Redbank Valley wrestlers seeking Cinderella moment
Redbank Valley senior Cole Shirey joked last week that he was “always the runner-up, never the prom queen” in reference to his postseason tournament performances.
Close-but-not-quite is indeed a career story for Shirey, who twice placed second in District 9 and took third as a junior.
But, despite his track record, the 160-pounder will finish his time as a high school wrestler at Pennsylvania's biggest ball.
Shirey and two other Bulldogs, senior 182-pounder Aaron Hook and junior 113-pounder Willie Gruver, are Hershey-bound as qualifiers for the PIAA Class AA individual championships, which begin Thursday at Giant Center and conclude Saturday with medal matches for first, third, fifth and seventh place.
Gruver (34-4), who finished first in the Northwest region, is a two-time state qualifier. Shirey (33-6) and Hook (34-3), both of whom placed third in the region last weekend, are newcomers. They are in search of their first PIAA tournament win.
“I'm not going to sit here and act like I have a chance to win states or anything,” Shirey said, “but I want to bring home a medal for my senior year.
“My game plan is to look at the brackets as little as possible. … I try not to look at it because I'm the kind of person that can let a name really get in my head, so I want to try to stay calm about it.”
A trip to Hershey for the PIAA team duals tournament in early February allowed Hook and Shirey to get acquainted with Giant Center.
Shirey won all three of his matches — two by pin, one by technical fall — for the Bulldogs, who reached the quarterfinals. Hook likely would've contributed a few bonus points for the team had PIAA officials not deemed him ineligible because of a skin condition.
“Just to get down there to wrestle is a pretty big honor for me,” Hook said.
Hook opens with a bout against the Southwest Region runner-up, Blairsville sophomore Scott Thompson (15-1). With a win, he'll possibly meet the Northeast Region champion, Muncy senior Troy Hembury (39-1), in the quarterfinals.
Shirey, meanwhile, begins with a bout against the Southeast Region runner-up, Fairfield junior Nick Mort (39-4). In the quarterfinals, he'd likely square off with Forest Hills senior Cody Law (30-0), the Southwest Region champion and a returning PIAA finalist.
Regional champion Gruver gets an agreeable opening-round matchup — he'll wrestle the Southeast Region's fourth-place finisher, Tri-Valley sophomore Caleb Bordner (33-10).
But as Gruver learned a season ago, not even a first-round win is a given at the PIAA level. He lost his first bout, 4-2, to the Southwest Region's fourth-place finisher, Beth-Center's Zach Swarrow. Then he dropped a 5-1 decision to the Southeast Region's third-place finisher, Pen Argyl's Matt Williams.
“It's different (this season) because it's coming down to almost my last year,” Gruver said. “I still want to medal, so it'd be nice to get it this year and not have to worry as much next year.”