Franklin Regional made a first-round exit from last year's WPIAL Class AAA wrestling tournament, but it's what the Panthers accomplished afterward that makes this year so promising.
The Panthers return four wrestlers that reached last year's individual state tournament, including a stellar trio of sophomores, and with so much top-class talent returning, Franklin Regional is poised to be one of the strongest teams in Class AAA this year.
Sophomores Michael Kemerer, Josh Maruca and Josh Shields and junior Tyler Smith all went to Hershey as individuals last season, and together they form the core of a Franklin Regional team that hopes this year to progress further as a unit.
“Our goals are really high, and you always want to shoot for the top,” Shields said. “It's great having partners in the (practice) room like these guys because it makes you so much better.”
Kemerer was a WPIAL champ and came one win short of an undefeated freshman season when he fell in the 106-pound state final, while Maruca, Shields and Smith all finished in the top six of their weight classes at states. Add in senior heavyweight Luke Fleck, who reached states as a sophomore and was the WPIAL's fourth-place finisher last year, and the Panthers return five wrestlers that already are among the district's best.
“Having kids around your weight that are at your level helps,” Maruca said. “You're not the only one on the team trying to get to states; there are other kids around who can push you.”
Last season, Franklin Regional was hindered by having too many wrestlers in the lighter weight classes and was unable to fill every class in team matches. Now, as many of its wrestlers are older and growing, the Panthers should find it much easier to field a full squad.
“We're finally filling out the weight classes,” Shields said. “We've had some kids really hit the weight room and get bigger. We should be able to put together a really solid team.”
“There's still some guys who are the same weight, but overall we've spread out real well,” Smith said. “I think we could really take it far in the WPIAL tournament, if not win it this year.”
Among the other wrestlers the Panthers will rely on are sophomore Kyle Berk, a 20-match winner as a freshman; sophomore Dom Giannangeli, who last year saw limited time wrestling behind Berk and Kemerer; senior Connor Medlang, who was 14-1 last year in limited action; and junior Brandon Yant, who last year wrestled as high as 152 for FR, despite being certified for 132, which was Shields' class.
By plugging in capable wrestlers around its established stars, Franklin Regional should be able to fashion a lineup this season that will make it a contender in Section 1-AAA and beyond.
“We're all helping each other out, and our coaches are really working us, too,” Smith said. “Everybody's been getting into it, and we're ready to get started finally after a long offseason.”
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