AA championship notes

It's time to take notice of Jefferson-Morgan's wrestling program. The Rockets put three wrestlers into the finals of the WPIAL Class AA Championshps Saturday night. Brian Scritchfield and Ty Basinger finished second and Ethan Virgili won the 189-pound title. Todd Sibert is doing a great job since taking over this season. The Rockets nearly made the team tournament, too. It's nice to see them successful after they struggled for so long.

Charlie Wonsettler was a fan favorite in the 171-pound finals. The senior from Bentworth has been through a lot over the past few years. He lost his mother a couple years ago and went through an injury-plagued junior season. Wonsettler nearly defeated top-seed Damian Majocha of Burrel in the finals but a takedown at the buzzer cost him a 6-4 decision in overtime.

I know Kory Bissett wears a harness to help protect his shoulder but anyone who watched the 140-pound finals has to feel the shoulder is 100 percent. Bissett, a senior from West Greene, was locked up with Devon Maloney of Burrell for much of the match. The two wrenched, cranked, twisted, bent, and basically beat on each other's shoulders for eight minutes. Bissett muscled his way to a 2-1 overtime victory.

Give credit to Mitch Spencer of Avella in his 119-pound final against Troy Dolan of Derry. The Avella wrestler suffered a cut on his nose, a busted lip and a nose bleed that nearly ate up four minutes of blood time. The easy way out for Spencer would have been to say he couldn't continue and default. But he battled through the match. Dolan didn't ease up in a 10-2 victory.

I keep beating the drum for John Prezzia but strange things keep happening to him. The defending state champion from South Side Beaver had an unusual tournament. Despite last year's success, he was seeded third in the weight class at 112. He wrestled four times and allowed only one bout point and . . . . finished third. The point he gave up cost him a 1-0 decision to Anthony Zanetta of Keystone Oaks in the semifinals. Prezzia's three wins came via shutouts.

Without naming names, because sometimes coaches don't reveal problems or injuries to me, I thought there were a few wrestlers out there who simply went through the motions. And some of them will wrestle next week in Johnstown. That's what happens when half the bracket advances.

Finally, let's all wish Ron Garrison a speedy recovery from some medical problems. The man who is the Brotherhood of Wrestling is invaluable to the sport in this area.

Cost of watching

Here's another reason why people don't go to wrestling matches. It really isn't anything new. The cost for the full day at the Section 5-AAA wrestling tournament at Trinity was $13. It cost $6 for matches through the semifinals and consolation finals. The gym was cleared and it cost $7 to attend the session of individual finals and third and fourth.

Can you say gouge?

And it's not just the WPIAL that does this. The PIAA is adept at charging outlandish ticket prices for wrestling because of its session. Charging two prices for the section tournament is like charging basketball fans one price to watch the first half of the game, clearing the gym at halftime, and charging again for the second half.

Outside of the moms, dads, sisters and brothers, how many tickets do you think were sold at this event. I bet an avid wrestling fan won't return after being burned at the gate.



WPIAL notes

This season has not been kind to Western Pa. wrestlers. Injuries have infiltrated and taken center stage with some talented kids. Consider John Prezzia of SS Beaver and his bad knee. The WPIAL must not have a great deal of confidence in him repeating, seeding him third at 112 pounds. Even on one leg, he's better than most on two.

A broken foot sidelined Adam Hoffman of Fort Cherry, a knee injury shelved Bryan Vallina of Burgettstown, and a shoulder injury ended Ryan Watson's season at Burgettstown.

Colton Blumer got hosed Friday in the first round of the WPIAL Championships. The sophomore from West Greene should not have had to wrestle Prezzia in the first round. The WPIAL should have changed the bracket when his preliminary-round opponent pulled out. Section finalists should not have to wrestle in the first round of the WPIAL Championships. Blumer's 30 wins were more than any other at 112.

Here's how bad the talent level in Class AA is. It took only four hours to wrestle 112 bouts on Charleroi's four mats. In those bouts, 39 were decided by pins and many occurred before the match was half over.

West Greene's Kory Bissett looks unbeatable, despite recovering from a shoulder injury. He wrestles mean. By that, I mean he never lets up, works for the fall and looks unhappy about it afterward. I would not bet against him having a great ending to his season.

You have to wonder why people would show up for the WPIAL Championships when six of the 12 wrestlers advance to the regional tournament. What a joke. Do you wonder whether schools such as Waynesburg and McGuffey, which wrestle up in classifications, are paying attention to how easy it is to advance to Hershey. I understand why they wrestle in Class AAA and it's for the right reasons, but how many wrestlers from these two teams could qualify for the state tournament if the teams were in Double-A? The guess here is five from each.


The right decision

When Ryan Watson reinjured his shoulder in a dual mett against Elizabeth Forward last week, Burgettstown head coach Terry Havelka made the right move by taking him out of the Section 1 Tournament and ending his season. Havelka consulted the family and talked to Watson. There had to be a great desire to wrestle because of the remarkable comeback Ryan made after separating the shoulder three times in the last year.

Doctors thought he would be out until at least spring after surgery during the football season. But Ryan's hard work moved the recovery date up. He's only a sophomore so there are still two seasons left. If he wrestled now, there is a good chance the shoulder would be injured and affect him over the next two seasons.

