High School Wrestling: Local grapplers look to punch tickets to state championships
With the 2021 high school wrestling postseason in full swing six local wrestlers will be looking to punch a ticket to the PIAA Wrestling Championships in Hershey on March 5-6.
In Class 3A Mifflin County’s Nic Allison (113), Kyler Everly (145) and Trey Kibe (172) remain in the hunt while Mount Union’s Bryce Beatty (113) and Midd-West’s Conner Heckman (132) and Avery Bassett (160) remain alive in Class 2A.
With COVID-19 changing the landscape of the wrestling postseason this weekend’s Super Regional tournaments will, for all intents and purposes, be the first leg of the state championships as 16 wrestlers per weight class are still alive in both Class 2A and Class 3A. In a normal year, 20 wrestlers would make their way to Hershey per weight class.
Instead, 2021 has no pigtails and a trail of carnage will ensue as wrestlers will need to place in the Top 4 in some loaded weight classes in order to earn a trip to the Giant Center next weekend. With tournaments being limited to eight kids per weight class, just making it to Hershey ensures a wrestler a medal.
There are two Super Regionals per classification, dividing the teams into East and West tournaments.
With all of that taken into account, here’s a look at some of the key storylines entering Super Regional weekend:
With the shrinking of the PIAA Championships to just the final eight wrestlers, many questions have been raised as far as recognizing state qualifiers. In a normal year, the remaining wrestlers would be heading to the championships in Hershey and being among the Top 16 in the state would mean that they had qualified for states having made it this far.
Multiple outlets including PA-Wrestling.com and PA Power Wrestling announced that they will consider wrestlers who advanced to the Super Regionals state qualifiers and the PIAA followed up and said it will also recognize wrestlers competing this weekend as having made the state tournament, according to Pa-Wrestling.com.
While the PIAA grappled with options to shrink each round of the state wrestling tournament due to COVID-19, the addition of a Super Regional meant that qualifying would be much tougher. Throughout the postseason the number of qualifiers per district and regional shrank significantly.
While East and West breakdowns according to the most recent state rankings seems somewhat even in Class 2A — 69 wrestlers are ranked in the Top 10 by PA Power Wrestling in the East and 61 in the West — there is a huge discrepancy in Class 3A where the West reigns.
Of the wrestlers competing in the 3A West Super Regional, 91 wrestlers are ranked in the Top 10 in the West, while 39 are ranked in the Top 10 in the East bracket.
KIBE LOOKING FOR MORE
Mifflin County’s Trey Kibe didn’t mince his words after finishing fourth in a ridiculously loaded 170-pound bracket in Hershey a season ago and the wrestler vowed that it would only add fuel to the fire for his senior season.
“It’s going to drive me the whole offseason to work a lot harder,” Kibe said last March. “I’m happy to have this opportunity to wrestle in this arena and to have the support of my family and everyone else who allows me to do this. It’s not what I wanted but I’m so grateful to get to do what I love. The takeaway like I said is to just get better. I’m not satisfied with this. I need to work harder and it’s just going to build a fire in me to get back to the top next year.”
The 2019 state champion has been nothing but locked in since as he finished the regular season and the District 6 and Northwest Regional tournaments undefeated and currently has 17 wins in a condensed season.
He’s made some history along the way, becoming just the fourth wrestler in school history to win three Regional titles and he’s one of only four in county history to win four District 6 titles. He passed Trent Hidlay for second all-time in school history on the pins list with 75 falls last Saturday and a medal in this year’s PIAA Championships would make him just the third wrestler in school history to earn three medals at the state tournament.
Kibe views the West Super Regional as the first half of the state tournament, and he’s ready for the challenge. Kibe has taken a business-like approach all season, with nothing but a title on his mind.
Kibe will have some stout competitors to get past as everyone at 172 pounds is currently ranked inside the Top 9 in the state.
“I think that it is basically just like half of the state tournament,” Kibe said. “There are going to be good kids there and it is definitely going to be a challenge. It’s pretty much just the same mindset going in as this week.”
