By Drew Karpen
Were it not for the singlets, some may have trouble recognizing the General McLane wrestling team when it arrives at the state championship tournament.
Last year, the Lancers sent three wrestlers to Hershey. This year they improved that number to five, although none of those wrestlers were the ones that went last year.
The Lancers have two wrestlers that are familiar with the big stage in 106-pounder Joe Wheeling and 152-pounder Mike Sutton. Wheeling, now a junior, qualified for states as a freshman. And Sutton, a transfer from Somerset High School, made the Class AA PIAA championships last year as a sophomore.
“We have two guys that have experience down there with Joe Wheeling and Mike Sutton,” General McLane Head coach Ryan Cook said. “It can be quite an experience.”
Wheeling and Sutton enter the tournament, which starts today at 4 p.m. at the Giant Center, with a region champ label attached to their name.
“I think it will play a big role,” Cook said. “A region champ never gets another region champ off the bat.”
Joining Wheeling and Sutton down in Hershey are 113-pounder Hunter Hend-ricks, 160-pounder Ossie Bowers and 182-pounder Chris Laird.
Starting off the tournament for the Lancers is Wheeling at 106. Wheeling (33-1) is the only wrestler in the weight class with one or fewer losses. He will be paired up against Quakertown’s Collyn Dorney (36-4) in the preliminary round.
Sutton (30-3) will be making his Lancers debut in the state tournament with a match against Pine Richland’s Brendan Burnham (31-4).
“Every kid likes going into a situation they are familiar with,” Cook said. “(Sutton) is very determined.”
It is not easy to make it to Hershey, let alone make it as a freshman. But that is exactly what Hendricks did for GM.
“It is fantastic for Hunter, for his family and the program,” Cook said. “He is an extremely talented individual. Not too many kids are ready to make this step their freshmen year.”
After finishing third in the Northwest Regional tournament at Altoona High School last weekend, Hendricks (19-8) will have a tough first round matchup, facing Chambersburg senior Tanner Shoap (38-7), who won the South Central region title.
On the other end of the age spectrum is the senior Bowers. He will be making his first trip to the state championship. Bowers (36-7) qualified with a third-place finish in the region. He will begin his journey at in the bottom half of the 160 pound bracket against reigning 152-pound state champion Garrett Peppelman (43-1) of Central Dauphin.
“Ossie is a great kid,” Cook said. “He came from Fort LeBoeuf. All his wrestling experience except for high school was at GM. He just came back to us this year. He deserves this and he has the talent. “
Laird (34-4), a junior, was also a third-place finisher in the region. He will face Dallastown’s Cooper Deller (32-4) in the preliminary round.
“Chris can go with anybody,” Cook said. “He is the most improved wrestler we have had in a long time.”
Lee looking to place
The 160-pound weight class will feature two local grapplers with Titusville’s Ehrin Lee joining Bowers of GM.
Lee qualified for his first state championship after a second-place finish in the region.
“(Lee) ended up fourth in the region last year,” Titusville head coach Mo Burns said. “That did not leave a happy taste in his mouth. When he won the semifinal this year it took a lot more pressure off of him.”
There is no question that Lee (31-6) has a tough draw. In his preliminary round match he will face Academy Park’s Abner Thompson (38-3). If Lee is able to advance, he will more than likely have a date with last year’s 160-pound state champion Chance Marstellar (36-0) of Kennard Dale.
“Going into that tournament you hear people talk about good and bad draws,” Burns said. “Any draw is going to be a tough draw. His first match is a winnable match. The only match that matters is your very next match.”
Quarters start Friday
The AAA championship quarterfinals are Friday at 1:30 p.m., followed by the semifinals Saturday at 9 a.m. and finals later that day at 7 p.m.
The top eight wrestlers from each weight class earn a medal.