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PAC preview: Veterans Jones, Meredith accustomed to big stage of PIAA Championships

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They’ve already made a combined nine visits to Hershey for state-level wrestling competitions.

Suffice it to say, Brandon Meredith and Elijah Jones are well-acclimated to performing in the spacious venue of the Giant Center. They will add to their individual totals this weekend as part of the field of competitors for the PIAA Class AAA Championships.

The two senior standouts head a contingent of 19 wrestlers from Pioneer Athletic Conference schools pursuing state medals starting Thursday. Meredith is one of four Rams in the field, Jones one of three Bears participating.

Live tournament coverage from Pa-wrestling.com

Meredith (41-2) is making his third appearance in the state’s individual tourney, boasting a fourth-place medal his sophomore year. He was also on Spring-Ford teams that got to Hershey for the PIAA’s Class AAA Duals tournaments twice.

“My freshman year, the first time I went out at the Giant Center, I was shell-shocked,” he recalled. “But when the whistle blows, I just focus in on the match.”

Spring-Ford’s Brandon Meredith (Nate Heckenberger – For Digital First Media)

Jones (39-3) is also appearing in the individual competition a third time. A three-time member of Boyertown squads that got to Hershey for the state duals, he scored a fifth-place medal to cap a junior campaign during which he struck gold at the PAC, District 1-AAA West and Southeast AAA Regional tournaments.

“I’m pretty excited,” Jones said after repeating as a regional titlist at Oxford this past weekend. “I’m hoping this is the best one yet.”

Meredith’s own steamroll through the post-season got stopped in the regional’s semifinal round. A two-point loss to Council Rock South’s Shane Hanson-Ashworth left him going for third place at 120. He got the bronze with a major decision of Octorara’s Seth Hoopes, but his state opener against Northampton’s Logan Ninos will now come in the preliminary round.

“It would be nice to have one less match,” he said, “but you have to take care of it.”

Jones will kick off his Hershey swan song by facing the winner of the 195-pound prelim between Hazleton Area’s Shane Noonan (40-6) and New Oxford’s Darrick Rudisill (34-10). At this stage in his storied high-school career, performance in individual matches is key.

“I go into every match the same, giving my best … 100 percent,” he said. “I want to wrestle the best match I can, to the best of my ability.

“I focus on the match in front of me. Sometimes I look at the bracket, but I like to go in not knowing the other opponents. Every person I wrestle is the best wrestler.”

With his extensive experience wrestling at the Giant Center, Meredith finds himself imparting advice to teammates making their first trips to states on how to avoid the “shell shock” he faced as a first-time participant.

“I’ve told the guys, everybody is good at this level,” he said. “I tell them to go out and not to let the excitement get to you.”

Eleven of the local grapplers will start out of their brackets’ preliminary rounds at 4 p.m. The other eight will open in the first championship round, with first-round consolations taking place at 8:15 p.m.

The early-starters include Upper Perkiomen’s Jared Kuhns (113, 28-3), Spring-Ford’s Jack McGill (126, 37-16), Owen J. Roberts’ Connor Quinn (126, 34-8), Methacton’s Kibwe McNair (132, 34-4), the Rams’ Ben D’Arcangelo (152, 33-14), the Warriors’ Michael Blakemore (160, 31-7) and Boyertown’s Evan Mortimer (160, 34-15), OJR’s Jason Zollers (170, 36-7), Spring-Ford’s Chase Smith (182, 28-6) and Pottsgrove’s Skylar McLeod (220, 31-8).
Making their debuts in the first championship round will be Pope John Paul’s Matt Vulakh (106, 27-5), OJR’s Antonio Petrucelli (138, 32-11), PJP’s Ryan Vulakh (27-4) and Methacton’s Roman Moser (21-8) at 145, Roberts’ Dan Mancini (152, 38-4), Boyertown’s Jacob Miller (182, 40-8) and the Warriors’ Tonee Ellis (220, 29-10).

Pope John Paul II’s Ryan Vulakh tries to turn Methacton’s Roman Moser in his technical fall win in the 152 final at the PAC Wrestling Championships at Boyertown. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

The Vulakh brothers have already made history by becoming PJP’s first wrestlers to compete at states at the AAA level. Michael Collins (Class of 2015) previously qualified for states — albeit at the Class AA level — and scored a fourth-place medal his senior season. Ryan Vulakh has had previous Hershey success – he placed eighth at 138 in 2015-16 as a freshman at North Penn.

NOTES >> Along with Jones, Ryan Vulakh and Mancini come into states off championship runs in the South East AAA Regional. Vulakh’s first opponent will be Bald Eagle Area’s Garrett Rigg (32-4), the Northwest Regional runner-up; and Mancini will open against either Hempfield Area’s Luke Kemerer (37-2), third at the South West Regional, or Chambersburg’s Drake Bernize (32-7), fourth at the South Central Regional. … The AAA field will continue action Friday with quarterfinals and second-round consolations at 2:15 p.m., followed by third-round consolations at 5 p.m. … Saturday, the AAA semifinals and fourth-round consolations commence at 9 a.m., with the consolation semifinals at 11:30 a.m. The Parade of Champions at 6:45 p.m. will precede the medal bouts at 7 p.m.

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