The Reporter Area has 10 first-time qualifiers for the PIAA Class AAA Wrestling Championships this season. Entering this year, a pair Pennridge freshman had to earn their spot on a talented varsity roster. And a pair of North Penn wrestlers were looking to put last seasons struggles behind them. The Rams Micah Visuwan and Josh Stillings joined the Knights Sofiane Bensmail and Colin Shannon in states on Thursday. The group might be unexpected qualifiers to the average high school wrestler fan, but the pair of teammates knew how much hard work they put in the offseason in preparation for this moment.
Visuwan needed a takedown to advance through the preliminaries early into the three-day event. He got the take-down, but not quite the way he drew it up. The 120-pound freshman was trailing 3-1 to Bethlehem Catholic's Jacob Reigel in the third period, when the returning AA state champion at 106 pounds laid on the mat with an injury. Only eight seconds away from being sent to the loser's bracket, the freshman used the injury default to advance into the first round. It was not quite the way Visuwan wanted to win, but he certainly will take his first win at states.
He also had to temper his excitement knowing that Franklin Regional's Spencer Lee was his award for winning. Lee, whom many think has chance to be the next four-time champion, earned a first-period tech fall over the freshman Ram. Visuwan still lives to wrestle another day after his preliminary victory.
Methacton's Bryce Reddington continues to rise at the end of his sophomore season as he too won his prelim. He squeaked out a 3-2 win over Carlisle's Brady Meals. He, too, faced a common state champion pick for the 132-pound bracket in two-time state medalist A.C. Headlee. He fought hard only to get pinned in the third round. It definitely does not get easier in the first round for the wrestlers with that extra match to wrestle.
It might be another match to wrestle Thursday, but last year they would have been spectators. Like Visuwan, the 126-pound Bensmail and Wissahickon's Josh Trunk battled back last weekend to secure the fifth and final spot in states. Last season PIAA only took three from the Southeast Region, but this year the two rising underclassmen and senior Trunk have a chance to climb the podium in the Giant Center. Trunk (15-4 major decision loss) and Bensmail will have to do so through wrestle-backs. Bensmail lost his prelim match 7-0 to Parkland's Jacob Lizak.
Bensmail's teammate Shannon also failed to find his tempo against Cole Karam of Bethlehem Catholic, who cruised to a 14-4 major decision. Souderton's Phil Stolfi just missed out on a prelim win — his 8-7 loss to Hempfield's Jordan Ortiz forces the junior to fight through wrestle-backs to medal.
The moment was not much better for the Rams' Josh Stillings, who avoided a preliminary match thanks to his second-place finish at the Southeast Regional. The 132-pounder struggled against Archbishop Wood senior Chad Haegele, a Central Bucks South transfer. The 9-3 loss puts him in wrestle-backs, fighting to keep his medal dreams alive.
While everybody in the field feels they belong on the podium, there are a few faces each wrestler preferred to avoid in the first round. A loss at regionals forced Kordell Rush to face last year's 106-pound runner-up Dan Moran of Northampton in the first round. All it took was a 2-1 decision for Moran and Rush has a tough road to improve on last year's fourth-place finish.
Whether it was the "what-ifs' of regionals, and what a one-seed might have done for their hopes or not, it's is all in the past. These wrestlers are living in the moment, living out their dreams, and ready to come back on Friday for more — the Class AAA championship bracket quarterfinals beginning at 1:30 p.m.