ALLISON OUT FOR REVENGE
Mifflin County’s Nic Allison found himself in a familiar situation against an old adversary, as Allison met Erie Cathedral Prep’s Jacob Van Dee in the Northwest Regional final for the third straight season. Allison won the first meeting, but the last two title matches have gone to Van Dee.
Saturday will be yet another challenge for the 113-pounder who perhaps has the toughest road of anyone to Hershey, as his bracket is made up of returning state champion and top-ranked Vincent Kilkeary of Greater Latrobe, No. 2 ranked Van Dee and seven of the Top 10 wrestlers in the state at the weight, including Allison who enters the regional ranked fifth.
“I’m thinking of it as states before states,” Allison said. “If you make it there you are placing, so I look at the (West Super Regional) as states before states. I know that there isn’t going to be anyone there that hasn’t had a really strong wrestling background. Every match you will just have to fight.”
Confident in his conditioning at this point and having had a chance to learn from last weekend, Allison feels ready for perhaps the toughest tournament he’s ever competed in.
“It’s purely motivation for me. Matches like that are what fuel me,” Allison said of the regional final matchup with Van Dee. “If I didn’t have matches like that and I had just a cakewalk through everything I wouldn’t be the wrestler that I am. It’s those types of matches that you need a reality check every once in a while, to realize there are still some people out there that are 10 times better than you and you have to step your game up if you want to wrestle with them.”
BASSETT CHASES HISTORY
Midd-West’s Avery Bassett is already one if, if not the most accomplished wrestler in Mustang history and the senior can add the 150-win milestone to his growing list of accolades with two victories as he currently holds a career record of 148-18.
Bassett became the school’s all-time wins leader back on Feb. 5. The third-place finisher from a season ago has become a clear force to be reckoned with and holds a 32-1 record heading into the Class 2A East Super Regional at Pottsville today.
His lone loss this season came in the District 4 final in a match against Benton’s Nolan Lear, who took advantage of a slip up where Bassett fell in the match. He recently avenged the loss with a thrilling 3-2 ultimate tiebreaker victory at the Southeast Regional last Saturday.
Make no mistake, Bassett’s biggest and lone goal all season has been a state gold medal and right now, the No. 2 ranked 160-pounder is keeping it light entering the East Super Regional.
“It’s one more weekend to wrestle and one more weekend to have fun,” Bassett said Saturday. “I’m looking forward to it.”
BEATTY BOUNCES BACK
Following his first loss of the season at the District 6 Class 2A championships, Bryce Beatty (113) of Mount Union responded with an impressive 5-3 upset over then No. 1 ranked Calan Bollman of Chestnut Ridge.
Beatty finished second at the Southwest Class 2A Regional at IUP and is riding the momentum of last weekend into a difficult East Super Regional. Beatty is 12-2 on the season.
“I thought I did pretty well,” Beatty said on Saturday. “We just have to make adjustments for next week. Last week, I took third at districts and came back and took second at the regional tournament, knocked off some pretty good kids. We just will make adjustments for this week and get ready for next weekend.”
EVERLY SHOWS GRIT
The addition of true second was a daunting task for many wrestlers to face at the District 6 Class 3A and Class 3A Northwest Regional tournaments. Few took advantage of new life like Mifflin County’s Kyler Everly did last Saturday.
After falling in the opening round to one of the state’s best in Riley Bower, Everly grinded out a narrow 4-2 decision in sudden victory over Central Mountain’s Griffin Walizer before grabbing back-to-back pins over Clearfield’s Karson Kline and Erie Prep’s Steffan Lynch to advance to this weekend.
While Everly knows this weekend will present a unique challenge with seven of the state’s 10 best at 145 pounds in the bracket, he’s putting his head down and is ready to scrap.
“I think that the seedings will work out a little bit differently,” Everly said. “At states you have the lower ranked kids wrestling in a pigtails match, but at Super Regionals you won’t get that. I got second (at Regionals) and I’m glad to be going to Super Regionals, but I will be handed a one seed right when we get there. That will be rough to get through, but anything can happen.”