Connellsville wrestling counting on experienced squad
At certain points of the 2011-12 season, the Connellsville wrestling team fielded a starting lineup with seven freshmen. That meant half the lineup was filled with grapplers who had no varsity experience. Despite their youth, the Falcons managed to get within one win of the WPIAL championship match. A 29-28 loss to North Allegheny in the WPIAL semifinals kept Connellsville from competing for the WPIAL title.
“Coming that close and losing by one point in the semis, I think that this team can really do something, but we have a long way to go,” Connellsville coach Tom Dolde said. “Coming that close with the youth we had is a good thing.”
The Falcons have a vast majority of their team returning with the exception of graduates Tanner Wiltrout, Jeremy Basinger and Josh Fremd. All three were key members of last year's team. Fortunately, the Falcons seem to have plenty of depth.
“I think this is one of the deepest teams I've ever had,” Dolde said. “The kids are close to each other ability-wise, and that's something we've struggled for. These kids all have a lot of ability.”
Leading the way for Connellsville will be senior Ethan Kenney. Kenney, a three-time state qualifier, finished seventh at 132 pounds in the state tournament last season. Kenney will be a catalyst for the Falcons this season.
“As a team, we are really talented, and we have depth,” Kenney said. “If we stick with it, we should be one of the top teams in the WPIAL and make it to states.”
Kenney and senior Nick Beneke are four-year starters. Seniors Dylan Miller, Tyler Steele, Shawn DeWitt and Brandon Umbel are three-year starters, and senior John Berardinelli is a two-year starter. Beneke, Berardinelli, Steele, Umbel and Shawn DeWitt will wrestle in the lower to middle weights. Miller will compete in the upper weights.
Juniors Ryan Burkholder and Gary Nichelson each lettered last year, with Burkholder starting. Burkholder will compete at lower/middle weights and Nichelson will compete in upper weights.
Returning sophomore starters include Matt Butler, Gage Cramer, Colton DeWitt, Daniel Leonard, Gunnar Lynch and Dale Provance. Sophomores Alex Knopsnider and Andy Cecil each earned a varsity letter last season. Look for Leonard and Cramer to wrestle in the lower weights. Knopsnider, Provance, Cecil and Colton DeWitt will compete in the middle of the lineup. Butler and Lynch will wrestle at the heavier weights.
The Falcons have depth in the senior, junior and sophomores classes, and a handful of freshmen are also challenging for time on the mat.
“We are still young, but we have a great mix of youth and experience,” Dolde said. “This year, it seems like we have a better mix of older and younger kids.”
Dolde noted that every team is different and takes on its own persona.
“This is Team 45,” Dolde said, citing the program's 45th year of competition. “It's a unique team.”
The team is unique, but the goals continue to remain high.
“Canon-McMillan is definitely the team to beat,” Dolde said. “But we have the ability to be a top-four team again, and these first few weeks are very important to the development of the personality of the team.”
Judging by the thoughts of Dylan Miller, the team is taking on a winning attitude.
“Hopefully, we can get to the WPIAL finals and win there,” Miller said. “We're working hard, and we're dedicated to what we are doing.”
Jason Black is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-626-3534.