District 4 tourney remains rugged
If the various sectional tournaments around District 4 have lost some of their luster, and many wrestling fans seem to agree on that point, the district AA tournament itself, which begins tonight and continues Saturday at Williamsport, remains the meat grinder it's always been.
True, there are 13 wrestlers with losing records, but in a field of 168 wrestlers, that's not too bad. And on the other side of the ledger, there are seven unbeaten wrestlers and eight more with one loss. And after a season when too many teams had to forfeit several weight classes in dual meets, we're finally at the time of year where every match means something.
Handicapping the field is never easy, and I don't like trying to pick exactly who will finish where, but here's a look at each weight and its top people:
106: Returning state qualifier Cam Newman of Line Mountain is the top seed at 27-6, and based on the way he took apart previously unbeaten Corey Stauffer of Midd-West in the Southern Sectional final, it's hard to go against him. But he'll likely have to beat another unbeaten, Warrior Run freshman Zack LeBarron (29-0) in the final. Stauffer (33-1), Lewisburg's Brian Friery (27-6), and Montgomery's Kyle Drick (22-4) should battle it out for regional berths.
113: Central Columbia sophomore Taylor Johnson (31-3) is the top seed and Troy's Ethan Calkins (27-4) number two. Warrior Run's Eric Hunt (28-4), the East runnerup to Johnson, is also solid.
120: Benton senior Matt Welliver (29-8), the East champion, appears to be the class of this field, with Wyalusing freshman Collin Edsell (27-3) and Williamson's Carl Gorg (29-5) the best of the rest.
126: One of the stronger weights. Both the number one and two seeds, Williamson's Logan Everett and Southern Columbia's Kent Lane, are undefeated, both 31-0. West champion Andrew Gipe of South Williamsport is a seasoned vet at 27-5 and Warrior Run junior Brian LeBarron, the East champ, is 27-2. The battle for fifth place could be something.
132: Mifflinburg sophomore Cole Walter (29-3) and Central Columbia senior Jesse Shannon (32-3) are the top seeds and probably the best of the field, with Williamson's Trevor McWhorter (29-3) and Bloomsburg's Cody Klinger (25-4) two other strong wrestlers.
138: Probably the most anticipated final, since most people expect former Line Mountain teammates Seth Lansberry and Zain Retherford, now at Benton, to meet in the final. Lansberry (31-2) is seeded first but only because Retherford (37-0), a 2010 state champ
and third-place finisher in 2011, had to sit out last season after transferring and received no seeding points for the season. The two were workout partners at Line Mountain. Bucktail's Demetri Probst (22-2), the West champion, is likely the third-place finisher.
145: Benton senior and state runnerup Colt Cotten (34-5) and Williamson's unbeaten Billy Barnes (31-0) are likely on a collision course for the final. But this is another very good weight. Central Columbia's Aaron Johnson (33-5), Wellsboro's Brandon Owlett (23-6), Midd-West's Zach Heeter (31-2) and Hughesville's Dakota Nixon (29-3) are all seasoned threats.
152: Another strong weight. Hughesville's Kyle Barnes (29-2) was a state runnerup last year but will likely have his hands full with either Troy's Nick Stephani (29-1) or Milton's Ryan Preisch (23-4), who are in the other bracket. Breisch looked impressive in beating Southern Columbia freshman Blake Marks (29-3) in the South final. Look for Marks to meet Barnes in the semifinals.
160: Top seed Jeric Kasunic of Benton is 28-6. Mifflinburg's Ty Walter (26-3) and Montgomery's Isaiah Bobotas (26-1), who wrestled at Muncy last year, are probably the best of the rest, with Lewisburg sophomore Max Reed (29-5) a dark horse.
170: This may be the most wide-open weight. North Penn's Ben Minnich (28-4), Williamson's R.C. Hunter (26-5), Benton's Brandon Lontz (17-3), Loyalsock's Aaron Hepburn (26-4), South Williamsport's Justin Knee (27-5), Troy's Landis Zimmerman (25-5), Warrior Run's Dan Breech (24-5) and Midd-West's Alex Lieberman (28-5) all look like they have good shots. Interestingly, South runnerup Erik Smeltz (25-8) has the most seeding points.
182: Muncy's Troy Hembury (33-1) and Canton's Garrett Wesneski (26-0) are clearly the two best wrestlers at the weight but the battle for the other three advancing spots should be a doozy.
195: Defending state champion Ryan Solomon (30-0) should have little problem here. Wellsboro's Chad Daugherty (26-1) or Muncy's Skylar Ebner (30-6) will likely meet him in the final.
220: Lewisburg's Brandon Smith (27-1) is a solid favorite here, but not as solid as Solomon. Central Columbia's Eric McCracken (30-4) and Wyalusing's Dylan Otis (30-1) will likely meet in the semifinals to face Smith in the final. The battle for fourth and fifth could be lively.
285: Another defending state champ, Mifflinburg junior Nazar Mironenko (28-3) is a solid favorite, but North Penn's Nate Kriner (29-2) and Central Columbia's Alex Shiber (35-1) could pull upsets. Don't count out Southern Columbia's Jake Becker (29-2), who wrestled Mironenko tough in the South final.
(Souders is a sports writer for The News-Item)