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Latrobe wrestler Pletcher lives up to hype

| Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Latrobe's Luke Pletcher scores points on Southmoreland's Austin Griffiths during their 106-pound final bout at the Westmoreland County Coaches Association Wrestling Tournament on January 12, 2013 in Murrysville. Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review

Luke Pletcher is so good, he won five state titles before he ever got to high school.

Now it's time to start working on some more.

The Latrobe freshman is one of the most accomplished 106-pounders in the nation and is living up to the lofty expectations he created during his gold-medal winning days in Pennsylvania Junior Wrestling.

“He's got all the tools, and his work ethic is completely ridiculous,” Latrobe first-year coach Tad Harbert said. “It's fun to sit in the chair and watch it happen.”

Pletcher (21-2) is ranked No. 1 at 106 in the Trib Total Media wrestling rankings and No. 2 in the nation by Intermat, trailing only Bergen (N.J.) Catholic freshman Nick Suriano.

Pletcher defeated WPIAL Class AAA No. 2-ranked Gage Curry of North Hills, 4-1, in the North Allegheny Duals on Saturday and rolled to the 106-pound championship at the Powerade Christmas Tournament.

He also won the title at the Westmoreland County Coaches Association Tournament with a 15-3 major decision in the finals.

Pletcher's lone losses came at the King of the Mountain Tournament in December, when he wrestled up at 113 pounds. Giving up roughly five pounds — a significant amount in the sport's lightest weight class — Pletcher lost to Parkland's defending state champion Ethan Lizak, the No. 5-ranked 113-pounder in the nation, 6-2, in the semifinals, and Boiling Springs' Korbin Myers, last year's state Class AA 106-pound runner-up, 3-1, in the consolation semifinals.

“It was a heartbreaking loss,” said Pletcher, who had beaten Lizak in the NHSCA National Duals in May. “But you learn as much as you can.”

The 5-foot-2 Pletcher is mission-oriented, and one of his goals is to win four PIAA titles — a feat achieved by only 11 wrestlers in the proud history of Pennsylvania wrestling.

That's why he rises at 6 a.m. every day to lift weights. After high school practice at Latrobe, he gets in another workout with either the Pittsburgh Wrestling Club or Robbie Waller's All-American camp in Latrobe.

“That's definitely the thing I'm thinking about when I'm working out or practicing,” Pletcher said of the PIAA title. “It's always on your mind.”

Pletcher, who will help lead Latrobe (5-1, 5-0) into the section team playoffs against Franklin Regional on Wednesday at Kiski Area, already has an overstuffed trophy case. He won eight consecutive Ohio Tournament of Champions titles and dominated Pa. Juniors from 2008-12.

He entered the national wrestling spotlight when, as an eighth-grader competing in the high school division, he finished fourth at 106 pounds at the 2011 Super 32 Challenge in Greensboro, N.C. He lost, 1-0, in the semifinals to Franklin Regional's eventual WPIAL champion and PIAA runner-up Michael Kemerer.

“I think that helped, knowing you can go out there and hang with the best people,” Pletcher said.

The 15-year-old Pletcher tuned up for his freshman year with third-place finishes in the FloNationals and the Super 32, two of the nation's top offseason tournaments.

Pittsburgh Wrestling Club coach Jason Peters, an associate head coach at nationally ranked Pitt, said Pletcher has all of the ingredients to be one of the next great wrestlers from Western Pennsylvania.

“He's well-conditioned, he really carries a high pace on the mat, and he expects to win,” Peters said. “When you combine those attributes, he's hard to beat.”

Because Pletcher had wrestled in hundreds of matches since beginning the sport at age 5 or 6, there are no surprises. He has experienced virtually every attack or counter. No scramble is new to him. He instinctively knows how to escape. And, along the way, he has wrestled just about every top wrestler in the country in his weight class.

“His mat awareness is incredible,” Harbert said. “I can't teach a normal kid on the team to do that. He's incredible on his feet. He's got a great stance. He's impossible to get in on. He's a bear coming off the bottom. On top, he's super strong. That's a wicked combination.”

Pletcher also has the intangibles. He is tournament-tested and will feel right at home under the bright lights when the WPIAL/Southwest Regional Class AAA tournament begins next month.

“He wants to win four state titles,” Peters said. “You'd be crazy to think that's not what he's shooting for, and he's definitely on track to do it.”

John Grupp is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at ramen@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JohnGrupp_Trib.

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