photo courtesy of Richard Immel
The official high school wrestling season has come to a close and there’s only one way to put a lid on it officially.
The way to do that is with the 44th annual Pittsburgh Wrestling Classic (FKA the Dapper Dan). The event pits some of the best wrestlers in the state of Pennsylvania against the best the country has to offer in a dual meet at the University of Pittsburgh’s Fitzgerald Fieldhouse.
The lineups for each team are as follows:
113: UR Kurt McHenry, St. Paul, Maryland (graduated in the first semester)
120: #1 Eric Barnett, Hortonville, Wisconsin
126: #1 Michael Colaiocco, Blair Academy, New Jersey
132: UR Luke Baughman, Wadsworth, Ohio
138: #1 JoJo Aragona, Pope John XXIII, New Jersey
145: #5 Kevon Davenport, Detroit CC, Michigan
152: #2 Cam Amine, Detroit CC, Michigan
160: UR Zach Lawrence, Duanesburg, New York
170: #2 Julian Ramirez, Blair Academy, New Jersey
182: #4 Abe Assad, Glenbard North, Illinois
195: #3 Devin Winston, Park Hill, Missouri
220: #6 Owen Trephan, Blair Academy, New Jersey
285: #8 John Birchmeier, Broad Run, Virginia
113: UR Beau Bayless, Reynolds
120: UR Sean Pierson, Nazareth
126: UR Darren Miller, Kiski Area
132: #6 Julian Chlebove, Northampton
138: UR Jacob Ealy, Hopewell
145: #2 Ryan Anderson, Bethlehem Catholic
152: #3 Ryan Vulakh, Pope John II
160: #17 (@ 152) Dan Mancini, Owen J. Roberts
170: #10 Edmond Ruth, Susquehanna Township
182: #1 Carter Starocci, Erie Cathedral Prep
195: UR Donovan Ball, Cedar Cliff
220: UR Jacob McMaster, Greenville
285: #12 Kawaun Deboe, Erie Cathedral Prep
While Pennsylvania has come close a number of times since, it’s been eight years since the Keystone State pulled the upset. Ironically, that year wasn’t one of the stronger years on paper for Pennsylvania. The team only yielded one national champion, but boasted five future All-Americans. This year, PA comes in as heavy underdogs. We’ll go match by match with a breakdown of the action.
113: Kurt McHenry (USA) vs. Beau Bayless (Reynolds)
There’s more intrigue to this one then it would seem on paper. McHenry appears the clear cut favorite as a former No. 1 and Cadet World Champion who has spent the last few months in a college room at the University of Michigan. But there are reasons for optimism for Bayless. First, Bayless is peaking and coming off a second-place finish at the 2019 PA state tournament. Secondly, he’ll be the bigger wrestler after wrestling at 120 at the state tournament. And lastly, Bayless makes a lot of his money on the mat, a position where McHenry is known to struggle. I’ll pick McHenry, but closer than most would think.
McHenry dec. Bayless. (3-0 USA)
120: Eric Barnett (USA) vs. Sean Pierson (Nazareth)
This one could also be a bit more interesting than some would anticipate. Barnett has been on an absolute tear since knocking off McHenry to start the year at Who’s #1. He rolled to a state title and nobody really came close to beating him in the regular season. That being said, Pierson is stingy and doesn’t give up a ton of points. Princeton coach Chris Ayers has proven to have an eye for talent and I think that’ll be the case again here with Pierson in the long run.
Barnett dec. Pierson. (6-0 USA)
126: Michael Colaiocco (USA) vs. Darren Miller (Kiski Area)
Miller will need all the strength he can summon from his hometown crowd in this one as he’s a bit outgunned. Colaiocco has been incredible this season, taking second at Ironman and then backing it up with wins at Beast of the East and National Preps. Miller has shown the ability to hang tough with top wrestlers in a 3-2 loss to Sammy Hillegas up at 132 early in the year, but he hasn’t notched a ranked win this season.
Colaiocco dec. Miller. (9-0 USA)
132: Luke Baughman (USA) vs. Julian Chlebove (Northampton)
Unfortunately, we do not get to see Reece Witcraft of Oklahoma take on Chlebove, as that may have been worth the price of admission alone. Wadsworth, Ohio’s Luke Baughman will fill-in for Witcraft. Baughman was a state runner-up in 2018 at one of Ohio’s toughest weights. This year Luke battled his way to a fifth-place finish in another brutal weight class. Chlebove recently capped his career off with his third Pennsylvania state title and did so by preventing Sam Hillegas of North Hills from winning his third. The two met in a highly-anticipated state semifinal match won by Julian, 2-1.
Chlebove dec. Baughman (9-3 USA)
138: JoJo Aragona (USA) vs. Jacob Ealy (Hopewell)
Aragona, like the aforementioned Barnett, has been bulletproof since grabbing the top spot at Who’s #1 in the preseason. He asserted his dominance in an undefeated season that included a Beast of the East championship and his first New Jersey state championship. Ealy, meanwhile, won his first PA state championship in the small school classification but did so in a bracket without any ranked wrestlers. His two losses on the year both came to Hillegas, one close and one via tech.
