Here’s a look at the nine Wyoming Valley Conference wrestlers competing in the PIAA Championships at the Giant Center in Hershey today through Saturday with their profile of accomplishments and a size-up of their respective brackets.
Charlie Johnson, Wyoming Area (126) – Grade: 10 Record: 36-5 First bout: Reynolds junior Michael Bartolo (33-9), who was a state qualifier last season.
Notes: With a career record of 48-10, Johnson is coming off winning his first District 2 title and placed third at regionals to qualify for the state tournament for the first time. Three of Johnson’s five losses this season have come to state qualifiers.
School Notes: The Warriors have never crowned a state champion in wrestling and only have five state medalists in school history. But last year, the team had two state qualifiers and Andy Schutz walked away with the seventh-place medal.
Sizing up the bracket: It’s not a horrible draw for Johnson as he gets Bartolo, who is ranked No. 11 in the state according to Off The Mat. Last year, Johnson’s teammate Schutz lost a close match to Bethlehem Catholic’s Zeke Moisey in the first round. Moisey went on to place second. Johnson and Moisey could meet in the semis.
Besides Moisey, the highest returning place-winner in this bracket is John Demaske, who was fourth last season representing Jefferson-Morgan with a record of 40-0.
Austin Harry, Lake-Lehman (132) – Grade: 12 Record: 37-1 First bout: Biglerville junior Scott Cooper (37-9).
Notes: The only thing missing from Harry’s resume is a state title. He’s won four District 2 gold medals, three regional titles, he’s a four-time state qualifier and enters this tournament with 153 career wins.
School Notes: The Black Knights have quite a history with four state champions and 29 state medalists, the second-most in D2 history. The last state titlist from the school was Scott Davis in 2007.
Sizing up the bracket: Harry, who is ranked No. 3 according to Off The Mat, will see 14th-ranked Cooper in the first round. His biggest obstacle in reaching the finals appears to be Hanover’s Ian Brown (35-0), who is ranked first in the state and defeated Harry in last year’s third-place match. In the other half of the bracket sits South Fayette’s Mike Carr, who is 40-0, qualified but didn’t place last year, and is ranked No. 2 in the state.
Also in Harry’s half of the bracket is Bedford’s Ryan Easter, who was runner-up a year ago, and Brookville’s Dalton Zimmerman, who took sixth last year.
Derek Dragon, Lake-Lehman (170) – Grade: 11 Record: 31-8 First bout: Fairfield senior Nick Mort (36-3) and is ranked third in the state.
Notes: Dragon is now a two-time D2 champion and qualified for states for the first time by taking third at regionals. He enters the tournament with a career record of 84-26.
School Notes: He is trying to join Harry in adding to the school’s prestigious mark of 29 state medals in school history. Dragon is also looking to join his cousin, Matt Dragon, in becoming a state champion for the school. Matt Dragon did so in 2005.
Sizing up the bracket: In Dragon’s half of the bracket, sitting at the bottom is Evan Delong, from Kane, who was runner-up last season and enters with a mark of 32-0. There are no other medalists from last season, but there are six returning state qualifiers with four of them in Dragon’s half of the bracket, including his preliminary round opponent.
Saul Wilkins, GAR (285) – Grade: 11 Record: 30-8 First bout: Wes Bankus (43-13), a junior from ELCO.
Notes: It’s Wilkins’ first year wrestling and he has exceeded expectations by winning a district and regional championship.
School Notes: It’s the second straight season the Grenadiers have a state qualifier as last year A.J. Luton reached the event. The last time the school had a medalist at states came in 2003 when Ted Yelland placed eighth in 2003.
Sizing up the bracket: Can this remarkable run by Wilkins continue? If you look at his draw in the bracket, it sure seems like it can. Bankus is ranked 16th by Off The Mat, while Wilkins is No. 12. The top-ranked wrestler in the bracket is Lakeview’s Sam Breese, who is defending state champion, 32-0 and is at the bottom, while Wilkins is at the top.
In Wilkins’ half of the bracket is Chestnut Ridge’s Austin Buttry (27-6), who is the highest returning place-winner from last year besides Breese, with a fifth-place finish.
Jimmy Hoffman, Hazleton Area (120) – Grade: 9 Record: 39-6 First bout: Luke Pletcher (39-0) from Greater Latrobe.
Notes: Hoffman became the first freshman from Hazleton Area to reach the state tournament when he took third at regionals. He also won a district title and the Wyoming Valley Conference gold.
School Notes: There has been only one state champion in school history that being Nate Eachus in 2007. Coincidentally, the last state medalist for the Cougars was Hoffman’s cousin, Chad in 2012.
