Class 2A teams take next step

LEWISTOWN — With the tournament trail in full swing, 13 area wrestlers continue on their mission for a PIAA medal in Class 2A with the District 4 and Southwest regionals on tap this Friday and Saturday at Williamsport and Indiana, Pa., respectively.

Midd-West advanced a school record 10 through the South sectional last weekend with the top five from this weekend’s district meet advancing to the Northeast regional next Friday, also at Williamsport. Mount Union pushed three into the Southwest regionals. The top six placers in the Southwest punch their ticket to states in two weeks.

The Mustangs qualified sectional champ Avery Bassett (138), along with Aiden Steininger (120), Ethan Zevan (126), Kameron Kline (145), Wyatt Bassett (152), Josh Rodriguez (160), Joe Rodriguez (182), Trey Lauver (195), Carter Sauer (220) and Owen Zechman (285).

Kline, Wyatt Bassett and Zechman are seniors. Steininger, Zevan, the Rodriguez brothers and Sauer are juniors, while Avery Bassett and Lauver are sophomores.

Midd-West coach Dale Franquet is employing his 4-5-4 approach to the postseason — finish top four at sectionals, top five at districts and top four in regionals. Do this and a trip to states is assured.

“The kids are excited and ready to compete. There is a new seeding system and to be honest, I don’t like the way some seeds fell. I don’t even know how they did it or how it works,” Franquet said. “I’m very excited and ready to go. No matter what happens, you have to find a way into the top five and go from there.”

Avery Bassett (29-1) is the only top seed for Midd-West and he opens with a bye before meeting the Zach Shaffer (Wyalusing) and Gabe Waltman (Central Columbia) winner. Shaffer is 17-13 and Waltman is 28-7. Franquet is optimistic for the sophomore who qualified for states as a freshman.

“Avery put the time in on and off the mat. He’s grown mentally by leaps and bounds. He’s more aggressive on offense and he’s dangerous at all three positions, top, bottom and neutral. He lives for this and he’s having fun with it. I’m looking forward to seeing how far he can get as a sophomore,” Franquet said.

Also getting a first-round bye is Kline (27-6). He will meet the winner of Christian Good (30-10) of Muncy and Jacob Bennett (9-10) of Sayre.

In first-round action, Steininger (23-5) faces Towanda’s Joe Vanderpool (15-12); Zevan (23-6) meets Kai Felix (17-13) of Montgomery; Wyatt Bassett (23-6) takes on Jon Smith (9-2) of Jersey Shore; Josh Rodriguez (23-9) battles Troy’s Jake Turner (16-11); Joe Rodriguez (24-9) tangles with Dylan Devlin (19-14) of Central Columbia; Lauver (20-7) locks horns with Ben Pernaselli (12-11) of Athens; Sauer (24-8) tussles with Canton’s Trevor Williams (20-11) and Zechman (20-3) opens with Keegan Braund (18-10) of Athens.

Franquet believes the experience of the Mustangs prepared his grapplers for the rigors of postseason wrestling.

“A lot of kids on the team have been through this. We wrestle tough competition all year and have gone through the grind,” Franquet said. “In the tournaments we wrestled, they have mentally prepared themselves to go through the consolations like you have to do sometimes. It helps to have 10 guys with you.”

Franquet said the most important quality to have come tournament time is a relaxed and fun vibe when you go out on the mat.

“I tell the kids to go out have fun and relax. If you’re all tense and worried about a kid, you won’t wrestle your best. Just go out and give it your all for six minutes. Anything can happen,” Franquet said. “Conditioning-wise we are good to go. They need to go out, have at it and see where it flies. I preach to them all the time you can’ worry about who or where you wrestle. Go give it your best. Everybody is good when you get to this point. It doesn’t matter who they are or where they’re from, you have to wrestle your match and not worry about the other guy.”

As far as predictions go, Franquet is not holding back on the confidence he has with his team.

“I’m very positive. We should be able to get a bunch through. If I was a forecaster, I’d say all ten but sometimes it doesn’t work out the way you want it to,” Franquet said. “The kids are healthy for the most part. If they continue to stay healthy and wrestle to their abilities, we should do well.”

Action gets underway at 5 p.m. on Friday at Williamsport High School.

Southwest Regional

Mount Union qualified three for regionals led by District 6 champion Jake Ryan at heavyweight. The Trojan junior crossed the 100-win threshold last week in Altoona en route to his first district title. Ryan (32-1) faces Jacob Forrest (19-10) of Hopewell, seventh in District 7, in the opening round.

Sophomore Bryce Beatty (32-4), third last week at districts, locks horns with District 7 fifth-place finisher Shawn Szymanski (16-7) of Burrell at 106. Senior Caleb Morgan (19-13) meets Freedom Area’s Trent Schultheis (29-4), WPIAL champion, at 152 pounds.

“We are looking for a good week of practice and hoping to do well at regionals this weekend,” Mount Union coach Corey Wertz said.

The first round kicks off Friday at 2 p.m. at the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex at IUP.