A record-high 20 locals will head to Hershey for the PIAA tournaments, Thursday through Saturday, but in wrestling’s land of milk and honey, it’s a matter of quality over quantity.
It’s an honor to qualify for one of the most prestigious high school tournaments in the country, and a great achievement to earn a top-eight medal, but it is not for the faint of heart.
One way or the other, it’s an experience each wrestler will remember for the rest of their lives.
“There’ll be big lights everywhere and it’ll be kinda nerve-wracking, I’m sure,” Downingtown East sophomore Lukas Richie said of his first trip.
Church Farm School’s Noel Gilgeous is the third-ever Griffin to qualify for the Class 2A tournament, and second consecutive. The 2A preliminaries start at 9 a.m. Thursday, followed by the first round and first round of consolations at the Giant Center.
Nineteen wrestlers from the Ches-Mont League, including Sun Valley’s Hunter Catka, will join Conestoga’s Eric Hutchinson in the Class 3A tournament, which begins at 4 p.m.
Coatesville’s Chase Stephens and Avon Grove’s Kevin Edwards are returning medalists, and are joined by four other second-time qualifiers looking for their first medals.
“I’m gonna leave it all on the mat,” Oxford senior David Cox said of his return trip to Hershey. “This is my last shot.”
Downingtown West’s Doug Zapf is the only underclassman in his second trip and he has grown into a title contender at 106 pounds.
“It’s definitely a different mindset,” Zapf said. “Last year I was just happy to be there, but this year I
want to do good. I’m taking it match by match and not taking anybody lightly because everybody is tough.”
This year the PIAA finally decided to seed the regional champs in hopes of avoiding early round matchups between finals favorites. The remaining 15 wrestlers are unseeded, but arranged in the same pattern in each bracket.
A look at each of the local’s paths to the podium:
Doug Zapf, junior, Downingtown West, Southeast Regional champ at 106 pounds
Zapf is the No. 1 seed and starts with the pigtail winner of two regional fourth-placers. He has a winnable track to the semifinals where Nazareth’s freshman Andrew Cerniglia, who’s favored by many to win the weight, will likely be waiting.
Lukas Richie, sophomore, Downingtown East, Southeast runner-up, 113
If Richie can beat Shikellamy freshman, Cade Balestrini, in the first round he has a shot to medal. A loss and the road gets a lot bumpier.
Killian Delaney, freshman, West Chester Henderson, Southeast fifth-place, 113
The Warrior starts in the pigtails against Easton’s Diego Santiago, a senior from the always-tough District 11. A loss would set him up with a brutal wrestleback.
Jake Reid, senior, West Chester Henderson, Southeast fourth-place, 120
After the tournament of his career last week, Reid starts with a winnable pigtail to get to Southwest champ, Vincent Distefanis of Hempfield. Reid will need to pull a couple upsets.
Brett Kaliner, senior, West Chester Rustin, Southeast third-place, 126
This weight is loaded but Kaliner has a decent draw in his second trip. If he gets past Canon McMillan’s Matt Oblock in the pigtails, Kaliner has a shot to get to quarters. If he does, a medal is possible, and he might have to go through Garnet Valley’s Matt Marino again to get it.
Jake Taylor, senior Unionville, Southeast fourth-place, 132
Taylor finally reached Chocolatetown, and has Erie McDowell’s Leno Ciotti in the pigtails. A loss may actually set him up with a better path to the blood round, but he needs to be great to medal.
Nick Lilley, junior, Downingtown West, Southeast fifth-place, 132
Spring Grove’s Jake Meyer is Lilley’s pigtail foe, and a win there could set him up with a decent shot to get to the blood round. Like Taylor, Lilley has to bring his A-plus game to place.
Eric Hutchinson, senior, Conestoga, Southeast runner-up, 138
The first-timer has Kiski sophomore Cam Conner out of the strong District 7. If Hutchinson’s hot streak continues he could win and set himself up with a decent shot at placing.
Brent Windle, senior, Coatesville, Southeast runner-up, 145
Windle is a wildcard and has a winnable first round against 10-loss sophomore Albert Taylor of Erie Cathedral Prep. A win gives him a challenging, but possible, path to the podium.
Chase Stephens, senior, Coatesville, Southeast champ, 152
Stephens starts his third trek to Hershey as the No. 2 seed. He awaits a pigtail winner and could get Cumberland Valley’s four-time qualifier Will Kaldes, in quarters. Young stars, Carter Starocci of Cathedral Prep or Gerrit Nijenhuis of Canon McMillan would likely be Stephens’ semi opponent if he gets there.
Dan Labus, junior, West Chester Rustin, Southeast third-place, 152
If his opponents aren’t aware of his cradle, Labus could pull an upset or two. He has a tough first round against General McLane’s Owen Watkins.
Collin Hurley, sophomore, West Chester Rustin, Southeast third-place, 160
Hurley gets tough freshman Luke Nichter of Chambersburg in the first round. Even with a loss, Hurley could manage himself into the blood round.
David Cox, senior, Oxford, Southeast champ, 170
In his return trip, Cox could have a tough first round to likely get to Exeter’s Ty Bagoly, which is a stout road to the semis. Cox has the talent to medal, but he will be pushed as an undersized 170-pounder.
Ryan Sharpless, senior, Octorara, Southeast runner-up, 170
At this point it’s difficult to count Sharpless out. He has beaten everyone not named Cox this postseason. If he gets in the top position, he might just have a chance.
Kevin Edwards, senior, Avon Grove, Southeast runner-up, 182
Edwards looks to improve on his sixth-place medal, this time as a known commodity. He has a winnable first round against Erie McDowell’s Jake Paulson and another medal is within range.
Sean McBride, senior, Coatesville, Southeast fourth-place, 182
The third Red Raider in the tournament, McBride has an uphill climb to the podium, but his unorthodox style could come in handy. He starts with Greensburg Salem’s Teegan Hahn.
Cole Zapf, senior, Downingtown West, Southeast runner-up, 195
Zapf picked up his 100th career win at regionals, and in his second trip, he gets Cocalico’s Ben Fromm in the first round. Zapf can win, and that would greatly increase his chances at a medal.
Noel Gilgeous, sophomore, Church Farm, Southeast AA sixth-place, 195
Gilgeous is hoping to garner the first state win in Church Farm history, and has Saegertown’s 32-18 Tyler Brooks in the pigtails.
Mike Maguire, senior, Unionville, Southeast fourth-place, 220
Maguire makes his first appearance and will begin with returning qualifier, Greg Bensley of Pocono Mountain West. It’s a trying draw for Maguire.
Josh Walls, senior, Avon Grove, Southeast runner-up, 285
A favorite to reach the finals, Kiski’s Isaac Reid is Walls’ first foe. With a loss, Walls would have a heavyweight’s chance to work his way through consolations.