ALTOONA â€” A Punxsy record 10 wrestlers advanced to Friday and Saturday's AAA Northwest Regional Tournament, and for one Chucks' grappler, sophomore Joel Bowers at 113 pounds, the weekend was a great success, as Bowers ended the tournament second in the region to earn a berth to the PIAA Class AAA State Championships Thursday through Saturday in Hershey.
Bowers' weekend started Friday with a pair of notches in the win column, but the first came in unusual fashion with a victory by forfeit over Obama's Malik Green.
Bowers was able to take to the mat in the second round against District X's top seed, McDowell's Coleman Cousins, and Bowers earned a close 2-1 victory over Cousins to advance to the bracket semi-finals and put himself one win away from advancing to states.
"Joel really wrestled a great tournament," Punxsy head coach Eric Eddy said. "He was the beneficiary of a scratch forfeit in the first round, and I was thinking it would have been nice to get that match in and get the kinks worked out to get into the tournament. But with that forfeit, he went against Cousins and did a nice job diving in to win the match. It was won on a reversal near the end of the period, so he did a really nice job there."
With the victory over Cousins, Bowers earned a rematch with the second seed from the District IX tournament the week before at Clarion, St. Marys' Evan Smith.
Smith had defeated Bowers in the difficult 113-pound bracket at the D-IX tournament, 7-3, to advance to the finals, during which he fell to the champion, Anthony Vizza.
"We had talked about it earlier in the week," Eddy said. "Joel and I actually thought it might be a 1-2-3 sweep for District IX at Regionals, and we had that possiblity, as all three guys were in the semi-finals. We talked about the fact that all the pressure sat firmly on Smith's shoulders in the rematch."
Bowers had defeated Smith in a close contest when the Dutch visited Punxsy Feb. 8, but Smith owned the rematch last weekend.
"Being a senior, Smith had lost to Joel earlier this year," Eddy said. "But the weekend before, he'd taken Joel right out of his match right off the bat to beat him pretty soundly. So, we felt all the pressure was on him."
This time around, though, Bowers was in control of the match almost from the start.
Things looked bleak at first, with Smith earning a takedown to start off the scoring to put Bowers down 2-0, but a reversal before the end of the period set the score at 2-2 entering the second.
"That reversal really made a world of difference, because Smith couldn't even come close to keeping Joel down on the mat," Eddy said. "Then, Joel hit a shot that he had to fight and fight for to get the two points, but what we didn't foresee was Joel taking him right to his back. Joel couldn't quite pin him, but he earned some back points, and Smith fought hard. Joel's just tough on top, though, so that made Smith's road much tougher, and Joel maintained control."
After earning a berth to the finals, Bowers knew he would be advancing to states, which Eddy said took off the pressure.
In the regional final, Bowers met D-IX champion Anthony Vizza, who had earned an 8-3 decision over Bowers earlier in the season.
This time around, Vizza still came out on top, but it was a close 2-1 battle to the finish.
All three points came in the first period on a takedown by Vizza and an escape by Bowers, but Bowers wasn't able to take Vizza down from there on.
Eddy said at one point, it was close to being a different story, but the second period ended just before any points were awarded.
"At the end of the second, Vizza shot, and Joel sprawled and chin-picked him to his back right at the buzzer," Eddy said. "It was close, and if the match were for third or fourth place, I probably would have jumped up and argued it. But from there on, Joel controlled Vizza on top, but Vizza just did a nice job to stay off his back. Joel was tenacious."
Despite coming up just short of being crowned regional champion, Eddy said Bowers wrestled a great tournament, including the final.
"It was the tightest final except for one that went into overtime," he said. "We were really happy to get a guy through to states, though."
One other Chuck, senior grappler Carl Langley, at 170 pounds, also advanced Friday night to the semi-finals after a fall over General McLane's Chris Laird and a technical fall over Obama's D'Andre Caviness.
Unfortunately, Langley met Bald Eagle's Jacob Taylor â€” District VI's king seed â€” in the semis and fell to the consolation bracket, where he was pinned by Central Mountain's Nathaniel Powers, coming two rounds short of advancing.
Eddy said he was especially proud of Langley's effort in a difficult bracket.
"Carl making the semis in that tournament is quite impressive," Eddy said. "Depending what Web site you check for rankings, there was a No. 2, No. 5 and No. 8 in the state along with Carl in the semi-finals and two other ranked wrestlers in the wrestle-backs. Just to get to the semis was tough, and he did a great job."
Eddy pointed out that with Langley getting a late start to his wrestling career, Langley did well to meet this much potential and hinted that Langley's career might not end here if he doesn't want it to.
"Carl didn't start wrestling until eighth grade," Eddy said. "So to make it to the regional semis is a pretty big accomplishment. He hasn't even scratched the surface of his potential if he chooses to continue to wrestle beyond this level."
Four fellow seniors also wrestled their final tournaments as Chucks over the weekend.
Seniors Seth Spack and Neko Cappella, who each joined Punxsy's exclusive 100-win club this season, were among the Chucks who didn't quite advance to states.
"I was sad to see it end that way for Neko and Seth," Eddy said. "But they went out and wrestled really tough. They were both in very loaded weight classes. There were no easy matches in those weight classes, and they just battled."
While regionals was the end of each grapplers' high school career, Eddy said it may not be the end of their wrestling careers â€”Â especially Spack's.
"I don't know about Neko, but I assume Seth will pursue wrestling at college," Eddy said. "He was upset when he came off the mat, because he wanted to wrestle a better tournament. But he also realized it wasn't the last time he'd take the mat. So that's a really mature way to look at it."
Eddy had high praises for two 100-win wrestlers as their careers came to a close.
"It'll certainly be hard to replace the guys we've lost over the last several years," Eddy said. "And Neko and Seth are no exceptions with 220-plus wins between them. The worst thing about it this weekend was the fact that those guys have come through for our team so many times when we needed them. I can't count how many of their wins came at times when we really needed them."
Eddy also had words of praise for his other two seniors, Tyler Titus, at 220 pounds, and Josh Neal, at 182.
"For Josh and Tyler, they were again guys who didn't start wrestling until eighth or ninth grade, and they both performed well for us this weekend," he said. "Titus' last match, he was up against the 220-pounder from Central Mountain, and he wrestled him to a 0-0 tie after two periods. He got turned in the third period, but he wrestled really well.
"And Josh Neal wrestled a couple of really tough matches, too. I just really liked what I saw from those guys this weekend."
As for the other underclassmen â€”Â junior Devan Snyder, sophomores Josh Schuckers and Andrew Bullers and freshman Perry Arrington â€”Â Eddy noted he was proud of their performances as well, adding this trip to regionals may do a lot for their confidence in years to come.
"I'm really proud of the other guys' performances, too," Eddy said. "Every one of those kids battled for us not only this season, but in years past.
"For the underclassmen, just getting there is a huge accomplishment. Now, those guys will know what it takes to get to that next level."
Eddy said the one thing that eats at a coach is wondering whether there was something he could have done differently to change any of the outcomes for his wrestlers. But one thing he rests on is knowing that his guys gave him their best efforts on the mat every time they wrestled this season.
"When they lost down there, I just kept thinking, 'Was there something I could have done to change the outcome?,' he said. "Ultimately, you'd never know, but I definitely want to give a big thanks, especially to all the seniors. They worked so hard for us, and not one of them has ever let us down."
Bowers' trek will continue Thursday at the PIAA Class AAA State Championships in Hershey.View more articles in: