The Greater Latrobe High School wrestling team set one school record last weekend, and hopes to set another this weekend.
"We had 12 kids qualify [for the WPIAL Class AAA tournament]," Latrobe coach Tad Harbert said. "Our previous high was 11. I'm really proud of the kids. All the hard work they've put in over the last year is paying off."
Latrobe had 12 of its 14 entries place among the top five in their weight classes at the Section 1 tournament, including three champions among eight finalists. Luke Pletcher, Dom Scalise and Zack Zavatsky claimed section titles for the Wildcats, while five teammates placed second. All three champs are seeded No. 1 in the Class AAA WPIAL/Southwest Region tournament, which begins today.
Pletcher (35-0) won WPIAL and PIAA titles last year as a 106-pound freshman and has since moved to 120. Scalise (32-4) is the top seed at 160. Zavatsky (34-0), a two-time WPIAL champ at 160, is the top seed and clear favorite at 182.
"We're hoping to have as many as six or seven kids going to Hershey," Harbert said. "That would easily beat our school record of three PIAA qualifiers. We've never had more than three kids going to Hershey in the same year."
But only the top three finishers in each weight class qualify for the PIAA tournament. Two-hundred eighty wrestlers are entered in the three-day tournament but only 42 can qualify for the state tournament.
Harbert echoes the feelings of all WPIAL coaches when pointing out the obvious. "I wish we still had four berths [in each weight class]. There will be a lot of good wrestlers sitting at home next week who should be at Hershey. I especially feel bad for the kids who lose in the consolation finals."
A good example of that is the 126-pound weight class, which features four returning PIAA place-winners. Hempfield's Sam Krivus (35-2), a two-time WPIAL champion and one-time PIAA champ, is the top seed. Also entered at 126 are Canon-McMillan's Dalton Macri (32-2), North Allegheny's Dom Forys (39-3) and Waynesburg's A.C. Headlee (31-4). Macri and Forys are two-time PIAA place-winners, and Headlee is a one-time placer.
"There's going to be a showdown at 126," Hempfield coach Vince DeAugustine said. "We have four kids who have placed at Hershey before and one will have to stay home. That's not fair. All four are deserving of a trip to Hershey. In fact, they could be the top four kids in the state at that weight class."
That could have been the case last year at 120 and 126, as the WPIAL's entries placed 1-2-3 at the PIAA tournament in both weight classes. Krivus and Macri were the top two finishers at 120 last year and Central Catholic's Vincenzo Joseph was third.
"The WPIAL's fourth-place finisher in each of those weight classes would have done well at Hershey," DeAugustine said.
Krivus, Pletcher and Zavatsky are among six wrestlers from Section 1 who have won WPIAL titles. The others are Kiski Area's Shane Kuhn (32-1) and Franklin Regional teammates Michael Kemerer (37-1) and Josh Maruca (33-4).
Kuhn, a two-time WPIAL finalist and one-time champ, returns at 285 pounds as a heavy favorite to repeat.
"Shane is the class of the heavyweight class," Kiski Area coach Chuck Tursky said. "I would be very surprised if anybody in the WPIAL beats him."
Kemerer is a two-time WPIAL finalist, two-time PIAA runner-up, and one-time WPIAL champ, who is now competing at 138. Maruca has moved to 145 after winning a WPIAL crown at 138 last year. Kemerer is one of five Panthers who are seeded No. 1 in the WPIAL bracket, while Maruca is a No. 2 seed.
Franklin Regional's other top seeds are Devin Brown (29-0 at 106), Spencer Lee (41-0 at 113), Tyler Smith (30-0 at 132) and Josh Shields (34-4 at 152). Brown won a PIAA Class AA title last year at Saegertown. Smith is a three-time WPIAL runner-up who won a PIAA crown at 132 last year. Shields is a two-time PIAA runner-up.
"We tied a school record with five PIAA qualifiers last year," Franklin Regional coach Eric Mausser said. "We would like to break that record this year and win the state team title."
Kiski Area has two entries seeded No. 1. Kuhn is joined by Tyler Worthing (28-1), who became the top seed at 220 after moving up from a crowded field at 195.
"It would be great to have both Tyler and Shane win WPIAL titles in the final two bouts of the night," Tursky said. "That would be a great way to end the tournament."