Aragona MDec. Ealy (13-3 USA)
145: Kevon Davenport (USA) vs. Ryan Anderson (Bethlehem Catholic)
This one may be my favorite matchup of the event with Witcraft out at 132. Davenport just claimed his fourth Michigan state championship, becoming the first African American wrestler to do so in a state that boasts names like Kevin Jackson. Anderson, meanwhile, blew through the field en route to being named OW at Ironman. He then won Beast of the East as well and lost just one match on his way to a state championship.
Anderson dec.Davenport. (13-6 USA)
152: Cam Amine (USA) vs. Ryan Vulakh (Pope John II)
This one should be another barn burner between guys who really turned it on to climb the rankings in their senior seasons. Amine did so by going undefeated and notching a win over No. 1 at 160, Alex Facundo, in the process. Vulakh also went unblemished at 35-0 including an impressive run to a Beast of the East title and his first PA state title. Amine has a slight advantage on his feet, but Vulakh is a hammer on the mat. I lean slightly toward the future Wolverine in this one.
Amine dec. Vulakh. (16-6 USA)
160: Zach Lawrence (USA) vs. Dan Mancini (Owen J Roberts)
Originally Ohio’s Connor Brady was slated to compete at 160; however, he has pulled out and was replaced by New York state champ, Zach Lawrence of Duanesburg. Lawrence was initially slated to compete in the preliminary match but was bumped up after Brady’s withdrawal. Mancini had a breakout AA performance in Fargo this summer and carried that momentum over to the high school season. The future Virginia Tech Hokie used a dominant 10-2 showing in the state finals to win his first title against Kiksi Area’s Cam Connor.
Mancini dec. Lawrence (16-9 USA)
170: Julian Ramirez (USA) vs. Edmond Ruth (Susquehanna Township)
Ramirez has had an enthralling year for Blair Academy. He started out number one and then dropped a spot after losing to Carson Kharchla at Who’s #1. He followed that up with a second at Ironman, once again falling to Kharchla, but rebounded with wins at Beast of the East and the Geary Invitational including a win over No. 3 Dustin Plott in the Geary finals. Ruth entered the PA state tournament undefeated and looking for his third state title. He reached the finals but was eventually upended by No. 5 Gerrit Nijenhuis. Ramirez has the advantage in this one, but Ruth has shown he’s not afraid to go upper body in big spots.
Ramirez dec. Ruth (19-9 USA)
182: Abe Assad (USA) vs. Carter Starocci (Cathedral Prep)
These two have met in the past with Assad getting the better of Starocci 2-2 on criteria in Akron and they will very likely meet again with Assad headed to Iowa and Starocci to Penn State. Assad started the year No. 1 before a loss at Who’s #1 to Devin Winston. Starocci, who went undefeated this year, took the top spot when Winston lost in the semis of Ironman. Both won state titles despite Assad dropping a match in his sectional. Starocci seems to be wrestling with a ton of confidence at the moment and I lean slightly in his favor in this one.
Starocci dec. Assad (19-12 USA)
195: Devin Winston (USA) vs. Donovan Ball (Cedar Cliff)
Winston, as we mentioned above, moved to the No. 1 spot at 182 early in the season but dropped down pretty quickly after a wild tournament at Ironman that shook up the entire weight class. He stayed at 182 for most of the year before bumping up for his state tournament which he took gold in. Ball, who will walk-on at PSU, took second in PA big school classification at 195, knocking off previously ranked Max Shaw in the quarterfinals along the way. This will be Winston’s toughest test since bumping up, but his length should give him an advantage against the stockier Pennsylvania.
Winston dec. Ball (22-12 USA)
220: Owen Trephan (USA) vs. Jacob McMaster (Greenville)
Trephan wrestled just about anybody and everybody this year at Blair Academy and ended up taking home gold at National Preps. McMaster, meanwhile, took home his first PA state championship in the small school classification but didn’t see the same level of competition along the way. This will be his first opportunity against a nationally ranked opponent, though he has lost just one match over the last two seasons.
Trephan MDec. McMaster (26-12 USA)
285: John Birchmeier (USA) vs. Kawaun Deboe (Cathedral Prep)
We’ve got two very athletic heavyweights in this one. Birchmeier, who is headed to Navy to continue his wrestling career, took second in the Binghamton Bearcat college open earlier this year and topped three-time NCAA qualifier Antonio Pelusi. He picked up his third Virginia state championship this year as well. Deboe came out of a bracket with three nationally ranked wrestlers to win his first state title this year and helped Erie Cathedral Prep to second in the AAA team race.
Deboe dec. Birchmeier. (26-15 USA)
Final Team Score: 26-15 for Team USA