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Five Chucks' seniors take one last run at States

March 2, 2012

The Punxsutawney Chucks varsity wrestling squad travels to Altoona today to kick off the Northwest Regional Tournament. A record 10 Chucks will be making the trip, including five seniors and a pair of D-IX champions in Seth Spack and Perry Arrington. (File photos by Dan Long and Zak Lantz of The Punxsutawney Spirit)

10 Punxsy grapplers set to participate at Regional tourney today

PUNXSUTAWNEY — Last weekend, a record 10 Chucks' wrestlers qualified for the Regional Tournament, which begins today and runs through Saturday in Altoona.

Of the 10 qualifying Punxsy grapplers, five — Neko Cappella at 132 pounds; Seth Spack at 152 pounds; Carl Langley at 170 pounds; Josh Neal at 182 pounds; and Tyler Titus at 220 pounds — will be making their final runs at States, as it is their senior season.

Two of the qualifiers — Spack and freshman Perry Arrington — earned first-round byes by winning the District IX AAA championship last weekend at Clarion University.

A number of the Chucks' wrestlers are returning to Regionals after qualifying in the past, and Spack, who was crowned sectional champion last year, and Cappella have had success at the tournament in the past.

"The important thing last weekend was getting out of there and making Regionals," Punxsy head coach Eric Eddy said Thursday. "Now, we have to go down there and wrestle tough. There are no guarantees. Seth Spack is a two-time finalist at this tournament and a one-time champion. Neko Cappella is a two-time place winner at Regionals. Everyone still has to come back the next year and wrestle their best tournament, though. Nobody gets out of the northwest region on what they've done in the past."

Eddy said once you reach this level, every tournament has to be an individual's best performance, as the competition level just continues to improve.

"You have to wrestle well that particular weekend," he said. "I've seen a lot of quality wrestlers that should have qualified for States not make it out. And I've seen a lot of guys wrestle the best tournament of their lives to advance to the state tournament."

While the competition level is turned up a notch at Regionals, Eddy said he is glad to say his team didn't need to change anything at practice this past week.

"We pretty much just approached this week the same as we did last week leading up to Districts," Eddy said. "I think we went in there and wrestled pretty well, so we spent this week tapering and hoping to keep everyone healthy and on weight. So far, everything has worked out fine. We had a good week of practice, and everyone's healthy going into Regionals. That's probably more than a lot of teams can say. So, we are lucky in that sense."

Spack and Arrington are the only two Chucks who earned byes in the first round at 152 and 138 pounds, respectively, but Eddy also noted that a bye isn't always the advantage it might be in other cases.

In this case, he said it often comes down to one element a team can't control: Luck.

"Obviously, being a district champ will get you a bye, but that's not necessarily the most important thing," he said. "A lot of it comes down to the luck of the draw, because you have rotating bracketing. You could be the D-IX second finisher and end up on the better side of the bracket."

Eddy also pointed out that his squad doesn't go out of its way to scout the wrestlers it will face at the Regional level, because his coaching style says to "do what you do, and do it well."

"We don't change the way we practice or the way we wrestle based on who we're going against," he said. "In a lot of other sports, you're going to scout these teams. After the first match, we'll do that while we're there a bit. But you can't change what you do to fit what they do. You have to hope the things you do are better than the things they do."

Eddy said his coaching style was influenced by a match he watched some time ago.

"Years ago, I saw a wrestler named Bob Topper from New Oxford change his lead leg to face one guy in the state tournament," Eddy said. "Bobby ended up finishing third that year in the state, and he lost to the eventual state champion, 1-0. The kid couldn't take him down, but Bobby had no offense because he changed what he was going to do a week out.

"So, it's been my opinion for the last 17 years that you do what you do, and do it well. You can impose your will on your opponent. But when you try to change things up this late before a tournament, it rarely works out for you."

So, the Chucks will enter the tournament giving it their best at "doing what they do, and doing it well."

At 106 pounds, Punxsy's Andrew Bullers will face off against Vinnie Mion, a freshman from Carrick in District VIII, in the tournament's opening round this evening.

Joel Bowers, who finished third in a difficult 113-pound bracket last weekend, will face off with Obama Academy's Malik Green, also District VIII's No. 2 seed.

At 120 pounds, Devan Snyder will represent the Chucks and take on D.J. Hollingshead of Altoona, who finished the season with a 32-3 record and is District VI's second seed.

At 126, Punxsy sophomore Josh Schuckers, who finished the season 14-10 and qualified for Regionals with a third-place Districts finish, will face Logan Bechdel, a senior from Central Mountain.

Cappella will represent the Chucks at 132 pounds, where he'll square off against Bellefonte's Cody Fisher.

In the upper weight classes, one of three Punxsy seniors, Langley, will face Chris Laird, a sophomore from General McLane, representing District X as its third seed.

Neal, representing Punxsy at 182 pounds, will face Dan Geer of Franklin in the opening round. Geer is the third seed out of District X but has a 21-6 record. Neal finished D-IX's No. 2 seed with a 16-10 overall season record.

Punxsy's final participant at the regional tournament is senior Titus at 220 pounds.

Titus earned the No. 3 seed in D-IX to qualify for Regionals and will face Pat Williamson, District X's second seed.

Asked about what sort of expectations Eddy has for his squad entering the tournament, Eddy said it's hard to set expectations for a tournament where the team is unfamiliar with its opponents.

"What we are hoping to do is wrestle up to our abilities and perform the way each wrestler can perform," he said. "We have no predisposed expectations, really. Do we want people to advance? Absolutely. But that will all work itself out Friday and Saturday."

Although there are no expectations on the table for his team, Eddy did say the hopes are high that Punxsy will perform well at the tournament.

"Last year, we went down and wrestled a great tournament at Regionals," he said. "We had two regional champs, the second and third in Punxsy history, and four place winners, which was a school record. Hopefully, we can repeat last year's performance and have everybody on the same page down there ready to wrestle."

The opening round begins tonight at 5 p.m., and the tournament will run through Saturday evening.

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