Sizing up the bracket: A very unlucky draw for Hoffman as he will take on Pletcher, who is returning state champ and ranked No. 1 in the country. Like most weights at this stage, there aren’t many easy matches here for Hoffman. There are two returning bronze medalists in Nazareth’s Tyrone Klump and Pennridge’s Scott Parker, a fourth-place medalist in Cathedral Prep’s Jake Gromacki and a sixth-place finisher from a year ago in Michael Marino from Garnet Valley.
Of Hoffman’s six losses this season, three of them have come to wrestlers in this bracket.
Nathan Cheek, Wyoming Valley West (145) – Grade: 12 Record: 40-4 First bout: Francesco Fabozzi from Central Bucks East with a record of 37-1.
Notes: Cheek finally broke through this season winning his first district title and followed that with a third-place finish at regionals to qualify for states for the first time. He enters the tournament with118 career wins
School Notes: It’s two years in a row now that the Spartans have qualified two wrestlers for the state tournament. Last season, Kyle Krasavage finished fourth. The last state champion from the school was Trevin Cowman in 2006.
Sizing up the bracket: Right off the bat, Cheek gets a medalist from last season as Fabozzi placed sixth. Fabozzi also defeated Cheek’s teammate, Travis Roper in last year’s first round so there could be some familiarity there.
There are also a pair of champions from last season at this weight in Father Judge’s Joe Galasso (23-0) and Canon McMillan’s Solomon Chishko (23-3). Cheek could see Galasso in the semis. Cheek also has two wins over grapplers in his bracket. He’s defeated Jersey Shore’s Hadyn Swartwood and Cedar Cliff’s Max Good. If all goes well for the Spartan, he could see Swartwood in the semis.
Cody Cordes, Wyoming Valley West (160) – Grade: 11 Record: 40-3 First bout: Central Mountain senior Chad Reese (35-7).
Notes: Cordes picked up his first district title this season and was runner-up at regionals to advance to states for the first time. He begins the tourney with108 career wins.
School Notes: Wyoming Valley West has crowned three state champions in school history – Trevin Cowman (2006), Eric DeRemer (1983) and John Brennan (1977). Cordes is trying to help the squad add to its state medalist count of 16.
Sizing up the bracket: Reese was a qualifier for the event last season. In all fairness, if Cordes wasn’t in one of the toughest weights last year, he likely would’ve been a qualifier as well. The tough part of the bracket for Cordes could come in the semifinals with Central Dauphin’s Garrett Peppelman, who took second last season and enters with a 42-1 record.
Other than Peppelman, the only other state medalist from 2013 in this weight is Northampton’s Bobby Fehr, who was sixth. Cordes has wins against two wrestlers at his weight this season. He’s defeated Abington Heights’ Matt Carr and Boyertown’s Gregg Harvey.
Connor Martinez, Dallas (170) – Grade: 12 Record: 36-9; First bout: Chance Marsteller (37-0) from Kennard-Dale.
Notes: Martinez finally got that elusive district title this season after a pair of runner-up finishes. He then picked up third at regionals winning four matches in one day to do so. He enters with 84 career wins.
School Notes: The last state qualifier for the Mountaineers was Dominic DeGraba in 2012. But the time the school produced a state medalist was when Matt Gingo placed seventh in 1999.
Sizing up the bracket: The matches don’t get any tougher than Martinez’ first when he takes on three-time unbeaten state champion in Marsteller. Besides that, there is just one returning state medalist from a year ago in Noah Wilps from Chartiers Valley taking sixth, and only three other state qualifiers from 2013. Those returning state qualifiers are Big Spring’s Cody Seibert, Garnet Valley’s John Dambro and Norristown’s Rashon Lusane.
Ryan Monk, Dallas (285) – Grade: 11 Record: 40-2; First bout: Harrisburg senior Andrew Brown (34-5).
Notes: Entering with 99 career wins, Monk is coming off his first district and regional championships. He finished second at districts last year and was third in 2012.
School Notes: Dallas has never had a state champion before and its highest state medalist ever won was a third. In fact, the team has produced just three state medalists.
Sizing up the bracket: There are three state medalists from 2013 in Monk’s bracket, but all three are in the top half of the bracket. Jon Haines from Solanco is a three-time state champ, while Kiski Area’s Shane Kuhn was third last season and Methacton’s Tracey Green placed sixth.
The only returning state qualifier from last season in Monk’s half of the bracket is Joey Goodhart from Hempfield.
Of Monk’s two losses this season, one is two Haines back in December.