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Tom Elling’s Wrestling Mat-ters: State Wrestling Round Up

Another PIAA wrestling season has been completed. And like every season and life itself, there were ups and downs. Our Central PA area can certainly look to a lot of positives.

Probably the top story is BEA’s Gage McClenahan recovered from a football injury that kept him out of the lineup all last year, and despite his finishing as a runner-up in Districts, he persevered and won both the SW AA and the PIAA State individual championships.

It wasn’t easy. He used an escape and a tenacious third period ride to earn a 1-0 win over Tunkhannock’s Gavin D’amato. McClenahan deserves a lot of credit for his grit and positive attitude. But credit also should be given to Ronnie Guenot, Ed Hockenberry and all of the BEA coaching staff. Job well done.

Gage will continue his wrestling career at Cornell under former State High PIAA Champion Rob Koll.

Central Mountain’s Derek Keen won three matches at the state’s highest level to grab an 8th place finish. He stood smiling atop the podium after having his medal draped around his neck by coach Biff Walizer.

Moments before that, Keen chatted back and forth with the wrestler who had defeated him earlier, Ben Monn of Cumberland Valley. That is truly what wrestling is all about: battles on the mat but respect and friendships gained thereafter.

I can’t help to be thinking back to how Derek was a true team player by moving up a weight class (or two) for the good of the team. He was defeated in two of those situations, but never once did he complain. I think those situations made him mentally tougher.

Keen has another year as does 195-pounder Nik Miller, who has all the tools to be on the podium next season.

CM’s third qualifier, Taylor Weaver, has the mental toughness, but (IMO) needs to adopt a go-to slick takedown or two. He has shown he can compete with the state’s top wrestlers.

Biff Walizer, Doug Buckwalter, Ken Porter, Steve Krouse, Robbie Weaver, etc all had a basically underclassmen-laced squad. The Wildcats should be at least as good next year. District Champ (220) Gage Sutliff along with Cyrus McCarl and Miller should provide CM with a triad of upperweights. Oh, and Coach Walizer took his Sunday to go help coach the girls – Olivia Miller (108) and Madison Packer (115) – at the My House State girls championships in Gettysburg.

BEA’s varsity performer Grace Stem placed second in the state girls championships losing to Avia Bibeau (East Stroudsburg North) by fall.

Bellefonte had to be the most improved team in District 6 AAA in the latter weeks of the season. They were the 4th-ranked dual meet AAA team rankings, finished third in the Districts then rose to the top at the NW Regionals. Part of their resurgence was getting the likes of Lane Aikey and Ethan Richner healthy. Both played key roles in the team’s successes. Both took District and Regional individual championships.

Aikey placed 7th at States with Jude Swisher taking a 4th. Richner and Ethan Rossman marched their way through both Districts and Regionals and didn’t place in states but with a break or two may just have done that. And the contributions of Aidan O’Shea, Tyler Benner, and Alex Coppolo were massive.

O’Shea was most likely the most improved from last season. Coppolo may have been one of the best in state to not make it to Hershey. What a fine job Mike Maney and his staff did.

And nearby in District Four, Jersey Shore had a glimpse of a brighter future with freshman Hadyn Packer placing 4th in the NE AA Regional. at 160-lbs. Gabe Andrus at 126 also provided a spark. Coach Crock Herman suffered all year trying to avoid the dreaded FORFEITS. Hopefully, next season he will have a full squad.

Sugar Valley has a numbers problem. Coach Charlie Barner and Buzz Buskirk worked tirelessly to get the numbers and work hard with the low turnout. There is a possibility they will choose to go up to Class AAA next year. One of the main deterrents would be that Willliamsport should be reloaded and ready for any and all.

As in any column, there is just not enough space to cover each and every wrestler who made contributions to their respective teams. Just putting on that singlet and representing yourself and your school is something many would not dare to attempt. I salute all of you on each team.

Congratulations to LHU for their 5th place finished at their inaugural year in the Mid-America Conference. Keys to that finish were Jared Siegrist (Manheim Central) who took the first-ever LHU title (174), Luke Werner – 3rd at 125; DJ Fehlman (133) and Kyle Shoop (141)- both 5th. They qualified to the big show on March 19th at YS Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

LHU has two PIAA state champs coming in next season: Will Betancourt (Manheim Central) and Tyler Stoltzfus (St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy). In addition, Dashawn Farber of Nazareth- a two-time PIAA placer will become a Bald Eagle.

Former LHU grappler Aaron McKinney is the head coach at his high school alma mater West Allegheny. It was good to catch up with him and compare how bad our golf games remain.

I was pleased to chat with Manny Pihakis of Canonsburg at Hershey. Manny won three state titles for Canonsburg in the George Custer days at that school. He won at 95 in 1950, then took two more titles at 103 the following two years. Manny is on the school board at Canon-Mac and also serves on the Pittsburgh Wrestling Classic Committee.

Accompanying Manny to Hershey was a singing legend- Jim Gregorakis – the last living member of the singing group The Four Coins. You older readers will remember their top hit- Shangri-la.

One of the great things about the states is seeing a lot of great fans who have made the pilgrimage for years on end. The Gale Freys, the Blair Askeys, the Conklin brothers, the Colemans, etc as well as some household wrestling names: Carl Adams (Iowa State NCAA champ), Tom Tomeo, Marc Billett, Bob Moore, Tom Vaux, Jack Hassinger, etc.

Finally, a sincere thank-you to Joe Walker for keeping the Central Mountain W-L stats this past season. Joe’s work frees me to concentrate on other wrestling matters.

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