PUNXSUTAWNEY — After Thursday's examination of the lightweight seedings and anticipated matchups for the District IX Individual Championships, which will be held at Clarion University Saturday, today's edition of Spirit Sports examines the other end of the spectrum: The heavyweights.
Three of the four Chucks wrestlers in the top six weight classes enter the tournament as seniors, knowing this will be their last run to states, and overall, Punxsy head coach Eric Eddy anticipates and hopes for big things from his big men.
At 160 pounds, Punxsy's only junior in the upper six brackets, Tanner James, will take to the mat.
James, who finished the season with a 14-12 individual record, enters the tournament as the No. 4 seed, but Eddy has seen vast improvements from James at practice over the season and said nothing would surprise him Saturday.
"Tanner's been wrestling really well in the room, especially of late, and I'll be honest, I really like his chances of moving out of districts," Eddy said. "If he wrestles well, he could make a lot of noise at 160 pounds."
To advance, James would have to finish in the top three, and the road to the top starts with a difficult matchup against No. 1 seed Shane Marshall, of DuBois.
The two don't have a head to head meeting this season, as Marshall wrestled Punxsy's Seth Spack at 160 pounds when the Beavers came to town.
On the other side of the bracket, St. Marys' Josh Cameroni earned the two-seed, and Kody Hepfer was seeded third. James has a better record than both wrestlers but was given the No. 4 seed on other criteria.
Eddy pointed out that Hepfer's 5-17 record may not be indicative of his abilities, though.
"Hepfer's only 5-17, but early in the season, he earned a slight decision over our own Caesar Maruca, so it's up in the air," Eddy said.
The lack of head to head matches for James will make for an interesting tournament, Eddy said.
"Tanner hasn't wrestled Cameroni," Eddy said. "Cameroni wrestled Carl Langley here, and Carl pinned him. But you can't base anything on that, because Tanner's a very different style of wrestler from Carl, so we'll see what happens."
At 170 pounds, Punxsy's Carl Langley — who finished the season 18-6 overall, went 4-0 in District IX matches and was ranked No. 1 at 170 throughout the season — was handed a bit of a surprise prior to the seedings, as DuBois' Geno Morelli bumped up to 170 pounds for districts after wrestling the entire season at 160.
Langley will face the No. 3 seed, Bradford's Dylan Lamberson, in the opening round. Langley defeated Lamberson Feb. 14 in Punxsutawney, but the match was a close one until Langley caught him off guard and turned him.
"We were looking forward to Carl going into districts as the No. 1 seed, but Morelli made the move after their final dual meet," Eddy said. "Head to head, Carl lost a major decision to Geno here, and Dylan Lamberson wrestled Carl really well. Carl got the fall, but it was 2-2 when he turned him for the pin. So, we can't look past that match, either."
While Eddy is hopeful Langley can make some noise against Morelli, he said he is encouraging him to focus on his opening round match against Lamberson.
"Last year, Carl was No. 1 in the district going in, and he wrestled a poor tournament and didn't even make it out of districts," Eddy said. "This year, what we have to do is concentrate on getting past Lamberson and making the finals. Then, whatever happens against Morelli happens. But what you want is to be the one or two seed, because then you get the opposite bracket, meaning Carl wouldn't have to wrestle Morelli again until possibly the semis at regionals."
At 182 pounds, another Chucks senior, Josh Neal, earned a No. 2 seed in another closely-contested ranking.
Neal finished the season for the Chucks with a 15-9 record, and the No. 1 seed, St. Marys' Joe McLaughlin, finished 20-8 overall. The two didn't have a head to head match this year, as Neal pinned St. Marys' Kenneth Stage in the teams' only dual meet.
Neal opens the tournament against the No. 3 seed, DuBois' Brady Haines, who dons a 3-7 record, another that Eddy said may be deceiving, as Neal beat Haines Feb. 16, but only by a narrow, 2-1 margin.
"Josh is the No. 2 seed, and he beat Brady Haines, but Brady is a tough wrestler," Eddy said. "Due to some changes in their lineup this year, I think he was bumping around a bit, so his record may not reflect his performance. But again, we want Josh to get to that match against McLaughlin in the finals, so he knows he's advanced and can wrestle comfortably."
With no wrestlers at 195 or 285 pounds, Punxsy's final competitor will be senior Tyler Titus at 220 pounds.
Titus finished the season with a 7-18 record and found himself in the midst of another tight seeding, with Bradford's Zach Zawatski, who Titus defeated 5-3 Feb. 14, bringing in the fourth seed.
Titus will open the tournament against St. Marys' Gary Fledderman, who pinned Titus earlier this season.
But Eddy is confident in Titus' abilities to recover and perform well on the mats this weekend.
Still, he knows the importance of starting well with the seeds being so close.
"The best thing that can happen for Tyler is to get a win over Fletterman in the semis," he said. "If he gets that win, we're already to regionals.
"But we definitely need to win that match, because Zach Zawatski, of Bradford, Tyler beat him 5-3 here late in the season. So three and four are super tight."
Eddy said his wrestlers will be best served by earning early victories at this weekend's tournament, so they don't have to face the pressure of one mistake in the consolation rounds meaning they're eliminated from qualification for the regional tournament.
"You don't want to be forced to wrestle for that final position to advance," he said. "So, these guys need to come out on Saturday ready to wrestle. There are no givens, and I've seen guys that weren't supposed to come and make some noise at the district tournament. I've seen guys come out of that pigtail match and wrestle in the finals. We need to be ready."
This article is the second of a three-part series that previews the PAHS wrestling team, which will compete in the District IX Class AAA Individual Championships Saturday at Clarion University of Pennsylvania.