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Rustin’s Kaliner aims to get over the hump at regionals to reach states

WESTTOWN >> That rush of adrenaline through one’s body as a dream is about to be fulfilled, West Chester Rustin’s Tyler Kaliner has felt it.

Twice, even.

If sports highs can be some of the highest, the lows can be equally as painful. Kaliner knows this, too.

In last season’s Class 3A Southeast Regional tournament, Kaliner held one-point leads in his consolation semifinal bout, as well as the fifth-place bout, with seconds to go. Both times, Kaliner’s opponent was able to score desperation takedowns, keeping Kaliner one win shy of the state tournament.

Now, with another shot to reach Hershey on the line, it’s all about finishing for the Rustin junior, on multiple levels.

“It’s something I really always keep in the back of my mind,” Kaliner said. “It’s pushed me this year.”

Kaliner (145 pounds) will be one of 182 District 1 wrestlers competing in the two-day Southeast Regional tournament, Friday and Saturday at Oxford High, all vying for a top-five spot to advance to states. (The tournament has since been postponed to Saturday and Sunday due to the potential of bad weather for parts of District 1. It was a district-wide decision, affecting all winter sports postseasons.)

West Chester Rustin’s Tyler Kaliner (Nate Heckenberger – For Digital First Media)

Kaliner’s heartbreaking losses last year were to Academy Park’s Mohamad Kaba and Owen J. Roberts’ Cole Meredith, both by a 4-3 score.

As sports sometimes work out, Kaliner’s redemption road may very well start off with Meredith in his first bout of the tournament in quarters if the OJR junior can beat Souderton’s Connor Trowbridge.

“It’s nice,” Kaliner said. “I’m kinda friends with (Meredith) and I beat him last year at district duals and he got the win at regionals. I beat him at district duals this year so hopefully I can change the outcome at regionals. It’s definitely going to be a fun match.”

Kaliner has flourished as a junior, shrugging off a three-loss opening tournament to go 28-3 since. He’s won titles at the Ches-Mont Championships and District 1 West tournaments, besting Avon Grove’s Nick Barnhart in the finals both times.

With older brother Brett Kaliner off to college, Tyler’s demeanor is a little less social and his style is a little more calculated than Brett’s, but the results have been good enough to keep the Kaliner name relevant in Hershey.

“He’s a quiet leader,” Rustin coach Brad Harkins said of Tyler. “He leads by example. He comes in the room every day to work hard and he’s consistent. As far as wrestling ability, he’s always had that. The jump this year has been more of a mental one, because he sees himself as a guy who should be in Hershey.”

The bottom half of the 145-pound bracket is loaded, but is Kaliner can continue to wrestle the way he has since the new year, he’ll be ready for the challenge. All six minutes of it.

“I’m feeling really good,” Kaliner said. “I’m feeling like I’m peaking at the right time of year.”

The regional brackets are made up of the top four qualifiers from the East and West district tournaments, and top five from the Central. The entire tournament is double elimination.

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Coatesville sophomore Brennan McBride earned the top seed as the other two district champs are only freshmen. He has a good shot to reach the semifinals, but there he’ll likely have to tango with Council Rock South’s Kyle Waterman, who’s been ranked No. 1 in the district most of the season. West Chester Henderson’s Sammy McMonagle has a winnable pigtail and would get the freshman who beat Waterman the past two weeks, Council Rock North’s Kyle Hauserman, in quarters. Downingtown East’s Keanu Manuel was forced to pull out due to an injury, so Rustin’s Josh Viarengo is in and Oxford’s Cooper Johnson moves up a slot. With a win in pigtails, Johnson would get Pope John Paul II’s Matt Vulakh, who is stingy and tough on top.

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Council Rock North’s Luke Lucerne and Henderson’s Killian Delaney were ranked No. 2 and 4, respectively, in the state on papowerwrestling.com, and the two find themselves on the same side of the bracket after Council Rock South’s Max Mendez upset Lucerne in the district finals last week. If Lucerne and Delaney do meet in the semis, the winner would probably be favored to win the weight. Mendez is the pick to reach the finals from the bottom half, though Upper Perkiomen’s Jared Kuhns is a seasoned veteran. Coatesville freshman Nathan Lucier has another tough freshman, Zach Martin of Neshaminy, in the pigtails, and whichever youngster can shake off the nerves of a big stage better could be in the mix for one of the state spots.

