Five area wrestlers competing at PIAA state tournament
Quality, not quantity, is the theme for area wrestlers heading to Hershey for the PIAA Class AA State Wrestling Championships.
Only five wrestlers from area schools are making the trip, but all five of them - Southern Columbia's unbeaten Kent Lane, Blake Marks and Jake Becker, and Line Mountain's Cam Newman and Seth Lansberry - have to be considered solid bets to stand on the medals podium on Saturday afternoon at the Giant Center.
Lansberry, Newman and Lane are all making return trips, and Lansberry placed seventh at 132 pounds last year. The first timers, Marks and Becker, each have proven themselves capable of competing with the best in the state.
Lansberry (35-4), wrestling at 138, has already had two battles with former Line Mountain teammate Zain Retherford in the District Four and Northeast Regional finals, dropping them both, and the two could be on a collision course for the final.
Retherford won 5-0 in the district final and 3-0 last weekend, and Lansberry has not been hesitant to take the action to Retherford, who looks to capitalize on the former's mistakes. But the Line Mountain wrestler is not hurting for confidence.
"These last two weeks don't mean anything," he said after the regional final. "The time to beat him is next week (in Hershey)."
Retherford (43-0), a 2010 state champion at 103 at Line Mountain, is most observers' overwhelming favorite, and should have a clear road to the final. Lansberry takes on Saegertown's Matt Humes (34-10) in the first round, and then could have tough quarterfinal and semifinal bouts. Juniata's Sean Heggs (37-4 and a District Four wrestler prior to this season at East Juniata, which went into a co-op program with the District Three school) and Bethlehem Catholic's Ryan Todora (43-6) are in Lansberry's half of the bracket, which seems significantly stronger than Retherford's half.
Lane (37-0) at 126, also appears to be a solid threat to reach the final. He opens with Pen Argyl's Andrew Sutton (33-10), the fifth-place finisher from the Southeast Region, then will probably get Jefferson-Morgan's John Demaske (26-4) in the quarterfinals. Trinity's Ryan Diehl (37-3) is another strong threat on Lane's side of the bracket. On the other side, Williamson's Logan Everett (36-2), fifth at 120 last season, Wyoming Area's Andrew Schutz (25-3), Bethlehem Catholic's Zeke Moisey (23-2), state runnerup at 120 last season, and Sharon's Jarray Norris (35-2) are standouts.
Newman (34-7) should benefit from a year's experience in his 106 opener with Palisades freshman Jacob Wasser (36-6) but then things will likely get rougher. Last year's third-place finisher, Southmoreland's Austin Griffiths (32-4) or Wilson's Jaryd Flank (32-2), another returning qualifier, loom in the next round.
Becker (36-4), a first-time qualifier as a senior, is undersized at 285 but he and Southern Columbia head coach Jerry Marks like it that way.
"I get to rely on my quickness a little bit against most of the other guys," Becker said. "I think that's an advantage for me."
"One of our biggest decisions as a coaching staff this year was to put Jake at 285 for the tournaments instead of 220," Marks said. "We looked around at some of the people who were coming back at 220 this year, like (Lewisburg's Brandon) Smith and (Wyalusing's Dylan) Otis and just thought Jake would have a better shot at 285."
Becker will take on Biglerville senior Trevor Stover (36-3) in the first round. If he wins that, he'll have to beat one of two sophomores in the quarterfinals before possibly matching up with District Four rival Alex Shiber of Central Columbia (39-3) in the semifinals. Defending state champ Nazar Mironenko of Mifflinburg (34-3) and Nicholas Budd (33-1) of Port Allegany, who suffered his first loss in the Northwest Regional, look strong in the upper half of the bracket.
Finally, there is Blake Marks (34-5 at 152) who, like his dad, has made it to Hershey as a freshman. Handicapping Marks is tricky. He has looked capable of wrestling with anyone in the state all season, with close losses to Retherford and defending 132 fourth-place finisher Colt Cotten of Benton in the regular season, and a win over defending 145 runnerup Kyle Barnes in the district tournament.
But his other three losses have all come to Milton's Ryan Preisch (29-4) and convincingly. Yet Preisch is not an odds-on bet to reach the final with Halifax's Rob Moretz (39-1) and defending 138 runnerup Austin Matthews (45-1) of Reynolds on his half of the bracket.
Marks should be okay in his opener against Fort LeBoeuf senior Taylor Harrington (36-12) but then things get predictably tougher, with Barnes (35-4), Northern Lehigh's Ty Herzog (28-4), Coudersport's Kyle Bova (36-1) and Freedom's Boe Bonzo (26-3), all returning qualifiers, in that half of the bracket.