Just one word, one name. Hershey. But to Pennsylvanians it means March and the quest for a state wrestling crown.
Friends, families, and fans make an annual holiday of it. Many have their own ‘spots’ and rituals and traditions, going for decades to the same hotels, restaurants, and venues.
And of course, the wrestling there is unparalleled, a big reason why the Keystone State more often than not leads the country in All-Americans at the next level.
This year’s field features four nationally ranked teams, an HM team, 44 nationally ranked individuals.
Here we’ll break down the situations in each weight of both AA and AAA as we prepare for the final state tournament in the country. Of course PA doesn’t seed their brackets (which I like) and instead goes with a preordained template. The result is early premier match-ups that you have to get to the arena to watch from the start, like at 138 AAA, where three nationally ranked kids are all in the top bracket.
#1-Darian Cruz, BECA
Justin Patrick, Ligonier Valley
Korbin Meyers, Boiling Springs
Colin Maschak, Tamaqua
This is the year Cruz should finally get his state gold. He suffered a season-ending injury as a freshman, was upset by Jason Nolf in OT last year, and comes in as a heavy favorite this year.
Patrick beat Meyers in the SE Regional finals. His only loss this season is to Hempfield’s Ricky Cavallo.
Maschak has just two losses this year, one to Meyers last week, 2-1.
Willie’s Picks: 1. Cruz 2. Maschak 3. Meyers
#4-Ryan Diehl, Trinity
#8-Jason Nolf, Kittaning
Joey Byers, Boiling Springs
Ryan Easter, Bedford
Matty Williams, Pen Argyl
Vito Pasone, Meyers
David Sheesley, Mifflinburg
The two big guns are up top and will hit in semi’s. Diehl is your reigning Super32 Champ. Nolf won a state title at 103 last year, and beat then-#1 Nicky Roberts earlier this year.
Byers was last year’s runner-up to Nolf last year. He edged Matty Williams 7-6 last week.
Sheesley was this year’s KOM Champ, but he was beaten by Pasone last week in Regional finals.
Easter is a returning state 5th.
Willie’s Picks: 1. Diehl 2. Pasone 3.Nolf
#5-Nicky Roberts, North Star
#14-Zeke Moisey, BECA
Brad Farley, Bermudian Springs
Cole Walter, Mifflinburg
Roberts edged Moisey in quarters a year ago and could meet in the finals this year as they’re on opposite sides of the bracket.
Roberts is a two-time state champ. To get back to the finals, he’ll have to get past Farley, who’s lone loss came to Moisey last week.
Moisey was sixth last year, and 3rd at the Ironman this year. He’s coming off a good win over Farley, and is a heavy favorite in the top bracket.
Willie’s Picks: 1. Roberts 2. Moisey 3. Farley
#1-Jimmy Gulibon, Derry
Arty Walsh, Schuylkill Valley
Brandon Puckley, Burrell
Ben Rager, Central Cambria
Nick Zanetta, Keystone Oaks
Ian Brown, Hanover
Zane Heller, BECA
Gulibon will be trying to make history as PA’s 10th 4x State Champion. Although he’s a heavy favorite, there’s nowhere to hide in this bracket at a number of returning placers populate it. Gulibon’s first round opponent, Heller, was state sixth last year. His probable quartfinals opponent, Brown, was 4th.
Gulibon isn’t the only wrestler at 126 with a state gold to their credit. On the top side is Arty Walsh, a state champ two years ago. He’ll also have to navigate a tough bracket with Puckley, Zanetta, and an opening round bout vs. Rager.
Willie’s Picks: 1. Gulibon 2. Zanetta 3. Brown
#7-Randy Cruz, BECA
#14-Laike Gardner, Biglerville
HM-Dylan D’ Urso, Reynolds
Colt Cotton, Benton
Cruz lost narrowly in the finals of the last two state tournaments to David White and Jimmy Gulibon in matches that he spent the majority of the time of with leads. He won a deep and star-studded bracket at Ironman this year and reached Beast finals. But he suffered an upset loss to Super32 placer, Laike Gardner in Regional finals last week.
The biggest hurdle for Cruz’s top bracket should come in the form of a semifinal bout with Colt Cotton, who was 4th a year ago and who owns a win this season over Gardner.
In the bottom half a great potential semi between D’ Urso and Gardner looms. D’ Urso’s only loss at last year’s state tournament came to Coltin Fought, who just qualified for the NCAA tournament for NC State.
Willie’s Picks: 1. Cruz 2. D’Urso 3.Gardner
#5-Austin Mathews, Reynolds
#7-Mikey Racciato, Pen Argyl
Brock Zacherl, Brookville
Ty Dively, Claysburg-Kimmel
We have the potential for a true clash of studs here.
