Young Derry wrestlers turn attention toward individual postseason
While the WPIAL regular season team schedule may be over for the Derry wrestling team, several of its wrestlers are still hoping to prolong their seasons individually.
After finishing the season at 6-4 overall, Derry has just one dual team tournament left on Feb. 2 at Penn State Fayette before it will send its wrestlers off to the Section 2-AA individual championships on Feb. 16.
Derry head coach Mike Weinell said he expects anywhere from five to seven of his wrestlers to advance out of the individual section championships and onto the WPIAL championships. The top five wrestlers in each weight class advance.
“I'm looking at seven kids that hopefully I can take to the WPIAL tournament,” he said. “I'd be really happy if that would happen.”
But the two Derry wrestlers who might have the best chance at advancing are actually two of the team's youngest athletes.
Freshmen George Phillippi (113 pounds) and Stone Kepple (120 pounds) led Derry in wins this year and will look to continue that success individually in the postseason.
Phillippi has enjoyed an excellent freshman campaign. With a record of 23-3 he stands as the No. 1 ranked WPIAL wrestler in his 113-pound weight class.
Weinell said Phillippi isn't overlooking anyone, but the coach said he believes his wrestler has the talent to not only advance to the PIAA championships this year, but place there as well.
“He puts the time in and the kid wrestles year-round,” Weinell said. “I knew he was going to be good, we didn't know how good. I expect him to do well.
“I'm very optimistic for him this year. I think he can place at states, but we have to get there first. Just getting there is going to be the key.”
Weinell and Phillippi both agree that teammates Kepple, who holds an 18-8 record this year, along with sophomore Jake Willochel (126 pounds) and juniors Jarrett Dorazio (152 pounds) and Joseph Kelly (160 pounds) are capable of advancing to the WPIAL tournament, as well.
While such instant success as a freshman might be foreign to some teams, the Derry wrestling program seems to produce successful ninth graders consistently. Phillipi and Kepple are hoping to follow in the footsteps of former PIAA champions and four-year stars Travis Shaffer and Jimmy Guilbon.
“People like Jimmy and Travis I had to look up to, and I trained with Jimmy over the summer,” Phillippi said. “So having them to look up to (helps) and all the success at my school as we've had state champions the last so many years and state place winners.”
Weinell said that this year's freshman class has emerged as a new group of leaders.
“We have a strong tradition of freshmen coming in, from our youth program and our junior high,” he said. “Each year those kids come through they're all leaders. These guys weren't the leaders at the beginning of the year, but I only have two seniors on my team so they've picked it up and moved forward.”
While Derry was hoping to have a more successful season from a team perspective — it lost to West Greene last week in the fifth-place consolation match for Section x — Weinel praised his young team's work ethic all year.
“Our kids were definitely in shape and in better shape than anyone we wrestled,” he said. “They fought hard and had a little bit of an edge to them. So they might not have been technically as good as some other kids, but they were physical. I'm very pleased with that going into next season.”
With a team that only loses two seniors and returns the likes of underclassmen Phillippi, Kepple and Willochell next season, the future is bright not only for the upcoming individual championships, but for the future of Derry wrestling.
“Next year we're going to have a bunch of freshmen that are down at the junior high team that will come up next year and a bunch of eighth graders that are heavier will fill in spots,” Phillippi said. “We should have a real good team over the next couple years.”
Alex Oltmanns is a freelance writer.