Wrestling: Derek Keen to represent Central Mountain at State Tournament
By SHAREIK FLOWERS
MILL HALL- Derek Keen’s preseason goals were standard for a freshman. He aimed to bulk up to balance out his lengthy body, and he desired to enhance his technique on the mat.
But while other freshmen focused on competing for a varsity spot, Keen had bigger visions. His sights were always set on Hershey– and following an impressive Regional-Round showing he can cross “Chocolatetown” off his bucket list.
Keen (106 pounds) advanced to the State Tournament after winning the Consolation bracket this weekend at the Northwest Regional Tournament in Altoona. He’s Central Mountain’s lone representative in Hershey this weekend.
Keen (31-8) won his opening-round matchup before dropping a quarterfinals decision to Cathedral Prep’s Jacob VanDee Friday night. The loss transferred Keen to the Consolation bracket– where his sole path toward the State Tournament was an undefeated (4-0) Saturday against Pennsylvania’s finest wrestlers, which is precisely what he accomplished.
“It’s pretty tough, especially when you get your head down after losing that first match,” Keen said of wrestling four matches Saturday. “But you have to stay focused on each match coming up.”
Keen kept an even-keeled mood between bouts by listening to his favorite hip hop and reggae music. After running the table, 3-0, he secured a Consolation Finals match versus Clearfield’s John Thomas– where he earned a 3-1 decision over the Bison senior.
“He was pretty strong,” Keen said of his final-round opponent. “So I was just trying to keep myself in good positions and take smart shots. It was low-scoring until about the third period. He took a shot and I had good defense, I got behind him and I was just hanging on for my life.”
On Saturday when Keen needed his strongest performance, he ultimately delivered. And Central Mountain coach Biff Walizer noticed his progression over the course of the tournament.
“Friday night Derek lost a tough quarterfinal match, and then Saturday coming back he had to win four in a row just to get the chance to go to states,” Walizer explained. “He really caught fire coming back through consolations and in every match it seemed like he was gaining some confidence.
“In his last match he knocked off a senior. It’s a good run that he’s on and were hoping he continues that momentum this weekend.”
Walizer also noted that Keen’s success as an underclassmen could ignite motivation in Central Mountain’s middle school wrestling program.
“With him being a freshman, this is big for him,” Walizer said. “It’s an experience he’s going to be able to build on, and just having a guy down there competing at states is something that the younger guys coming through the program can look up to and aspire to do.”
Keen joins luxury company with his State-bid as a freshman. He’s Walizer’s first freshman-state qualifier, and Central Mountain’s first freshman state-qualifier since Andrew Alton, Dylan Alton and Jordan Rich all locked in bids during the 2007 wrestling season.
The former trio of wrestlers had remarkable Wildcat careers. Rich was a three-time district champion and two-time regional champion. Andrew Alton was a two-time state champion, and Dylan Alton won another three gold medals in the State Tournament.
Keen hopes to follow his predecessor’s path and stand on the podium as a freshman.
“The goal now is to place down there,” he said. “So I’m going to have to beat some kids that I normally wouldn’t beat. I’m going to have to wrestle tough and smart in every match, and just stay away from the smallest mistakes.”
Keen opens the State Tournament Thursday against Easton’s Braxton Appello. Keen wrestled Appello in seventh grade during the semifinals of the Bellefonte Wrestling Invitational. He was winning the match before Appello scored a late-pin. Now on Thursday– he’s anxious to have a second crack at Appello.
“I’m pretty excited to just go out there and force my will on him,” he said with a smile. ” And hopefully move on in the tournament.”
Nonetheless, Keen is eager to compete at the highest level. And the support and praise he’s absorbed from teammates just adds more fuel to the fire.
“Everybody’s been congratulating me,” Keen explained. “It’s a big accomplishment making it, and I just wish some of my teammates could’ve made it with me. They all worked just as hard as I did throughout the year.”
JUST MISSED THE CUT
Seniors Tanner Riggle (29-11) and Jake Edwards (26-9) ended their Wildcat careers one win away from advancing to the State Tournament. Riggle suffered an overtime loss in the Consolation Finals, while Edwards also dropped a decision in the final.
Both Riggle and Edwards matured into phenomenal leaders over their wrestling careers.
“Both Tanner and Jake had great careers, and great roles as leaders on the team the past couple of years,” Walizer said. “Those guys put a lot of time in and they had the goal of getting to Hershey, and just came up a little bit short. It’s hard to take the loss in, but when they’re able to look back at how far they have come, they can be proud at what they have accomplished.”
Central Mountain suffered a scary pair of injuries that cut short two wrestlers’ weekend.
Lane Porter suffered a first-period head injury when he face planted on the mat during a match. He was subsequently placed in the concussion protocol.
Johnny Shreffler also suffered a head injury and was transferred to Altoona UPMC Hospital– where he underwent an MRI and CT (CAT) scan. Shreffler cleared his tests but also had a concussion.
“They’re going to have to go through all the concussion protocols to get cleared to go back to activities,” Walizer said.” But they’re going to be OK.”