Some wrestling teams are content with competing for and winning a region title. Others are happy enough to have a few individual wrestlers who are able to reach the PIAA Championships.
The Saegertown Panthers want it all.
With the talent he has in the program right now, Saegertown head coach Jim Mulligan is clear about his intentions over the next few years.
“This is going to be a big jump this year for our program,” Mulligan said. “We’ve been building. We will not be happy until we’re the best team in the state.”
The Panthers are two deep at every weight class and have two returning regional qualifiers among the 30 grapplers on their roster. Both of those regional qualifiers are seniors in the upperweights — heavyweight Branden Stafford and Josh Tomiczek, who will start the season at 220 pounds and later drop to 195.
Stafford set the school record with 28 pins last year and finished fourth in the region. During an offseason tournament, he lost a close decision to Richland’s Josh Rizzo, who is ranked No. 1 in the state according to thepapowerrankings.com.
“He’s put in the work,” Mulligan said. “We’re expecting him to compete for the state title.”
Tomiczek was 32-12 last season. He has qualified for regionals during each of the past two seasons.
“We’re hoping his work will help him be a state qualifier,” Mulligan said.
Helping the upperweights is someone Mulligan is very excited about adding to the fold — assistant coach Adam Horn, who is a history teacher at Saegertown High School. Mulligan, who works for Allegheny College, is unable to be around the kids all day like Horn.
“He’s going to be a big part of our program,” Mulligan said. “The accountability that a teacher brings to a program is huge.”
To go along with the experience that Stafford and Tomiczek will provide, the Panthers will be starting at least four freshmen at some point this season. Leading the way is current 113-pounder Tyler Vath, who will be at 106 in January.
Vath won the Pennsylvania Junior Wrestling title for 13 and 14 year olds at 107 pounds last season.
“I think he’ll be Saegertown’s first state place-winner as a freshman,” Mulligan said. “He’s right there with the best kids in the state.”
Garrett Zuver (120) and Lance Neuscheler (145) are also starting as freshmen, and 9th grader Bingbong Elizon will fill in as the 113-pound starter once Vath drops to 106.
The Panthers also have senior Justin Mitchell (132), who is a past district qualifier but was out with an injury last year. Also back is sophomore Matt Humes (138) and junior Aaron Jackson (145), who Mulligan has high hopes for this season.
Two wrestlers ranked for UC
Union City head coach Ed Margie enters his 37th year with the Bears, who have 25 grapplers on their roster. The large group includes juniors Tim Vargo (170 pounds) and Jeff Burger (285), who each came within a victory of states last season after fourth-place finishes at regionals as sophomores.
Vargo is ranked the No. 6 170-pounder in the state according to thepapowerrankings.com and Burger is seventh at heavyweight. Burger is one of three District 10 heavyweights ranked in the top eight in Class AA according to the site, joining Fort LeBoeuf’s Evan Daley (No. 2) and Reynolds’ Blake Heim (No. 5).
Both Vargo and Burger are football players for Union City and have always prepared in the weight room. But their desire and mental makeup have also been important, Margie said.
“They have to wrestle and everything is going to fall in place and we’ll see what happens at the end of the season,” Margie said. “The main thing is they’re always working to do better. Getting them over the edge is their mental capacity. They have the potential to get (to states), but there’s no guarantee.”
Margie said that a number of his grapplers have the ability to reach the levels in which Vargo and Burger achieved last season. Senior Tyler Lindsley (132) and juniors Kevin Lindsley (126), Josh Reinke (145), Jarred Brooks (160) and Nick Tomcho (170) can all make it to regionals, he said.
The Bears may also start three freshmen: Patricks Burns (106), Dustin Tomcho (120) Jake Kolodziejczak (138). Tomcho and Kolodziejczak have reached the Pennsylvania Junior Wrestling Tournament in the past.
“Our main goal is to be one of the tougher teams in the region and be able to advance as many kids as we can to the postseason,” said Margie, whose team went 4-3 in Region 3 last year.
The Bears will be without 2011 graduates Shane Rankin (112) and Greg Reinke (215) this season. Rankin was a four-time state participant and Reinke reached the state tournament last year.
Although a pair of Bears went to Hershey last year, Margie isn’t taking anything for granted this season, even if he brings back a quality group.
“You have to be lucky and you have to be healthy,” Margie said about reaching states. “You have to be on top of your game. There’s no free tickets.”
Sailors bring back talent
Lakeview returns five district qualifiers, including senior Landon Clayton (120 pounds), juniors Evan Clayton (106) and Dustin Schliefer (138) and sophomores Jake Heim (126) and Sam Brees (285).
No regional qualifiers return to the team, but Sailors head coach Tom Tingley believes at least a few of his grapplers can make it past regionals this year.
“We’re looking further than that (regionals),” Tingley said. “My goal is to get at least a couple of them to states. I would say there’s at least two or three of those guys who certainly have the ability.”
Tingley also has high hopes for seniors Kurt Armour (170) and Brad Ferguson (220). Armour didn’t wrestle last year due to a medical condition, Tingley said, and Ferguson is back from a knee injury.
“Hopefully, they’ll work throughout the season and avoid injuries,” Tingley said. “We definitely have some guys that have the ability. They just have work hard and stay focused.”
The Sailors sport a full lineup, but youthful or relatively new wrestlers will be used in a number of weight classes. Tingley hopes that’ll be enough to place the team in the top few in Region 1.
Lakeview went 4-5 in the region last year, though it lost a number of close matches to conference competition.
“We’ll be decent, but I’m not looking for us team-wise to be anything spectacular,” he said. “I think we have a few too many young or inexperienced guys filling up a few spots that’ll keep us from winning.”
Dan Walk can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Twitter @Tribune_Sports and like us on Facebook.