A new feature for The Open Mat, PA Round-Up will provide a regular snapshot of what’s going on in one of the nation’s premier wrestling states.
Presented with the question, “When is wrestling season?” summer doesn’t typically come to mind. November, December, January, and February, sure, March, of course, but August? Not so much. Oddly enough, it’s in August that we get to witness the pinnacle of the sport this year at the Olympic Games. July brings Fargo, the official start of the recruiting season and sees thousands of wrestlers head off to camp to hone their skills. As the National Wrestling Coaches Association concluded recently, “There is no off-season in wrestling.” So, without further ado…
Maybe Pennsylvania wrestlers just don’t need the exposure. It could be that Pennsylvania’s strong club presence leads to more Disney Duals participation. Perhaps the state Freco infrastructure isn’t as strong as Olympic-style powerhouse states like Illinois, Oklahoma and Minnesota. Whatever the reason, an ongoing complaint in recent years is that many of PA’s top wrestlers don’t make the trek to North Dakota. Nevertheless, the Keystone State’s depth makes it a formidable presence there.
For the first time since 2009, PA brought home a Junior freestyle team championship led by 120-lb champion Gavin Teasdale (Jefferson Morgan), a finalist in Belle Vernon senior Jarod Verkleeren and 14 All-Americans. Four wrestlers earned double All-American honors in Juniors, including Greco champ Jaret Lane of Southern Columbia and Kiski Prep senior Eric Hong. On the Cadet level, Nazareth junior Sammy Sasso led the way with a freestyle finals appearance and a third-place finish in Greco. Other top performers included Wyoming Seminary sophomore Carter Tuttle, Pennridge junior Josh Stillings and state champ Gavin Hoffman of Montoursville.
While the nationally ranked PA wrestlers had a great showing overall, a few lesser-known competitors also made their mark, including the three highlighted here. Interestingly, none of these wrestlers have garnered any postseason medals in their high school career, but each took a big step toward becoming a household name among college coaches and high school wrestling fans in Fargo.
Former martial arts trainee Miles Lee has made good use of his two years in the Beat the Streets Philadelphia wrestling program and came home a double Junior All-American. The international styles seem to fit Lee perfectly as he continues to learn the nuances of mat wrestling. Lee qualified for the PA state championships last year in his second year of wrestling, losing only three times all year while recording a 6-3 win over fellow PA double All-American and Columbia recruit Anthony Piscopo in the District XII final. In Fargo, the South Philadelphia senior made the semifinals in freestyle before finishing sixth. Lee also took third in Greco.
At one of Fargo’s deepest weights, Zurich Storm put himself in the national discussion despite falling a match short of the podium. He recorded wins over fellow PA stud Matt Parker and two-time Texas State champ Jack Skudlarczyk, an accomplished wrestler who finished fifth at UWW Cadet Freestyle Nationals, before falling in the blood round to Iowan Bryce West. Storm’s defeat of Parker, a 2015 Fargo finalist, was his second straight after besting Parker for the title at the Northeast Regional championships in May. Despite qualifying for the state tournament three times in three years, the New Oxford senior has had some tough luck in Hershey and looks to grab his first medal this year. At 120, he’ll be a title contender; at 126 he’ll be in the mix to make the finals.
As a freshman, Wyoming Seminary’s Jake Hendricks saw part-time duty for one of the nation’s top squads before securing a spot in the lineup last year. Hendricks failed to reach the podium in the National Prep’s toughest weight class (145) but hit his stride in the off season with a gold and silver at the Cadet Pan-American championships. Moving up to 160 in Fargo, Hendricks finished as a Cadet double All-American, reaching the finals in Greco and taking third in freestyle, losing only to Cadet double champ Aaron Brooks of Maryland. Along the way the rising junior defeated standouts in teammate Josh Stillings, New York’s Jacob Logan and Chris Foca of New Jersey.
STATE TOURNAMENT NEWS
The PIAA Board of Directors decided to move away from random placement of regional champions and approved placing them based on criteria for a one-year trial. The criteria will be based on each competitor’s postseason accomplishments from the previous year and should minimize the annual occurrence of having some of the tournament’s top wrestlers meet in the quarterfinal rounds. Last year’s quarters featured Luke Pletcher and Sammy Sasso squaring off at 138 and a Jake Woodley/Kyle Gentile match-up at 182 in what turned out to be de facto title bouts.
The directors also tabled a proposal to reduce the number of qualifiers in both AAA and AA classes to 16 from 20 and will revisit this issue after further study. The number of qualifiers was increased from 16 to 20 in 2014–15, but the additional four qualifiers have had little success at the championships to date, leading the PA district steering committees to recommend a return to the 16-man brackets.
Recruiting activity usually heats up after Fargo, and things were no different in Pennsylvania. State finalist Cole Manley of Altoona committed to Virginia Tech, possibly projecting to 133. Boyertown twins Jakob and David Campbell followed up successful trips to North Dakota by pledging to Bucknell and will likely compete at 125 and 133, respectively.
With the start of the early signing period looming, expect more commitments from top PA wrestlers. Below are my very uneducated predictions about a couple of standouts.
Brian Courtney, Athens (125/133)
Contenders: Cornell, Penn State, Binghamton, Lehigh
Outlook: Many see Cornell as the frontrunner for the PA state and Flo National champ, but with the first three projected starters all having three years of eligibility left and the NY tandem of Vito Arujau and Yianni Diakomihalis already committed as well, there may be a logjam unless Courtney can hold 125 for a few years. Penn State may have closed the books on its 2017 class early, so I’m picking local dark horse Binghamton to secure his services.
Seth Janney, Malvern Prep (285)
Contenders: Stanford, Harvard, Cornell, Northwestern, Virginia
Outlook: This National Prep champ obviously hits the books. VA has two young heavies, but the path seems pretty clear at Harvard, Cornell and Stanford (after a red-shirt year). I’m going out on a limb and picking Northwestern here, despite the instability there last year.
Travis Stefanik, Nazareth (157/165)
Contenders: Cornell, Princeton, Lehigh, Michigan, UNC
Outlook: The list of schools vying for the services of this Flo National champ is impressive both athletically and academically. Schools mentioned early on included Brown, so I think academics will ultimately win out and Stefanik ends up a Princeton Tiger.
Zack Trampe, Council Rock South (141/149)
Contenders: NC State, Rutgers, Lock Haven, UNC, Binghamton
Outlook: The state finalist and Flo National All-American has been tight-lipped on recruiting but has former UNC wrestler Mike Rappo as a coach and a former teammate at Binghamton. Good things are happening with the Tar Heels lately, but I think distance is a factor and Rutgers emerges the winner here.
Look for more wrestling news from the Keystone State and the introduction of our Spotlight feature in September’s PA Round-Up.