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Wrestlers begin new season at sectionals

| Friday, Feb. 15, 2013, 11:09 p.m.

The high school wrestling season is a grind, but after the team portion of the season ends, individuals have the opportunity to reset, start fresh and think about their own goals. For Class AA wrestlers, the process of reaching goals begins this weekend with the WPIAL sectional tournaments.

Wrestlers at Mt. Pleasant and Southmoreland will be competing in the Section 2-AA tournament at 10 a.m. Saturday at Charleroi. The championship bouts begin at 6 p.m. The top five wrestlers in each weight class will advance to WPIAL Class AA championships Feb. 22-23 at Chartiers Valley.

Mt. Pleasant coach Mike Long is eager for 12 of his wrestlers to begin action, especially after they turned in a solid season during the dual-meet portion of the schedule.

“We have a lot of seniors on this team,” Long said. “Their leadership and hard work made it possible to obtain an overall record of 11-4. Mt. Pleasant hasn't had a 10-plus win season since 2006. These seniors and veteran underclassmen should fair well at individual sectionals and WPIALs. How far into the individual tournament each wrestler will go will be based upon how hard they push themselves in practice. The ones who work the hardest will be the most successful.”

Three Mt. Pleasant wrestlers — freshman Mike Novak (31-9 at 120 pounds) and seniors Justin Overly (28-8 at 182) and Eli Holt (23-10 at 195) — are top seeds in the sectional brackets.

Other Vikings wrestlers competing are Jeremy Lawrence (freshman, 4-19 record, 106 pounds), Aldo Garcia (senior, 18-13, 132), Andy Yoder (senior, 15-14, 138), Austin Mears (sophomore, 25-14, 145), Ethan Charlesworth (sophomore, 19-6, 152), Evan Haines (senior, 13-8, 160), Austin Piper (senior, 14-15, 170), Josh Lind (freshman, 15-11, 220) and Jack Keslar (senior, 14-16, heavyweight).

Long said he hopes most of his wrestlers will advance to the WPIAL Class AA Championships. He also expects Mt. Pleasant to be well-represented at the PIAA Southwest Regionals on March 1-2 at the Cambria County War Memorial.

“I honestly believe we have a good chance of taking six to eight of the 12 to regionals,” Long said. “Once they make it that far, they should be peaking and be ready to perform well enough to go to states.”

The state championships will be March 7-9 at Giant Center in Hershey. But between now and then, plenty of work must be done, and Southmoreland first-year coach Ryan Shaw is looking forward to seeing his 10 competitors put their hard work on the line.

“It's going to be a test for us,” Shaw said. “It's a four-week grind, but this is what they have been working for.”

Southmoreland's wrestlers are Austin Griffiths (sophomore, 24-2, 106), Jake Virgin (freshman, 9-15, 113), Evan Myers (freshman, 12-10, 120), Jordan Beltz (sophomore, 7-14, 132), Austin Bixler (sophomore, 1-4, 138), Sean Suter (sophomore, 7-12, 152), Brennan Coles (sophomore, 5-15, 160), Shane Cavanaugh (senior, 5-10, 170), Dakota Datz (senior, 9-4, 195) and Jacob Beistel (freshman, 25-2, heavyweight).

Griffiths and Beistel are top seeds, but Shaw said he isn't necessarily focused on how his highest-ranked wrestlers perform.

“It's about all the guys advancing and we're hoping to send the majority to WPIALs,” Shaw said. “We know our top guys should advance, but I'm more concerned with the guys that maybe didn't have a great year. But right now, the guys are peaking.”

Shaw has reiterated to his wrestlers that, at this stage of the season, finishing first isn't necessarily the only goal.

“You just have to advance,” he said. “If you keep advancing, anything can happen.”

Jason Black is the local sports editor of the Daily Courier. He can be reached at jblack@tribweb.com.

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