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Hempfield's Verkleeren chasing 1st WPIAL title

| Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017, 10:09 p.m.
Christian Tyler Randolph | Tribune-Review
Hempfield’s Jarod Verkleeren, right, wrestles Kiski Area’s Joey Blumer during the finals at the WCCA wrestling tournament at Franklin Regional Senior High School in Murrysville, Pa. on Saturday Jan. 07, 2017.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
Hempfield's Jarod Verkleeren wrestles Penfield's Frankie Gissendanner during the 145-pound championship of the 2016 Powerade Wrestling Tournament at Canon-McMillan High School on Friday, Dec. 30, 2016.

Hempfield senior Jarod Verkleeren had a scare Jan. 11 when he injured his left knee while wrestling two-time PIAA and WPIAL Class AAA champion Cam Coy of Penn-Trafford.

After missing about a month, Verkleeren said he's ready to make a run. He will get his chance Friday and Saturday at the WPIAL championships at Canon-McMillan.

“I bumped up to wrestle Cam and injured my lateral collateral ligament,” Verkleeren said. “I got lucky. I almost tore it completely. I was able to heal and it's pretty good right now.

“I try not to think about the injury. I know I have to be conscious of it when I'm in scrambles. It's not fully healed, but good enough to go.”

Verkleeren (22-1, 124-19) is looking for his first WPIAL title. He has wrestled at 145 pounds his entire high school career. He placed third in 2014 and second in '15. A weight problem and a dispute at Belle Vernon forced him to miss the individual tournament last season. This past summer, Verkleeren transferred to Hempfield.

“I'm more prepared than ever,” Verkleeren said about his chances of winning WPIAL and PIAA titles. “It's my time to win.

“The WPIAL tournament is one of the toughest. I've never won it; I'm excited.”

Verkleeren, who finished fourth in the state as a sophomore, said he plans to go into the WPIAL and PIAA tournaments with the same mindset.

“I'm going to focus on scoring points,” Verkleeren said. “Hopefully, the results will take care of itself.”

Verkleeren won his first Section 1 title Saturday, but it was the third in his career. The first two came in Section 2.

“Winning the section titles was nice,” Verkleeren said. “But winning WPIAL and PIAA titles would be more of an accomplishment.”

Verkleeren has signed with Iowa State, but when Virginia Tech coach Kevin Dresser was recently named the Cyclones' new coach, Verkleeren had some questions about his future.

He said he doesn't want to talk about Iowa State, and Hempfield coach Vince DeAugustine told him to worry about that after the state tournament.

“We don't need any distractions now,” DeAugustine said. “We just want Jarod to focus on the next two weeks. He can't do anything about it right now.”

Verkleeren said his college future will be a family decision.

Verkleeren was one of three Hempfield wrestlers to win section titles. The others were sophomore Kyle Burkholder (25-2) at 113 pounds and junior Luke Kemerer (30-2) at 138. Verkleeren and Kemerer are seeded No. 1 and Burkholder No. 4.

Hempfield senior Vincent Distefanis (27-3) is seeded No. 3 at 120. Distefanis placed at 133 last year.

There are seven returning champions competing this weekend — Franklin Regional's Spencer Lee at 126, Coy at 152, Seneca Valley junior Louis Newell at 106, Belle Vernon junior Zach Hartman at 132, Albert Gallatin junior Tim Wallace at 160, Bethel Park senior Nino Bonaccorsi at 170 and North Allegheny senior Jake Woodley at 182.

Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at pschofield@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Schofield_Trib.

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