Mathews has had a banner year, winning NHSCA’s, King of the Mountain, and reaching Ironman finals. He was a state runner-up to Travis Schaffer (now at Pitt), a year ago.
Racciato might be the best wrestler in the country that no one talks about. He has just a handful (7) of losses in his three-year career. He was 3rd as a freshman, and an NHSCA Fr. National Champ. He beat Austin Mathew’s brother, Adam, in state finals last year.
Willie’s Picks: 1. Racciato 2. Mathews 3. Dively
#20-Zach Beitz, Juniata
Ryan Todora, BECA
RJ Brydon, Forest Hills
Kyle Barnes, Hughesville
Beitz is a 3x state placer headed to Penn State next year and the favorite to win the title this year. In his way will be the SE Regional Champ, Todora, who was 6th last year.
In a rather wide open top bracket, your contenders will be RJ Brydon, an NHSCA finalist, and Barnes, who’s undefeated on the year.
Willie’s Picks: 1. Beitz 2. Barnes 3. Brydon
#15-Cody Copeland, Greenville
Pete Renda, Brandywine Heights
Ty Schoffstall, Tri Valley
One of the clearest weights in all the state tournament, Lock Haven commit, Copeland, should be a shoe-in for the finals. He’s placed 2nd and 3rd in Hershey before. He’ll face a test in Shoffstall in the quarters however.
Renda, a two-time placer should cruise through the top half.
Willie’s Picks: 1. Copeland 2. Renda 3. Shoffstall
Ty Walter, Mifflinburg
Kurt Meske, Central Columbia
Cody Law, Forest Hills
Anthony Risaliti, Central Cambria
Sam Scheib, Tri Valley
Frank Mizia, Bentworth
Three state placers and seven returning qualifiers make this weight an interesting one. Adding even more intrigue is that two first-time state qualifiers are the hottest right, Meske and Law.
A week ago I would have said Walter is the favorite, but he was beaten by Meske in the Regional leg. Law, who has yet to wrestle at the Giant Center, is the top ranked kid in the state. A semi pitting him and Walter seems likely.
In the bottom half, your probable quarters are Meske-Risaliti and Scheib-Mizia.
Willie’s Picks: 1. Walter 2. Meske 3. Law
#11-Elliot Riddick, BECA
HM-Troy Hembury, Muncy
Tristan Sponseller, Bermudian Springs
Dustin Conti, Jefferson-Morgan
Craig Cihon, Ft. LeBoeuf
The top two contenders are in the top bracket. Riddick is a returning state placer, Ironman 3rd, Beast Runner-Up. He’ll hit Hembury, a Fargo AA last summer, in the semi’s.
Sponseller and an undefeated Conti, both state qualifiers last year, should be an interesting quarter. The winner should get Cihon, a real talented up-and-coming sophomore that’s wrestled some good kids close, in the bottom half semi.
Willie’s Picks: 1. Riddick 2. Cihon 3. Hembury
#6-Wes Phipps, Grove City
HM-Dakota DesLauriers, Burrell
Dylan Evans, Pen Argyl
Jose Ortiz, BECA
Jake Mankey, Benton
Levi Veppert, Northwestern
This weight has one of the real potential gem finals as a possibility. Phipps has placed 2-5-3 at the state tournament as well as being a high placer multiple times at NHSCA’s.
Luckily, DesLauriers, a two-time placer as just a Jr., is in the opposite side. He should get to the finals with relative ease.
Phipps, on the other hand, has more of a minefield to navigate. Evans should provide a test in the quarters before meeting the Ortiz-Mankey winner. Mankey’s lone loss this season came in a narrow 5-3 bout with AAA placewinner Ryan Burnheimer.
Willie’s Picks: 1. Phipps 2. DesLauriers 3. Mankey
#13-Ryan Solomon, Milton
HM-Ray O’Donnell, Saucon Valley
Derik Wolford, Hanover
Jordan Kitta, Southmoreland
Logan Murphy, Boiling Springs
Four of the state’s top five ranked wrestlers are all in the bottom half of the bracket. And while the match-up we all wanted to see will happen, it will just be a whole heckuva lot sooner.
State Runner-up and Fargo AA Ryan Solomon should meet O’Donnell, a state 4th and Double Fargo AA, in the quarters. O’Donnell was upset in overtime by Wolford in regional semi’s. Wolford then went on to beat Murphy in OT in the finals. Kitta also has a state medal. His only loss this season came to Matt McCutcheon, this year’s S32 Champ.
