World-class foes complicate A-K Valley wrestlers' paths to PIAA championships
Presumably nothing about the look and feel of Giant Center in Hershey will catch Burrell senior 126-pounder Dillan Jeffrey by surprise when he roams the mats during the opening moments of the PIAA Class AA individual championships Thursday.
The senior competed in front of crowds at the arena earlier this season during the PIAA Class AA team tournament. He did that the previous three years with Burrell, too. As a freshman, he went 4-1 at the state team tournament to help the Bucs take third.
Yet Jeffrey still might want to stop and savor what his presence at Giant Center on Thursday represents — a career breakthrough. He long suspected he possessed the talent to qualify for the PIAA individual championships, but not until this winter did he finally clinch a spot at states.
“Even throughout youth and middle school, I never made it to states,” Jeffrey said. “I'd always been one or two matches away. Having it being my 12th year of wrestling and finally making it, it's just awesome.”
Keeping things in perspective is imperative for several of the 10 Alle-Kiski Valley wrestlers bound for Hershey: Burrell and Kiski Area each had five qualifiers in Class AA and Class AAA, respectively. A few grapplers from the area have put together banner seasons only to see truly rare and exceptional opponents stand in their way of postseason titles.
Jeffrey fell short of WPIAL and Southwest Regional supremacy because he ran into Jefferson-Morgan junior Gavin Teasdale, a world-class wrestler who has never lost a high school match. In the WPIAL final, Jeffrey became only the fifth grappler this season to go a full six minutes with Teasdale, who won 20-8.
“I'm pretty confident in saying that Gavin Teasdale knows who Dillan Jeffrey is now,” Bucs coach Josh Shields said. “There's no one on the team that's put in more time than him — preseason, throughout the summer, conditioning. … For him to be able to have the success that he's having, it's awesome for me to see.”
Kiski Area 126-pounder Noah Levett and 145-pounder Joey Blumer look to build off similarly gratifying but demanding experiences they've encountered on their paths to states. Both became first-time WPIAL finalists Saturday.
Levett, a junior, placed second in Section 1-AAA and in the WPIAL behind Franklin Regional senior Spencer Lee, another potential future Olympian with a perfect high school record.
“I feel like next year will be my year, I guess,” Levett said.
Added Kiski Area coach Chris Heater: “I just really appreciate that Noah goes after him and lets it fly. Whatever happens, happens. … We were trying to see if we can take (Lee) down. I haven't really seen anybody do that, either. (Levett) got real close a couple times. (Lee) is so good in flurries and everything.”
Blumer, a senior, took second in the section and WPIAL behind Hempfield senior Jarod Verkleeren, who Intermat ranks as the country's top 145-pounder.
“We have another opportunity (for rematches) this week,” Heater said. “If you win (the PIAA title), none of the other (losses) mean anything. Hopefully we get the opportunity again.”
Rematches for any of the three — Jeffrey, Levett or Blumer — would happen in the state finals.
There's a certainty that no opponent in their brackets will present an even greater test than what they've gone up against in the past two weeks.
“Other (opponents) see that as well,” Burrell's Shields said. “Just because you're wrestling a kid that's supposed to be a state champion, that doesn't mean you have to be timid and not wrestle. … If you're going out there and just getting rolled over by the (standout), you can say, ‘Well he's a state champion, and I'm not.' But if you want to be a state placewinner, that's a guy you've got to be competing with.”