Carson: Top 5 PA wrestlers
As I begin year number 28 covering high school wrestling, I recently drifted off into a little reflection about the best wrestlers I’ve had the pleasure of watching in almost three decades writing about the best sport on earth.
After a good bit of time thinking on the subject, I knew it would be much more difficult than I thought. The Keystone State produces so much talent to make a best-of list is quite a challenge.
I started with one major ground rule: the list had to be in the past 30 years since I’ve been a paid sports writer. So, from 1990 on. There’s been plenty of talent before the nineties for sure, but since I didn’t get to see many of those guys (I didn’t start going to states until the eighties), I have no way of evaluating them fairly.
The list excludes but by no means downplays the skills of Mike Johnson, Jerry Maurey, Jim Conklin, Jan Clark, along with our own Kenny Whitsel and Joe Heller. Johnson, who went unbeaten and never taken down, is an all-time great but before my time.
Without further ado, here is my list of the top five wrestlers I’ve seen over the past 30 years in Pennsylvania.
1. Carey Kolat, Jefferson Morgan
Without a doubt the best high school wrestler I ever saw. It isn’t even close. Wrestling Kolat was like grabbing a rabid dog by the ears – it wouldn’t end well for his opponent.
Kolat finished his stellar career with a record of 137-0 with four PIAA titles. The current coach at Campbell College was a standout in all three phases and pulled off the famous backflip at Hershey. You youngsters, search on YouTube to see what I’m talking about. He was the best, Period.
2. Spencer Lee, Franklin Regional
The only thing that kept Lee from four state titles was an injury. He lost in the finals to fellow Iowa teammate Austin DeSanto his senior year (2017), thanks to a torn ACL. Without a doubt, the best match I ever saw and called on Big Lewie.
Lee ended his career 144-1 and is as close to Kolat as anyone I’ve seen. The Hawkeye junior is a two-time NCAA champ and a favorite to make the U.S. Olympic team.
3. Jason Nolf, Kittanning
One burning question I always have with Nolf is how in the heck did he lose to Ryan Diehl his sophomore year in the PIAA semifinals back in 2012? The only loss of his career.
Nolf ended high school 176-1 with three state titles. His funky takedowns and unorthodox style translated perfectly into college where he was a four-time finalist and a three-time NCAA champion at Penn State.
He even pinned a dude with his butt at states. Unreal.
4. Chance Marsteller, Kennard-Dale
Blessed with natural, farm-boy strength, Marsteller dominated opponents during his high school career to the tune of four state titles and a 166-0 career record.
Personal demons never allowed him to have the collegiate career people expected but there is no doubt he is one of the all-time greats in Pennsylvania high school wrestling.
5. John Hughes, Benton
Tough as nails with a nasty attitude to boot, Hughes put little Benton high school on the map along with twin brother Russ.
Hughes is one of only 13 wrestlers to capture four state titles in Pennsylvania. The longtime Penn State and Lehigh assistant coach ended his career with a 146-2-1 record and a place in the annals of PA wrestling.
Honorable mention to this list includes Bob Crawford (Milton), Nico Megaludis (Franklin Regional), Garrett Scott (Juniata Valley), Jeremy Hunter (McGuffey), Zain Retherford (Line Mountain/Benton), Jordan Oliver (Easton), and Quentin Wright (BEA).
Next week, I’ll unveil my top five PA high school wrestlers of the eighties.
Wertz Wins No. 300
Congratulations to Mount Union wrestling coach Corey Wertz on winning his 300th career dual meet in 18 years at the helm of the Trojans.
Wertz is only the eighth coach in District 6 history to reach the 300-win milestone. He joins Dave Caslow (405), Dick Rhoades (399), Marty Rusnak (317), Blair Packer (307), Doug Buckwalter (307), Dave Marko (307), and Tom Vaux (305).
I will have a feature story on Wertz for the Sentinel in a future edition.
Husky Duals Preview
Eight teams, including host Mifflin County, square off at the Husky Duals beginning today at 10 a.m. The Huskies brought back the duals last season after a five-year hiatus and defeated New Oxford for the title by a 47-21 score.
Athens, Carlisle, Conestoga Valley, New Oxford, Philipsburg-Osceola, Trinity, and Tyrone join Mifflin County in the 2020 field.
The field features 16 ranked wrestlers with the Huskies leading the way with seven – Trey Kibe (No. 1 at 170), Nic Allison (No. 7 at 106), Blaine Davis (No. 14 at 285), Derek Burk (No. 22 at 126), Hunter Johnson (No. 23 at 113) and Brycen Hassinger (No. 25 at 182).
Other ranked wrestlers in the field by school include:
120: Gavin Bradley (No. 6)
113: Noah Clawson (No. 10)
132: Rafael Portilla (No. 22)
170: Colton Zimmerman (No. 18)
New Oxford (7-4)
120: Andrew Christie (No. 16)
138: Tim Uhler (No. 18)
160: Hunter Weitoish (No. 9)
138: Patrick DeMark (No. 5)
152: Daniel Kosinski (No. 14)
120: Hunter Walk (No. 8)
Conestoga Valley (4-4)
Mifflin County (5-0) wrestles Carlisle to kick things off and that match will count as a Mid-Penn Commonwealth league dual. The Huskies are flying high confidence wise after beating District 6 rival Central Mountain for the first time ever in the regular season.
My prediction: depending on how the brackets go, Mifflin County should make the finals against either New Oxford or Philipsburg-Osceola with the Huskies defending their Husky Duals crown.
Bassett to Army
Midd-West junior Avery Bassett intends to wrestle for Army West Point after his high school career concludes.
Bassett is a two-time PIAA qualifier with an 83-14 career record for the Mustangs. He is 10-1 this season and ranked second in the state in Class AA at 145 pounds.
PIAA Champ Out
Kyle Swartz, PIAA champion last season, saw his season and career come to a close after injuring his shoulder. The 195-pound senior underwent surgery on Monday to repair torn cartilage and labrum in his left shoulder.
He went 40-1 last season, winning a PIAA Class 3A title over Cedar Cliff’s Donovan Ball. He ends his high school wrestling career with state and district gold, and a record of 91-17. PA Power Wrestling had Swartz ranked No. 1 in the state.
Swartz, the career rushing and touchdown leader for the Polar Bears, is off to Army West Point to continue with football and wrestling at the next level.