Willie’s Picks: 1. Solomon 2. Wolford 3. O’Donnell
#6-John Rizzo, Richland
#12-Eric Laytos, Lackawanna Trail
HM-Matt Mongera, Seneca
Evan Daley, Ft. LeBeouf
Rizzo has one of the most career accomplishments ever as a big man in PA. A two-time state champ, 3x placer, he moves down to 220 after winning the title at HWT last year.
Laytos had a disappointing 7th place showing as a Jr. after winning a state crown as a soph. Luckily, these two guys are in opposite brackets.
Mongera, a two-time placer and runner-up in ’10 should meet Rizzo in quarters up top. In the bottom half, Laytos is looking a semi bout with Daley, who beat Mongera at regionals a week ago.
Willie’s Picks: 1. Rizzo 2. Laytos 3. Daley
Corey Garry, Fort Cherry
Nazar Mironenko, Mifflinburg
Blake Heim, Reynolds
Quinton Hixson, Northern Bedford
The two guys I like coming in each have hurdles to overcome. Quinton Hixson is a good athlete, but he was beaten at regionals last week. Mironenko is talented but young.
Mironenko will be up top with Garry, who beat Hixson. Hixson will have to get past Heim to make the finals.
Willie’s Picks: 1. Garry 2. Hixson 3. Mironenko
#5-Mike Kemerer, Franklin Regional
#8-Vincenzo Joseph, Pitt CC
#15-Ethan Lizak, Parkland
Scott Parker, Pennridge
Zach Fuentes, Norristown
Dom Forys, North Allegheny
This weight is absolute beast annually. It’s loaded with young talent that will go on to win a haul of medals across several weight classes in the state tournament in future years. Every kid in this bracket is exceptional.
Kemerer, the Super32 Champ from October, and with two wins over Joseph, comes in as a favorite. I really like Parker, who beat last year’s state 4th placer, Fuentes, to win his regional, to make a run to the semi’s opposite Kemerer.
The bottom half is simply chaotic. Lizak is your returning state runner-up. He should get Joseph, an Ironman, Beast, and POWERade placer, in quarters. Most folks would probably take Joseph, based on Lizak’s losses at National Duals. But I’m going Lizak here; he just isn’t as schooled in the international styles.
Who knows who comes out of the other quarter? My pick is Forys, but first round he has returning state placer Jake Gromacki, who he beat earlier in the year, 6-2. Forys would then get the winner of talented Central Dauphin freshman, Zach Elvin, and Fuentes.
Willie’s Picks: 1. Kemerer 2. Lizak 3. Joseph
#8-Billy Rappo, Council Rock South
#16-Sam Krivus, Hempfield
HM-Dalton Macri, Canon-Mac
Tanner Shoap, Chambersburg
Zach Ulerick, Middletown
The top two contenders here met in the 5th place bout at Super32 with Rappo, a state champ last year, winning a narrow 1-0 decision.
Over the course of the postseason, Krivus has had Macri’s number. But he’s not to be overlooked as a Fargo AA.
The bracket is friendly to Krivus, not so much for Rappo. Krivus should easily get out of the bottom bracket, but under two caveats: 1) he wrestles a lot of close bouts, and 2) as a freshman making your first appearance at the Giant Center, you could have some nervousness.
Rappo is looking at a quarterfinal with Shoap, who was 5th last year. He’d then have Macri to get to the finals.
Willie’s Picks: 1. Rappo 2. Krivus 3. Shoap
#8-Connor Schram, Canon-Mac
#13-Godwin Nyama, Brashear
Grim Grimaldi, Liberty
Tom Traxler, Bellefonte
Corey McQuiston, West Chester – Rustin
A state champ as a freshman, runner-up as a sophomore, Connor Schram is about as good as it gets, not just in medals but in skill set. He’s posed to make another run at the finals but it won’t come easy. He’ll have three-time state placewinner Traxler in the quarters. He’ll then get one of PA’s most under-the-radar kids in Grimaldi.
Nyama, a placer at all the majors in the last year, leads the pack in the bottom half. He beat Traxler in regional finals last week. Nyama’s tallest test might come in the semi’s with 3x state qualifier McQuiston. Also keep an eye on Tyler Smith, who’s only losses on the season are to Blair’s PJ Klee and to Schram in regional finals.
