By Drew Karpen
Last year the Saegertown wrestling team entered the state championship tournament with one wrestler, Tyler Vath.
Still just a sophomore, Vath can now serve as a tour guide for the Panthers as he and four other Saegertown wrestlers make the trip to the PIAA Class AA wrestling championships, which begin today at 9 a.m. at the Giant Center in Hershey.
“We have five kids that can place down there,” Saegertown head coach Jim Mulligan said. “We want to win as a team. When you have four or five other teammates down there it helps tremendously. They want to win.”
Joining Vath will be 106-pound sophomore Devin Brown, 126-pound freshman Nick Monico, 138-pound junior Matt Humes and Dylan Reynolds, a sophomore wrestling at 182 pounds.
Vath (43-4) finished in fifth place last year at 106 pounds and looks to make an even bigger splash this year at 120. Coach Mulligan believes Vath has the talent and the bracket slot to make it to the finals. Yet, Vath won’t be looking any further than his first opponent, South Fayette’s Mike Carr (29-11). Carr is ranked 14th in the state.
Darian Cruz of Bethlehem Catholic, last year’s state champion and the No. 1-ranked kid in the weight class, is on the other side of the bracket, giving Vath a chance to face him if they both make it to the finals.
“Tyler has a great draw,” Mulligan said. “We are going to take one match at a time, but we think he has a chance to make the final. He is wrestling fantastic right now.”
Brown is no stranger to state championship tournaments. A transfer from Ohio’s Steubenville High School, Brown placed third in the 2012 Ohio High School Division II State Wrestling Tournament. This will be his first trip to Pennsylvania’s big show, though.
Brown is ranked 13th in the nation and No. 1 in the state at 106 pounds. He will first face No. 6-ranked Austin McDermitt (35-6) of Burgettstown in the first round. In last year’s tournament, McDermitt lost to Vath in the first round by a 2-0 decision.
“Devin has a tough side of the bracket,” Mulligan said. “He knows his opponents. Every match is going to be tough for him. We expect him to navigate it. He has been around. He has been tested this year. We expect him to do well.”
Reynolds is also a transfer to Saegertown, although he had a much shorter trip, transferring from Cambridge Springs.
Ranked sixth in the state, Reynolds (42-2) will begin his tournament against No. 14-ranked Gavin Berkley (43-3) of Meyersdale.
“Dylan has a first round matchup we can win,” Mulligan said. “If we make the semis as a sophomore we will be ecstatic.”
Monico (32-12) advanced to states with a third-place finish in the Northwest Regional at 126, earning himself a date with Jefferson-Morgan’s John Demaske (26-4) in the first round
And Humes (34-10), the veteran of the bunch, is ranked 13th in the state. He will have his hands full with the second-ranked wrestler in the state in his weight class, Lion Mountain’s Seth Lansberry (35-4).
Cardinals return two to states
Cochranton also upped its number of state qualifiers this season. Last season, Cam Cyphert was the lone traveler to Hershey. This time around, Cyphert has the opportunity to pass on his experience to first-year qualifier, junior Robert Boozer.
“Cam knows the ins and outs and can help R.J.,” Cochranton head coach John Svirbly said. “Maybe next year R.J. can be the mentor. (Cyphert) knows what R.J will be feeling.”
Another key to Cyphert’s run at a state title this year is his health and his status as a Northwest Region champ.
“Cam was kind of expecting it, but it was nice to get that region championship,” Svirbly said. “He finally relaxed and wrestled and that is a big deal for him getting down there. He is good mentally and physically. He will be all right and go in there without any problems.”
The No. 4-ranked Cyphert (31-2), who finished sixth in the state last year, will begin his run in the preliminary round against North Schuykill’s Tanner Dean (28-11). Dean is ranked 16th in the state.
Boozer, ranked 15th in the state, makes his state debut after finishing second in the region. He will face 11th-ranked Briton Shelton (41-7) of Bermudian Springs.
“R.J. is one of the hardest working kids on the team,” Svirbly said. “He works every day to get better. He never gave up in the region final. It shows his character and what type of kid he is.”
Breese, Vargo have confidence
In arguably one of the tougher weight classes in the Northwest Regional tournament, Lakeview’s Sam Breese made it look easy while taking the title.
As an example of just how competitive the regional heavyweight bracket was, the three state qualifiers didn’t even include the District 10 champion.
Breese, a junior, defeated the D-10 champ, Forrest Christmann of Slippery Rock, in the regional semifinals. And Christmann went on to lose to Port Alleghany’s Nicholas Budd in the consolation finals.
Breese’s win over Christmann set up a rematch of the District 10 semifinal between himself and Union City senior Jeff Burger.
In a shocking outcome, Breese pinned Burger in the first period to win the region title.
Breese (33-4), ranked third in the state, will look to continue his hot streak in the preliminary round against 15th-ranked Jacob Beistel (34-5) of Southmoreland.
Burger (26-3), meanwhile, will take on Tussey Mountain’s Mitchell Hall (31-3). Burger and Hall is a battle of top ten wrestlers in the state. Burger comes in ranked fifth and Hall at No. 10.
Burger isn’t the only Bear looking for state medal, either.
Union City’s 170-pound senior Tim Vargo, who was the runner-up at last year’s District 10 and Northwest Regional tournaments, finished the job this year winning both district and region titles.
Vargo (23-1), ranked seventh in the state, will face the eighth-ranked Josh Asper (34-10) of Biglersville in the preliminary round.
Lukowich joins locals in Hershey
For the first time in their brief program history, Conneaut will be represented in the state championship. After navigating through the region bracket on his way to a second-place finish at 126 pounds, junior Kyle Lukowich earned a spot in the state championships.
Lukowich (33-9) is ranked 13th in the state and will face the No. 10 Patrick Dewitt (35-10) of Valley.
Quarters, semis are Friday
The championship quarterfinals start Friday at 9 a.m., followed by the semifinals later that day at 6:30 p.m. and finals on Saturday at 2 p.m.
The top eight wrestlers from each weight class earn a medal.