked to have some of our other seeds come through,” Brinker said.
Swartz, seeded second as a senior, was upset in the semifinals, 3-2, by No. 3 seed Tyler Oliver of United. In the consolations, he bounced back with a 3-1 win before dropping a 5-1 decision to Mount Union’s Philip Kyle in the third-place bout. Swartz finished his senior campaign with a 29-6 record.
Confer, a senior who had been seeded No. 4, lost his opening match 9-5 to No. 1 seed Andrew Doak of Blairsville in the semifinals. He rebounded with a 5-2 win to earn a berth in the third-place bout, where he was edged by West Branch’s Luke Slippey, 5-4. Confer had defeated Slippey, 4-1, in the quarterfinals. Confer finished his season with a 28-7 record.
Decker, a freshman No. 5 seed, bounced back from his quarterfinal loss with a pair of shutout wins, 7-0 and 4-0, before losing in the consolation semifinals, 4-2. He finished his season with a flourish, rolling up a 15-1 major decision over Huntingdon’s Jacob Dubbs in the fifth-place bout. Decker finished his season with a sparkling 30-7 record.
Hurd, a sophomore, finished two places ahead of his No. 8 seed. Hurd started his day with two wins, a 3-0 decision and 14-2 major decision. He was pinned in the consolation semifinals and then lost, 4-3, to No. 1 seed Lucas Kristofits of West Branch in the fifth-place bout. Hurd finished the season with a 27-10 record.
“Drew Hurd wrestled an outstanding tournament. For him to get what he got here, taking sixth, was a good, solid tournament,” Brinker said.
Bierly, unseeded as a freshman, finished one win short of placing. He started his day with a 4-2 win before bowing out of the tournament after being pinned in the fifth round of consolations. He finished his season with a 16-18 record.
“We’re young as a team. I’m proud of the guys. They used to take three-fifths (of the guys) to regionals. We’re only taking the top four (to regionals). That’s brutal to get guys out of here. Three of them are underclassmen. I can’t complain,” Brinker said.
“I knew we had potential. We’ve surpassed the potential I thought we had. The year, so far, is a success.”
Notes: Joe Humphreys, a former Penn State assistant coach under Bill Koll, was inducted into the District 6 Wrestling Hall of Fame. Formerly the coach of Penns Valley and Bald Eagle Area, as well as Kittanning, Humphreys is a former District 6 president and historian. He is perhaps better known these days for his flyfishing prowess and the books he has authored on the subject. He was awarded the Outstanding American Award at the Pa. chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame’s induction ceremony in April.