Willie’s Picks: 1. Schram 2. Nyama 3. Grimaldi
#19-Corey Keener, Blue Mountain
HM-Ty Dippery, Central Dauphin
Dustin Rook, Big Springs
Derrick Evanovich, Peters Township
Josh DiSanto, Pennsbury
Josh Maruca, Franklin Regional
Nick Gibson, Erie McDowell
Mike Dahlstrom, Pleasant Valley
CJ Palmer, Delaware Valley
Colt Shorts, Canon-Mac
Patrick Duggan, Cumberland Valley
What this weight lacks in top-end talent, it more than makes up for in depth. Keener, being a two-time state finalist and returning champ, is the household name. And Dippery, with many national placings, including Fargo, is another well-know.
But if I told you this year’s King of the Mountain and Reno TOC Champs were in this bracket, could you pick them out? That’s what Gibson and Dahlstrom are, respectively.
Keener resides up top and will face a good test in Rook come quarters. Who he faces in semi’s should be determined by Evanovich and super-frosh Duggan.
Dippery is the favorite down below, but his path won’t be in easy one. Just to get to the semi’s he’d have to go through a pair of 3rd place finishers, Palmer and Shorts.
Willie’s Picks: 1. Keener 2. Dippery 3. Dahlstrom
#18-Shyheim Brown, Central Dauphin
Devon Lotito, Liberty
MacKenzie McGuire, Upper St. Clair
Josh Shields, Franklin
Robbie Rizzolino, Easton
Joey Galasso, Father Judge
Max Good, Cedar Cliff
DeMarquis Holley, Dieruff
Ethan Kenney, Connelsville
Someone is going to get their first state title. PA has been fortunate in recent years to have state champs return. But this weight harkens back to more familiar times.
Lotito, a Cal Poly recruit, is a two-time state placewinner and has been on the losing end of some narrow decisions inside the Giant Center. He’s up top with fellow 2x placer (and 2x S32 placer) Brown.
They should decide the top half, but keep a particular eye out for a first round match-up of two really good youngsters: Joey Galasso who reached National Prep semi’s last year, and Josh Shields, part of the Franklin Regional youth movement.
The bottom half features McGuire, last year’s runner-up to Keener. He’s the favorite down below, but watch out for talented soph, Max Good.
Lotito-ShyWeezy is your title bout.
Willie’s Picks: 1. Lotito 2. McGuire 3. Brown
#8-Matt Cimato, LaSalle
#10-Solomon Chishko, Canon-Mac
#14-Steve Spearman, Erie McDowell
Jason Stephen, Northampton
Zach Ross, Northern York
Welcome to the PA State Brackets. Cimato and Chishko were each 3rd last year, Cimato lost to Minotti, Chishko to Horan, each who went on to win the title. Spearman was state 3rd as a freshman and a champ as a soph. Last year he failed to make weight at regionals. All three studs are in the top bracket. Chishko will meet Cimato in quarters; it’s a rematch of a narrow POWERade semi won by Chishko. Spearman beat Chishko in state duals.
It’s tough to pick, largely because Spearman’s so hot and cold. When he’s on, he’s as good as it gets.
My personal opinion: Cimato can’t beat Chishko, Chishko can’t beat Spearman, and Spearman can’t beat Cimato.
That’s why the wrestle the matches.
Willie’s Picks: 1. Who knows?
#2-Mitch Minotti, Easton
#10-Garrett Hammond, Chambersburg
#19-Ty Lydic, Greater Latrobe
Leo Wortman, Bellefonte
Dario Dobbin, Canon-Mac
Heath Coles, Norwin
TC Warner, Cumberland Valley
Justin Staudenmayer, Plymouth-Whitmarsh
Lydic beat Coles three times this year but lost to him in regionals, setting up a big opening round match with him and defending state champ Minotti, who also looks to become a rare 4x placer. Lydic, Minotti, Warner, Staudenmayer, and Coles are all in the bottom half.
Up top is returning runner-up Hammond, who was 3rd at Ironman, a double Fargo AA, and third at S32. He should get returning placer, Dobbin in quarters and Wortman in semi’s.
Willie’s Picks: 1. Minotti 2. Hammond 3. Lydic
#17-Garrett Peppelman, Central Dauphin
HM-Casey Kent, LaSalle
Tyler Manion, Pitt CC
Zach Voytek, Greater Latrobe
Rustin Barrick, Mechanicsburg
Cole Sheptock, Northampton
The competitors in this bracket all of a lot of in-season head-to-heads. Peppelman split matches with both Kent and Barrick. He also had wins over Manion and Voytek at POWERade, and over Sheptock at the Beast.
Peppelman is up top where he’ll see Manion in quarters and, potentially, Kent in semi’s.
Two weeks ago, I would have picked Barrick to win the bottom bracket, but Sheptock is peaking at the right time.
