Kittanning wrestling team wins dual tournament title
Throughout this winter, Kittanning wrestling coach Brandon Newill has tried to squeeze more success out of his Wildcats, who entered the season as contenders for a WPIAL title.
The Wildcats have struggled at times to live up to Newill's high standards. But on Saturday in Johnstown, Kittanning delivered a performance that left its coach pleased.
With five victories, Kittanning (10-3) claimed the championship in the 10-team Richland Coaches' Duals tournament. Participating for a third consecutive year, the Wildcats won the event, albeit over a smaller field, after going 5-3 the last two seasons — the tournament, previously considered the largest duals competition in the state, had 28 teams as a two-day affair in 2012 and 35 in 2011.
“There were still a lot of good teams there,” Newill said. “I think we wrestled really well as far as, when we needed guys to step up, they stepped up.
“It was nice for them to win together as a team. That brings them closer.”
Placed in a five-team pool, Kittanning topped Cambria Heights, 34-24; Somerset, 38-31; United, 39-27; and Greater Johnstown, 57-6.
That set up a meeting with the other pool winner, District 6 Class-AA program Moshannon Valley, in the finals.
The championship bout opened with the 106-pound weight class, which Kittanning chose to forfeit.
A strategic decision, the Wildcats sent freshman 106-pounder Brendon Malia — who weighs closer to 95 pounds — out for the 113-pound bout against Joey Vanish. Newill considered it a more favorable matchup.
Newill's move paid off. Malia won, 6-3, to cap a day in which he finished with a 5-0 record.
Other keys to the match came from juniors Elliot Zydonik and David Grafton.
Zydonik, wrestling at 160 pounds, took on Cody Hamilton, a 152-pounder who Moshannon Valley had moved up. The opposition's decision backfired, as Zydonik secured six team points for Kittanning with a first-period pin.
Grafton, a heavyweight, stepped on the mat with Kittanning trailing, 31-30, in the final bout. He and Jack Bunnell remained tied at 1-1 through two periods. Then, according to Newill, with about 30 seconds left in the final frame, Grafton scored on a takedown, almost immediately allowed a reversal, and then earned an escape to secure a 4-3 decision.
“It was the most action I've seen in a heavyweight match in a long time,” Newill said.
Aside from Malia, three other Kittanning wrestlers left with 5-0 records: senior 152-pounder Taylor Jack, whose wins included two pins and a tech fall; freshman 170-pounder Jacob Robb, who had two pins and a major decision; and junior 132-pounder Jason Nolf, who accumulated three pins, including two in 138-pound bouts.
Also, senior 195-pounder Zac Croyle went 4-1. His only loss, 8-6, came in overtime to Moshannon Valley's James Stodart, a 2012 PIAA tournament qualifier.
Kittanning will begin the team postseason at 6 p.m. Wednesday, when, as the second-place finisher in subsection B, it'll take on subsection A winner South Allegheny during the first round of the Section 3-AA tournament, held at South Allegheny. With a win, the Wildcats will meet either Burrell or Avonworth in the championship later that night.
Regardless of Wednesday's result, Kittanning advances to the WPIAL team tournament.
“Now the focus shifts,” Newill said. “High school sports are fickle, because you can be a championship team one week and go 0-2 the next.”