When the first whistle blows at 10:30 Friday at the Altoona Field House to sound the opening of the 2015 District 6 Class AA Wrestling Championships, it will signify a new beginning for Penns Valley.
The Rams ran hot and cold during their dual meet season, finishing 8-12. But once the postseason begins, the only thing those duals are good for is determining where you fall in the brackets.
After that? It’s up to each individual wrestler.
“The word that sums us up is inconsistent,” Penns Valley coach Joel Brinker said. “We saw flashes as a team when half were firing on all cylinders and the other half was not firing. Now it’s individual. You need to make your mind up to fire on all cylinders for yourself.”
For the first time in many years, the top five finishers at each weight will advance to the Class AA Southwest Regional Tournament. So for a third of the Rams’ 12-man contingent (Penns Valley will not have a wrestler at either 113 or 120), just wrestling up to their seeds will enable them to advance.
Corey Hazel, the defending 170-pound champion, who is the top seed at 182, Curtis Decker, the No. 2 seed at 126 who placed third a year ago, second-seeded 152-pounder Andrew Hurd and fourth-seeded 138-pounder Jacob Confer earned top seeds at their respective weights.
The other eight Rams — Darren Yearick (No. 9 at 106), Jared Hurd (No. 7 at 132), Isaac Bierly (No. 8 at 145), Hunter Homan (No. 15 at 160), Allen Cain (No. 18 at 170), Lucas Sharer (No. 15 at 195), Jared Bressler (No. 15 at 220) and Logan Johnson (No. 12 at 285) — will need to overachieve to advance.
“Optimistically, we’d like to push through as many as we can get. Some of our guys will have to do it the wrestleback way. That’s where it comes down to who wants it more. After the first few guys at each weight, who’s going to fight it out for those last few remaining spots?” Brinker said.
“We’re going to have to rebound and be very resilient. We have to focus on the next match, be ready to go. Things happen here. It’s a crazy tournament. You can’t overlook anybody.”
Penns Valley probably wouldn’t be listed in anybody’s short list of team favorites, but that doesn’t mean the Rams don’t want to wreak as much havoc as possible. And Brinker thinks this is just the setting to do that.
“This group wrestles better in multiple match formats. Some guys like dual meets where it’s one and done. Our kids, in the tournaments we’ve been in, we’ve had some success. They perform better after being warmed up and being ready to go,” he said.
“I think we’re a better tourney team than a dual meet team. We just came off the Grove City Tournament where there were 30 teams and we placed fourth there. We seem to be able to push guys pretty deep in tournaments. Everybody needs to do their part, score bonus points when you can. It’s up for grabs in some ways. We want to put ourselves in a position to be in the thick of it.”
If the Rams plan to bring hardware back to Spring Mills at the end of the tournament on Saturday, the best bet is Hazel. He’s a returning champion and is 29-1 so far.
“I don’t think he’s overconfident, he just knows he needs to take care of business. He knows not to overlook anyone and to wrestle every match, be amped up for every match,” Brinker said.
If Hazel performs as expected, he just might give the rest of his teammates the inspiration to go beyond what anyone, including the seeding committee, expects.
“We’re excited. The dual meet season wasn’t what we wanted it to be. We’ve talked about going out with a bang,” he said.
“I’m anticipating a good showing this weekend. If we can be in the thick of it, in the top five on Saturday, make it interesting, we’ll be pleased. If they give it all they’ve got and scrap in every position every second, we’ll be happy.”
With 26 teams represented, the wrestlers are placed into a 32-man bracket at most weights, which means lots of first-round byes. The action will really start to heat up in the second round and beyond.
Here’s a look at each of the Rams’ first scheduled encounters this morning:
At 106, sophomore No. 9 seed Yearick (20-7) gets a first-round bye and then faces Forest Hills junior Gage McCall, the eighth seed with an 18-10 record.
At 126, junior No. 2 seed Decker (24-6) receives a first-round bye and then takes on the winner of a first-round bout: (15) Warren Shope, 9, Huntingdon (9-15) vs. (18) Caleb Diven, 11, Mount Union (2-8).
At 132, sophomore No. 7 seed Hurd (19-8) faces United senior Devon Walker, a No. 10 seed with a 20-9 record.
At 138, fourth-seeded Confer, a senior with a 13-8 record, receives a first-round bye and then is paired with the winner of a first-round bout: (13) Nick Krupa, 11, Moshannon Valley (11-8) vs. (20) Kristian Fleming, 10, West Branch (3-19).
At 145, Bierly, a junior with a 17-8 record who is seeded eighth, has a bye into a second-round showdown with the winner of: (9) Cole Kellison, 11, Juniata (16-6) vs. (24) Seth Sankey, 9, West Branch (3-19).
At 152, second-seeded Hurd, a senior with an 18-6 record has a first-round bye then awaits the winner of: (15) Mark Barbera, 12, Westmont Hilltop (11-15) vs. (18) Gordon Matson, 11, Ligonier Valley (5-6).
At 160, sophomore Homan, a sophomore seeded No. 15 with an 0-1 record, takes on No. 18 seed Hunter Neil, a senior from Southern Huntingdon with a 2-10 mark.
At 170, junior Cain, a No. 18 seed with a 7-18 record, takes on Moshannon Valley sophomore Clayton Stewart, a No. 15 seed with an 11-15 record.
At 182, senior Hazel is the top seed with a 29-1 record. He gets a bye and then meets the winner of a first-round match: (9) Nathan Litvan, 12, Greater Johnstown (12-5) vs. (8) Grant Ingalls, 12, United (16-11).
At 195, sophomore No. 15 seed Sharer (8-15) takes on Portage sophomore Jordan Beyer, a No. 18 seed with an 8-18 record in the first round.
At 220 pounds, sophomore No. 15 seed Bressler (7-13) takes on Southern Huntingdon freshman No. 18 seed Caleb Gilliland (4-14) in the first round.
At 285 pounds, junior No.12 seed Johnson (4-3) is paired with Blairsville No. 5 seed Jake Smith (20-10) in the first round.
St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy will send a modest three-man contingent to Altoona.
At 106, freshman Joey Wheeler (0-13), seeded No. 21, will take on Juniata senior Tylynn Miller, seeded No. 12 with an 18-14 record in the first round.
At 113, freshman Max Wortman is seeded No. 19 with a 2-16 record. He will take on Juniata Valley junior Michael Steiner, the No. 14 seed with a 9-14 record, in a first-round bout.
And, at 145, No. 14 seeded junior Austin Emel (record unavailable) has a first-round match with sophomore James Dunmore, the No. 19 seed from Claysburg Kimmel who sports a 9-15 record.