Willie’s Picks: 1. Sheptock 2. Kent 3. Peppelman
#1-Chance Marsteller, Kennard Dale
#5-Brian Brill, Central Mountain
HM-Brett Harner, Norristown
Zach Zavatsky, Greater Latrobe
The potential final here is the match of the tournament. Both Marsteller and Brill are returning state champs.
While Chance is a lock to come out of the bottom, Brill will have a bit of a tougher road. He’ll get the winner of Zavatsky and two-time placer Harner in semi’s
Willie’s Picks: 1. Marsteller 2. Brill 3. Harner
#4-Cody Weircioch, Canon-Mac
Jacob Taylor, Bald Eagle
Connor Moran, Solanco
Geno Morelli, DuBois
Zach Towers, Meadville
Shane Springer, Norristown
Joey Krulock, Mechanicsburg
Alex DiCiantis, Northern Allegheny
Weircioch, a two-time state finalist already, is the favorite up top. But he better not overlook Jacob Taylor, who’s put together a fantastic year. They’ll meet in quarters. Two returning state placers, Moran and Morelli, who also placed at S32, should decide the other quarter.
There are a number of legitimate contenders in the bottom half as well. Springer is a two-time placer and a runner-up two years ago to Alton. Towers was 7th last year. He just suffered his first loss last week at the hands of Taylor.
Willie’s Picks: 1. Weircioch 2. Towers 3. Taylor
#14-Matt McCutcheon, Kiski Area
HM-Khlique Harris, Erie McDowell
HM-Jarred Lux, North Allegheny
Tyler Greene, Easton
Ryan Burnheimer, Westmont-Hilltop
Chris Jastrzebski, WC West
Blaze Buckwalter, Central Mountain
Travis Moyer, Blue Mountain
This bracket will be one of my personal favorites. You’ve never heard of him, but Khlique Harris has DI written all over him. I’d rank him if he had the resume. He split this year with Lux, a Super32 placer. They’ll meet again in quarters. Also up top is Easton’s Tyler Greene, a finalist at NHSCA Soph’s and Reno TOC.
Super32 Champ McCutcheon is the odds on favorite to come out of the bottom bracket. His only loss of the season was a narrow decision to nationally ranked Perry Hills, up at 195.
Willie’s Picks: 1. Harris 2. McCutcheon 3. Lux
#8-Perry Hills, Pitt CC
PJ Steinmetz, CR South
Dennis Zaitsev, Cumberland Valley
Chad Hoffman, Hazelton
Jake Hart, Hampton
Landon Hanna, DuBois
One of the thinner weights this year, if I had to bet money on a sure-fire champ, I’d go with Perry Hills, the Univ. of Maryland QB recruit. Other than Hoffman, he’s the only returning placer.
With just three losses, Steinmetz is tough, but stuck up top with Hills.
The bottom will be decided by Hanna, Hart and Zaitsev.
Willie’s Picks: 1. Hills 2. Hanna 3. Steinmetz
#8-Thomas Haines, Solanco
HM-Tyson Searer, Mifflin County
Aaron Bradley, Nazareth
Alex Campbell, Canon-Mac
Haines returns to defend the title he won as a freshman last year. And the bracket is set up for the Super32 Champ to make a smooth run to the finals again.
Most of his competition is up top. Searer, one of the most underrated kids in the country, is there with a pair of talented Jr.’s, Nazareth’s talented Aaron Bradley and CMac’s Campbell.
Willie’s Picks: 1. Haines 2. Searer 3. Bradley
#4-Cody Klempay, Canon-Mac
#11-Dawson Peck, Chambersburg
#12-Avaree Robinson, Susquehanna
Josh Duplin, Westmont-Hilltop
Brad Emerick, WB Coughlin
Garrett Poorman, Bellefonte
The Keystone State hasn’t traditionally been known for its upper-weights but they’ve been producing good big men at an increasing rate. This year’s crop continues that.
Klempay was ranked #1 in the state for most of the year last season before being upset in state semi’s by Peck, who lost in a wild state final with Robinson.
Peck returned early from Tommy John surgery and is up in the top half with Duplin, who was twice 5th in Hershey.
This year Klempay is rolling right along again, with a single loss (to Brooks Black in POWERade finals) and wins over nationally ranked foes. He’s in the bottom half with Robinson.
None of these big four will meet before semi’s.
Willie’s Picks: 1. Peck 2. Klempay 3. Robinson
Of course these are just one person’s opinion. Many matches will be titghly contested and come down to one single sequence that even the most knowledgeable analyst could predict. Upsets that none of us saw coming will happen. And Hershey will be Hershey as it always is.
Check in to TOM for daily updates and listen to the NHSCA Sports Hour for a discussion of the big stories in high school wrestling this week.