It's better to have a healthy Ryan Watson for two years, than an injured Ryan Watson for three.


Seedy seeds

There is no excuse for the problems the WPIAL wrestling committee had in seeding the Section 1-AA Tournament. The WPIAL made John Prezzia, a defending state champion from South Side Beaver, the No. 2 seed at 112 pounds. The WPIAL made Kory Bissett of West Greene, a regional champion who was a third-place finisher at 135-pounds in the state last season, the No. 2 seed at 140 pounds.

The reason this happened was the section record of the No. 1 seeds were better than those of Prezzia and Bissett. That happened because the two missed part of the season with injuries.
This was really embarassing. Prezzia and Bissett are the class of their respective weight class and they each proved it by winning their weights.

The more troubling aspect of going strictly by the numbers is that they can easily be manipulated. What would have happened if, say, Troy Dolan, a two-time state champion from Derry, had gotten the flu and missed a couple of section dual meets this season. Would he have been seeded second, or maybe third, if there were two wrestlers with better section records than his?

Wrestling is unique in that past achievements by wrestlers do mean something. Many Class AA coaches believe their tournaments are treated as second class by the WPIAL. When seeding blunders such as these happen, it only heightens those suspicions.


Time out

When the WPIAL Class AA section tournaments begin Saturday, it will mark Day 24 since the official end of the regular dual meet season. How many other sports take a nearly month-long break at the most important time of the schedule? A better question is what did wrestlers and coaches do with all this time on their hands.

Some coaches brought their teams together for meaningless dual meets. They are meaningless because the scores don't matter, the intensity level is not as high and you just use it as a workout to stay sharp.

Some coaches brought teams together for combined practices, which sort of strikes me as odd because hardly any other sport does this. Golf? Swimming?

It's also tough on us bloggers, who have virtually no news coming out of these schools because no one is competing. It's difficult to comment on a sport when there is nothing taking place.

Through it all, coaches have asked their wrestlers to hold their weight, keep sharp and be ready to wrestle their best in the most important part of the season, after a 24-day layoff.

And you wonder why it's hard to get athletes to come out for wrestling.


Way to go Ron

Ron Junko, who recently announced his retirement as principal at Washington High School, was inducted into the University of Toledo's Hall of Fame. Junko, a state champion for Trinity High School, was a two-tim MAC champion at Toldedo. He was captain of the team for two years and placed first at the 1971 NCAA Midwest Regional Tournament.


A new leader

Upper Perkiomen senior Zack Kemmerer has become Pennsylvania’s leader in career high school wrestling victories.
Kemmerer, last year’s PIAA Class AAA champion at 135 pounds, won four matches last week to raise his career total to 182 victories.
He passed Connellsville’s Ashtin Primus and Mount Pleasant’s Donnie Ament, both of whom ended their scholastic careers last year with 179 victories.
There is a possibility Kemmerer (36-5) could be the first state wrestler to win 200 matches.
His Upper Perkiomen team will have at least two matches in PIAA Class AAA dual meet championships this weekend in Hershey. Upper Perkiomen could wrestle up to five matches this weekend, and Kemmerer could wrestle up to 16 matches in the individual postseason tournaments. Last year’s state team champions, Upper Perkiomen (19-4) and District 10’s Reynolds (16-0), have a chance to repeat their titles.



Why does the PIAA permit 10 schools to gather at one site for a dual tournament, wrestle all day long to determine a champion, yet needs two weeks to determine a district and state team champion?

Why is a new weight system in place that makes it more beneficial for coaches to scratch a wrestler because he is one or two pounds above his weight loss program rather than use him at a higher weight class without a penalty?

Why do we rue the fact some athletes just won't come out to wrestle, when we have a weight program like this one and a nearly three-week dead period from the final regular season dual meet to the first round of the individual tournaments?

If the team tournament is such a great event, why wasn't every site in the first round – which had four different schools competing – sold out?

If wrestlers are flexible enough to compete in different weight classes, why are there no numbers on the singlets to identify them so the fans won't be totally confused by what's going on?

Finally, why has the cost of a hotel room nearly doubled in price in Hershey for the PIAA Championships?


Tough times

For only the second time since the format change in 1979, the Washington-Greene County did not produce a finalist for the WPIAL Team Tournament. That should be a concern to those who would like to see the competitive level of this area rise. Not only do I not have anything to do for the next two weeks while the team tournament plays out, but it leaves me feeling a little ill at ease about the strength of this area in wrestling.
At least in the team portion of the season.
The center of wrestling power has shifted to the eastern part of this region, where Hempfield, Mt. Pleasant, Burrell, Connellsville, Penn-Trafford, etc., consistently field stronger teams than those in the west.
It's a good question that may not have an easy answer.
It's not a coaching problem. This area has some of the best coaches in the sport.
It might be more a numbers' problem, considering how some of the traditionally strong teams struggled to put a full lineup on the mat this season. Or it just might be a down talent cycle.
This area does well in the state tournament, coming back from Hershey with at least one individual title in eight of the last nine years.
Team-wise, it's been a struggle. And it doesn't promise to get better anytime soon.