Minus one of its top wrestlers, Redbank Valley wins first PIAA bout
HERSHEY — Adversity struck Redbank Valley's wrestling team just before its first appearance in the PIAA Class AA team tournament. About an hour before their match, the Bulldogs lost their wins co-leader, senior 182-pounder Aaron Hook, who was ruled out with a skin condition.
That setback, paired with newcomer pressure and the daunting nature of Hershey's cavernous Giant Center, seemed to further test the limits of Redbank Valley's mettle.
But rather than stumble in their debut, the District 9 champion Bulldogs (11-0) delivered a performance to remember. Redbank Valley thumped District 2 winner Western Wayne, 45-30, to secure the program's first state team tournament victory as well as its 500th in history.
“Our plan was to wrestle heads-up like we always do, but when we lost Aaron, we had to shuffle guys,” said coach Mike Kundick, who noted Hook, 26-2 this season, likely will miss the rest of the team tournament. “They really stepped it up.”
Redbank Valley advanced to the quarterfinals where it will wrestle District 3 runner-up Bermudian Springs (25-5) at noon Friday.
The opening weight class of the first-round match, 113 pounds, proved to be vital for the Bulldogs as it afforded them the chance to start with one of two wrestlers who had competed previously at Giant Center.
Junior Willie Gruver, a PIAA individual tournament qualifier a season ago, pinned Western Wayne's Brett Toth midway through the first period.
Pins by Tanner Altobelli (120 pounds) and Mitch Blose followed, and Austin Schreckengost's 9-2 decision in the 132-pound bout put Redbank Valley ahead, 21-0.
“We couldn't have asked for a better place to start,” Kundick said. “We're up (21-0) after four matches, and it was a really big boost for us.”
Western Wayne closed the gap with back-to-back pins, but Redbank Valley reclaimed the momentum for good with decisions by Ty Haines (152) and KeShon Truitt (160), a pin by Cole Shirey (170) and a forfeit victory for Brandon Bailey (182). Truitt's win came against Lucas Karnick, who entered the bout with a 24-5 record.
“Once (the lightweights) got going, our whole team got into the match, and we had it in the bag,” said Haines, Redbank Valley's other PIAA individual qualifier last season.
Lacking Hook, Redbank Valley forfeited at 195, and, certain to win, the Bulldogs had the option to forfeit the three following bouts. But Kundick, aware that his wrestlers must maintain their weight during the next couple days, chose to let his remaining grapplers compete.
That led to further confidence boosting. Ben Carrillo (285) pinned Western Wayne's Virgil Burns, who entered the bout at 24-1.
“I was a little nervous at first because I'm not used to wrestling at a big coliseum,” Carrillo, a junior, said. “When I first lock up with my opponents, I figure out who's stronger, and as soon as I locked up with him, I knew I was.”
Bermudian Springs likely will pose a tougher challenge, as it defeated WPIAL champion Burrell, 34-29, in the first round. But Redbank Valley's wrestlers, buzzing after the win, aren't ready to let doubt creep in their minds.
“When you lose a big guy like (Hook), it gets everybody down,” Haines said. “I knew I had to rally everyone and let them know that we can still do big things.
“I think we can beat (Bermudian Springs). We have to have confidence, but I think we're going to take it to them.”