PUNXSUTAWNEY — The Chucks will send eight to the Northwest Region Class AAA Individual Wrestling Tournament today and Saturday in Altoona, but all eyes will once again be on the trio of senior Kody Young and juniors Seth Spack and Neko Cappella.
Young, a four-time district champion and the school record holder in career victories, is in search of his second and final state berth. He placed fourth at regionals in 2008 and 2010, with his only state qualification taking place in 2009 when he finished in third place.
Young looking for an elusive trip to the regional final, something that guarantees him a spot in the state tournament. All three years of his career, he fell to State College's Erik Galloway in the championship quarterfinals or semifinals. That won't happen this year, as Galloway graduated in 2010.
Young needs to win his first two bouts — one today and one Saturday — to reach that final. Since he was a district champion, Young earned a bye in the quarterfinals, where he will face either Franklin senior Trevor Graham (18-9) or Bellefonte junior Cody Fisher (21-11). Both Cappella and Spack have wins over Graham during the past two regional tournaments.
Should Young win that bout and reach Saturday's semifinals, he'll most likely oppose Johnstown junior Malcolm Harris (26-3) or General McLane junior Tim Wheeling (17-4). The winner of the Harris-Wheeling bout faces Allderdice senior Henry Dietrick (11-10) in the quarterfinals.
Meanwhile, at the top half of the bracket are Indian Valley senior Kaleb Loht (28-2) and McDowell freshman Shawn Spearman (23-9). He is the younger brother of Steve Spearman, who won a state title at 130 pounds last year.
"125 is a reasonably tough weight class. This bracket is by no means a walk-through, and no one should think it is," Punxsy head coach Eric Eddy said. "You can't compare opponents. Wrestling comes down to a battle of match-ups and conflicting styles."
With a win today, Young will be presented with a challenge against Harris or Wheeling with a state berth on the line.
"That's a match that we're really going to be paying attention to — Harris and Wheeling," Eddy said. "(Wheeling's) a tall and thin kid. Those guys just present problems on their own in leverage and everything else. Harris seems like he's real funky and athletic — kind of the same thing Kody does."
Spack (26-6), who reached last year's regional final at 112 pounds, was the district runner-up at 135 pounds this season.
Experience will be on Spack's side when he takes on Titusville freshman Ehrin Lee (22-8) before a possible trip into the quarterfinals against Central Mountain junior Dillon Gavlock (30-10), who is one of the bracket's favorites.
"We have to take them one match at a time and win it, but I have to assume we're getting by (Lee)," Eddy said. "Gavlock's tough. Central Mountain wrestles one of the best schedules in the nation."
Other possible state-qualifiers at 135 are Altoona's Wendell Myers (31-6), Cathedral Prep's Michael McBryde (24-8) and Philipsburg-Osceola's Kenny Myers (23-11).
At 130, Cappella enters regionals looking for his first state berth. He was one or two wins away from a third-place finish the past two seasons. He finished third in the district this year, but gets Allderdice sophomore Austin Prino (12-11) in the first round. A win there means he would face Corry junior Levi Catalfu (24-12), with the winner of that bout most likely opposing Westmont Hilltop senior Tanner Hough (33-2).
Hough was expected to meet Steve Spearman in the 130-pound final, but Spearman didn't make weight at districts, and his season is over.
Eddy believes that Clearfield's Nolan Barger (27-7) should meet Hough in the final if Cappella isn't able to pull off an upset over Hough in the top-half of the bracket. Eddy, however, isn't counting Cappella out in the consolation portion of the bracket.
"We've wrestled just about all the guys in this weight class at one point or another," Eddy said. "I like our chances of battling through the weight class."
Also competing at states for Punxsy are senior Tige Woodson (14-18), juniors Nathan McGregor (25-8) and Josh Neal (12-16) and freshmen Josh Schuckers (20-13) and Joel Bowers (18-14).
At 145 pounds, McGregor meets Warren senior Corey Barirde (22-14), and whichever wrestler wins that bout will face Schenley's James Godbolt (3-5).
Two wins for McGregor means he'll take on Central Mountain's Brian Brill (37-0), but it's McGregor's first bout that will be the most important one.
"He needs to come out and just wrestle tough, and I see him in the semifinals," Eddy said. "Is Brill beatable? Not so far; but anything can happen. If McGregor shows up to wrestle, it's hard to say what can happen."
Neal (171 pounds) and Woodson (189) are encountering similar situations. They are both No. 3 seeds with a quality opponent in their first bout, but a win there means they face a District VIII champion that hasn't wrestled many matches this season.
Neal takes on Cathedral Prep's Grant Chase (20-7) in the first round, and that winner faces Carrick's Josh Reid (10-5).
"In the last half of the season, Josh has been at least as good as everybody but the top guys in this bracket," Eddy said. "He just needs to go out and wrestle like he can and grab a couple of wins."
Woodson, meanwhile, will meet Bald Eagle's Aaron Varner (8-6) with a match against Carrick's Tyler Miller (12-4) going to the victor.
"It's key for Woodson, just like Neal, to come out of the gates strong. He needs to get out there and win that first match," Eddy said. "Both of them can put themselves in the semis by wrestling a great first match."
Getting to the semifinals will give both Neal and Woodson an advantage if they fall to the consolation round, since they will need just two more victories to advance to states.
It's all about the regional experience for Schuckers and Bowers, who each enter as No. 3 seeds. Schuckers received a bye since there is no No. 2 seed out of District VIII, but his first bout will be a tough one against Bald Eagle sophomore Travis Giedroc (21-9) in the quarterfinals.
Eddy sees Clearfield senior Shane Peters as the favorite, but with mostly freshmen and sophomores at 103, Schuckers won't be counted out.
"If Schuckers wrestles a good tournament, he has a legitimate shot of at least putting himself in a position to wrestle for a trip to states," Eddy said.
Bowers, who is one of two freshmen in the bracket, will face Allderdice's Olau Birkeland (3-5) in his first bout before a win puts him up against McDowell's Paul Deitz (22-9). The two favorites in the bracket are Altoona's Thomas Brandt (29-3) and Clearfield's Christian Stone (29-3), who met in last year's 103-pound regional final. Bowers will need to beat Birkeland and Deitz to most likely face Brandt in the semifinals.
"It definitely puts him behind the eight-ball being one of two freshmen," Eddy said. "Joel's not afraid to wrestle anyone, so it's going to be great for these two guys (Bowers and Schuckers) just for the tournament experience, too, even if they don't end up going anywhere beyond this regional tournament."