PUNXSUTAWNEY — Juniors Seth Spack and Nathan McGregor will enter the District IX Class AAA Individual Wrestling Championships Saturday at Clarion University as two of Punxsy's top-seeded middleweights.
Spack (25-5), who won the district title at 112 pounds last year and reached states after a runner-up finish at regionals, enters Saturday with his first-ever top-seeding. The grappler leads a 135-pound weight class that has three participants with 20-plus victories this season.
The No. 2 seed is DuBois freshman Tom Sleigh (24-9), who did not face Spack during the regular season since the Chucks were without 140-pounder Caesar Maruca and decided to bump Spack up to 140 to have a better shot at winning the dual meet.
Sleigh will face Bradford junior Ryan VanGuilder (22-8) with a trip to the district final on the line. Sleigh bested VanGuilder earlier in the year, 8-4, as did Spack, 9-2.
But before Spack faces either of those two, he must first defeat one of two seniors — St. Marys' Darren Lyon (4-7) or Clearfield's Troy Danver (13-16). Punxsy head coach Eric Eddy expects Spack to face Danver before he can move onto the finals.
"It's not that Danver doesn't produce some problems of his own, so we have to get past that first match before we worry about VanGuilder of Sleigh," Eddy said.
While it's known what VanGuilder brings to the table against Spack, due to a previous meeting Feb. 15, Eddy isn't sure what to think about Sleigh, who won by forfeit Feb. 17 against Punxsutawney.
"(Spack) controlled the match (against VanGuilder), but with Sleigh, I don't know," Eddy said. "To be 24-9 at 135, he's obviously a quality freshman."
Though McGregor is the No. 1 seed at 145 pounds, Eddy isn't taking that seeding for granted.
"There's no guarantees there. Being the No. 1 seed and coming out of the district tournament No. 1 are two different things," Eddy said. "Does Nathan have the potential to win this? Absolutely. And do I believe he should? Absolutely. But we have to come ready to wrestle."
It is expected that McGregor will face St. Marys' Allen Gursky (18-12) in his first match of the tournament, and McGregor's 2-1 victory over Gurksy Feb. 9 wasn't very convincing.
"A 2-1 victory over Gursky does not exactly make that kid feel like he doesn't have a chance," Eddy said.
If the seedings hold true, McGregor will face Clearfield senior Shane Harper (17-12) in the final. Harper wrestled most of the year at 152 pounds — he has just four matches at 145 this season — while McGregor competed at 160 pounds during December.
The Chucks also have a pair of No. 3 seeds — senior Duell Thompson and junior Neko Cappella — and a No. 4 — sophomore Caesar Maruca — in the middleweights.
Cappella (27-5) will compete in a talented 130-pound weight class that includes top-seeded Bradford senior Zach Britton (22-3) and second-seeded Clearfield sophomore Nolan Barger (25-7). Cappella will have to get past Barger to reach the final.
Last year, Barger bested Cappella, 3-0, in last year's district final. In Cappella's first bout this year, Barger won again, 4-2.
Cappella also has a 1-0 loss to Britton. Eddy believes Britton is a better matchup for Cappella stylistically compared to Barger.
"That's why it was a 1-0 match. We've wrestled Barger a ton of times, and he's just a really funky wrestler," Eddy said. "That's usually how he ends up beating us — with a funk roll to score a couple points, and we lose close matches."
Wins over Barger and Britton would be a huge accomplishment for Cappella, who has yet to win a district title but twice came close to reaching states at the regional tournament.
"If Cappella were to pull through that weight class and come out the champion at the end of Saturday night's wrestling, he would definitely win the Outstanding Wrestler (award), I believe," Eddy said.
Thompson is competing against Bradford's Mark Havers (30-2) and Geno Morelli (27-4) — two of the best wrestlers in the district — at 152 pounds. Thompson lost a 23-8 technical fall to Morelli and was pinned by Havers this year, so it's expected that he will have to reach states through the consolation round.
That means that Thompson would have to defeat St. Marys' Alex Felbauer (5-11) and Clearfield's Cody Lansberry (9-10) if he doesn't win his first bout. Thompson already beat Felbauer this year, 10-3.
"All you have to do is place third," Eddy said. "Duell should beat Feldbauer and Lansberry. That's all basically on his shoulders."
Eddy said that Maruca winning his first bout over DuBois' Zane Drum (1-13) will be crucial to his advancing to regionals. A win there would match Maruca up against top-seeded Bradford senior Matt Ostrander (27-6).
A loss to Ostrander means that Maruca would need to beat St. Marys' Sam Miller (12-6) or Clearfield's Andrew Hill (15-12) in the consolation final to reach regionals.
"If Caesar wins the first one, I believe we have a very good shot of getting out at 140 pounds," Eddy said.
This report was Part Two of a three-part series that previews the PAHS wrestling team, which will compete in the District IX Class AAA Individual Championships at 10 a.m. Saturday at Clarion University of Pennsylvania.