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Winning a state title last year pays off for Downingtown West’s Doug Zapf here, as he claimed the top seed and a more manageable draw to the finals than the other side. Down below, Spring-Ford’s Brandon Meredith and Council Rock South’s Shane Hanson-Ashworth should be a much more-compelling semifinal. After the top three there is a big collection wrestlers looking to take it to the next level. Octorara’s Seth Hoopes, who has 97 career wins, and Kennett’s Logan Reigel have winnable pigtails and could eventually meet in an elimination round in the consis. West Chester East’s Corey Celenza got a more-favorable draw to the semis by taking fourth last week. He’d likely see Zapf, and a loss could force a matchup against the winner of Hoopes-Reigel in the consi semis.

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This weight at District 1 East was loaded, thinning the herd by a couple with only four moving on. There should be competitive bouts all over the place, right from the get-go. Downingtown East’s Lukas Richie is the top seed and will either get William Tennent’s Anthony Colella or Spring-Ford’s talented freshman, Jack McGill, in quarters. Quakertown’s Josh Stahl figures to see Richie in semis in a battle of returning state qualifiers. On the bottom half, Harry S. Truman’s Gunnar Fuss has lost just twice all year and is going to be tough to beat by anyone. Former Malvern Prep wrestler, Connor Quinn, won his district for Owen J. Roberts last week and would get Octorara’s Liam Babauta if the Brave can get past Neshaminy’s Colton Jordan first. Kennett’s Trent Kochersperger had a good district tourney but will have tough sledding as a freshman.

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District 1 lost one of its top wrestlers for the postseason when William Tennent’s AJ Tamburrino was unable to wrestle last week. As a result, the race for the fifth spot got much more wide open. The top four appear to be Methacton’s Kibwe McNair, Souderton’s Tyler Williams, Unionville’s Caden Mareno and Council Rock South’s Ben Radner. Mareno has breezed through the first two weeks of the postseason and Williams, who missed last season after reaching states as a freshman, will be Mareno’s biggest test since joining Unionville. Kennett’s Gerhardt Reiter will be in the mix to make his first state tournament and could make things easier on himself if he could upend Radner in quarters. McNair is 32-2 and hasn’t been tested this postseason.

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Top-seeded Cam Robinson of Council Rock North is tall, rangy and skilled, making him many people’s pick to win the weight. Downingtown West’s Nick Lilley beat him a year ago at regionals, but Lilley’s chances may still come down to how close his health is to 100 percent. Lilley should make semis, though his opponent is tougher to predict. Penncrest’s Brendon Stocku won District 1 Central and he will get the winner between Souderton’s Harrison Andrade and Henderson’s Luke Phayre. Andrade is a three-time regional qualifier. On Robinson’s side, OJR’s Antonio Petrucelli and Council Rock South’s Eric Woloshyn make up one of the better pigtails in the tourney, and the winner likely gets Downingtown East’s Brett Horne in quarters. Horne and Great Valley’s Luke Wilson, who won his 100th career match last week, will be ones to keep your eye on as desperate seniors.

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Pope John Paul II’s Ryan Vulakh is ranked No. 2 in the state, but is the third seed after being ineligible to wrestle as a sophomore. That makes for a crowded lower half of the bracket, with Rustin’s Tyler Kaliner, Pennridge’s Evan Widing and OJR’s Cole Meredith there as well. Widing would get Vulakh and Kaliner should expect Meredith in the quarters. If those are the quarters matchups on that half, the losers will be on the same side in consis, as well, meaning one is guaranteed to be eliminated before getting to the consi semis. Neshaminy’s Jackson Erb is sitting pretty up top, though Methacton’s Roman Moser and Avon Grove’s Nick Barnhart hope to derail him.

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Owen J. Roberts’ Dan Mancini looks poised to win his first regional title after taking third a year ago. Octorara’s Caden Dalton could get first crack at him, but Mancini appears to be the class of the top half of the bracket that also includes Henderson’s Matt Phayre and Council Rock South’s Cole Flanagan. Downingtown West’s Gavin Hale is a win away from his career high in a season, and he has his best opportunity to make a regional final. Lower Merion’s unorthodox sophomore James Lledo should be his opening opponent. Council Rock North’s Dillon Sheehy is the No. 2 seed and can be dangerous out of the East.

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Rustin’s Collin Hurley and Henderson’s Ray Martin have wins over top-seeded Patrick O’Neill of North Penn in their careers, so will the two West Chester grapplers meet in the finals for the second straight week? Well, it’s possible, but there are plenty of hurdles along the way. Hurley is the No. 3 seed and Pennridge’s Logan Green is his assumed quarterfinal opponent. Owen J’s Ricky McCutchen is the No. 2 seed on Hurley’s side as well. Martin is favored in his pigtail and would get a tough challenge from Methacton’s Michael Blakemore next. A win there likely sets up a rematch with O’Neill for a spot in the finals. Downingtown East’s Matt Romanelli has had a very good freshman year, but he will need to wrestle like a veteran to give himself a shot.

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The pin by Unionville’s Tyler Mousaw against Downingtown West’s Max Hale last week blew this bracket up. As a result, Mousaw, Hale and OJR’s Jason Zollers are all on the top half, while West Chester East’s Andrew DiBernardo is sitting relatively pretty on the other side. Hale should win his pigtail to set up a quarter against Zollers, a match many would’ve predicted as the final a couple weeks ago. The winner of that gets a probable semi against Mousaw. DiBernardo has a good matchup to get to the semis, where Council Rock South’s Nik Korbich would make him earn it.

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Josh Stillings, a state runner-up for Pennridge, is looking for his fourth trip to Hershey and is the top-seed and overwhelming favorite. Great Valley’s Ethan Seeley is the No. 2 seed, and he’ll have a better pairing in quarters than No. 3 Jacob Miller of Boyertown, who would see 30-1 Harry Green of Upper Moreland, if Green can survive Rustin’s Ethan Harkins. Seeley has had his best season, by far, and he will have an opportunity to make a name for himself in this tournament. Downingtown West’s Chase Mielnik has an optimal pigtail to set himself up with an interesting potential matchup with Spring-Ford’s returning state qualifier, Chase Smith. Win or lose there, Mielnik has the goods to stick around to the very end.

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Boyertown’s Elijah Jones is a returning fifth-place state medalist and the pick here. Coatesville’s Alex Raimondo is stuck on his side, but has a workable path to the semis, with Pennridge’s David Blanchard potentially his toughest foe. Downingtown East’s Josh Wileczek has edged Raimondo in the finals the past two weeks and gets a better draw to the finals as a reward. He’s the No. 3 seed and PJP’s Jack Files would be a good test in quarters. Souderton’s Bruno Stolfi is having his best year as a junior and is the No. 2 seed. Downingtown West’s Joe Shafer and Octorara’s Brandon Jackson could hang around and make things interesting.

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Hatboro Horsham’s Nick Chapman is 33-1 with 32 pins, but his one loss was by major decision against Sun Valley’s Hunter Catka, the No. 1 seed. Should they meet in the finals, Catka has proven he has the edge if he can stay off his back. Conestoga’s lone qualifier, Paul Pelham, has West’s Chris Madanat in the pigtail to get to Chapman. Oxford’s Sam Blevins had his best showing of his career last week, finishing runner-up, and gets Pennridge senior Michael Beljan. If Blevins continues his hot streak, he would get fellow regional rookie, Zak Reck of Boyertown, in the quarters.

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Bensalem’s Nick Cooper was ranked No. 1 on pa-wrestling.com all season but lost, 3-1, in overtime to North Penn’s Ryan Cody last week. Cody is the top seed, as a result, and has a much better route to the finals, though Great Valley’s Tyler Lafferty is up top with him. Cooper, who has only had one match decided by decision all year, joins No. 2 seed, Jesse Cook of Downingtown West and No. 3 Tommy Mahoney of Garnet Valley. Cook is 8-2 in decisions this year, and his skill on top could be the difference.

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