For the last three months — and in most cases for the last year — the remaining 59 Wyoming Valley Conference wrestlers have been waiting for this weekend, for a chance to advance to the PIAA Championships.
With the Northeast Regional tournaments occurring this weekend — at Williamsport High School (Class 2A) and Liberty High School in Bethlehem (Class 3A) — those grapplers will have a chance to reach the coveted state tournament by a strong showing the next two days at the respective sites.
But since there’s no looking ahead, they have big obstacles to overcome first. And there are plenty of questions which will be answered and will impact the performance of the nearly five dozen athletes.
Here you will find breakdowns of several of those questions.
• Can Lehman advance 3? Looking at the brackets, the answer is yes. Lake-Lehman’s returning state qualifier, Austin Harry, is the No. 1 seed in the 132-pound bracket in Class 2A. His teammate, Derek Dragon, is the other top seed from the WVC in the 170-pound bracket, meaning those two are favorites.
Throw in 182-pounder Brady Butler, who has been red-hot having not lost since Jan. 4 while riding a 23-match winning streak, and it looks like the Black Knights could become the first WVC 2A team with three state state qualifiers since Berwick in 2007.
• Any 2A sleepers from WVC? There are no easy brackets when it comes to regionals, especially when dealing with powerful District 4. However, there are some weights that could play to the strengths of a few wrestlers who may be flying under the radar a bit.
The first one that comes to mind is Wyoming Area 126-pound sophomore Charlie Johnson, who picked up his first district title last weekend. He has wrestled 11 NE regional qualifiers this season from 2A and 3A and has seven wins. Of his four losses this season, three are to Class 3A regional qualifiers and one is Lehman’s Harry.
• How tough is 132 in 3A? Good question. All the talk a week ago was how brutal this weight was at districts. Looking at it this week, it doesn’t get any easier. There are four state qualifiers from a year ago here in Nazareth’s Chase Zemenak, Delaware Valley’s Jalen Palmer, Wyoming Valley West’s Travis Roper and Northampton’s Todd Hetrick.
Regional medalist from a year ago Mason Byrne from East Stroudsburg South is also back, while Crestwood’s Dan Ritz and Wallenpaupack’s Chase Gallik were one win away in 2013 from being in the medalist match.
• How many Spartans advance? Wyoming Valley West cruised to the district title last weekend after winning district duals and becoming the first WVC team to ever win a dual at the PIAA Championships earlier this month. The team has eight regional qualifiers, four more than any other WVC Class 3A team.
If there’s an easier answer to this, it’s don’t underestimate what Valley West wrestlers can accomplish. The Spartans wrestled a brutal schedule to prepare for this. So all eight have a solid chance of earning a medal and/or reaching states.
Roper is an obvious choice. Fellow seniors Nathan Cheek (145) and Alex Tirko (113) are both wrestling extremely well coming off district titles. Junior 160-pounder Cody Cordes is also a district champ, while James Wright (106) and Ian Moran (220) were district runner-up as Valley West attempts to be the first WVC Class 3A team to advance four wrestlers to the PIAA Championships since Crestwood did so in 2007.
• Is it their time? Last year at this stage, there were many WVC wrestlers who were one win away from reaching the state-qualifying match. There are 12 of them returning to their respective sites this weekend looking to get over that hump.
Those grapplers are Wyoming Area’s Pat Heck and Charlie Johnson, Lake-Lehman’s Derek Dragon and Brady Butler, Wyoming Valley West’s James Wright and Cody Cordes, Crestwood’s Dan Ritz and Ty Robinson, GAR’s Zac Faust, Pittston Area’s Tyler Lutecki, Tunkhannock’s Ben Siegel and Dallas’ Ryan Monk.
• Is being a top seed important? Everyone wants to say that getting the No. 1 seed at regionals is the easiest way of reaching the state tournament. That’s not always the case. Heck, there have been dozens of examples over history where Nos. 2 and 3 seeds from D2 have advanced to states.
So the No. 1 regional seed is overrated and the fact that only three from the WVC got one, shouldn’t mean a whole lot because the bottom line is that a wrestler has to beat all but one opponent in this event to get to Chocolatetown.
• The final verdict: Over the last six seasons, the WVC has struggled to reach double digits in state qualifiers with nine being reached in 2011 and 2012, eight qualifying three times and seven moving on once since 13 wrestlers advanced in 2007.
This season, there are strong indications that the number of qualifiers will rival the amount of 13 with a prediction of more than a dozen moving on.