Franklin Regional places third at states
There was no Cinderella run to a championship, but for its first time in the state tournament, Franklin Regional wrestling handled itself rather well.
The Panthers picked up four wins during the week, and their only blemish was a semifinal loss to District 3 champion Central Dauphin, 41-25, as Franklin Regional came away with third place from its first PIAA Class AAA Tournament in Hershey last Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Franklin Regional defeated District 4 champion Jersey Shore on Thursday, 54-15, and District 1 champ Owen J. Roberts on Friday, 29-28, to reach the semifinal round. The Panthers rebounded on Saturday from their setback to defeat District 10 champ Erie McDowell, 29-25, and District 11 champ Easton, 29-26, to win the consolation bracket final.
“It was a pretty good weekend out there for our first time,” Franklin Regional coach Eric Mausser said. “Our guys weren't to nervous, and they wrestled great the whole weekend.”
The Panthers got a surprise setback on their first day in Hershey, as WPIAL champ Michael Kemerer was unable to wrestle after coming down with the flu. The team more than made up for his loss against Jersey Shore, and by Friday, Kemerer was back in action, albeit at less than 100 percent.
With four wrestlers other than Kemerer in the lineup who have wrestled as individuals in Hershey — Luke Fleck, Tyler Smith, Josh Shields and Josh Maruca — FR had the benefit of some previous state experience, even if this was the Panthers' first trip there as a team.
“Those guys have had a taste of this before, and I think that's why our team wasn't that nervous,” Mausser said.
“Those five guys with the individual experience sort of calmed the rest down. Now that the others have had the experience of being up there, it might drive them a little more for sections and WPIALs to get back there.”
One of the biggest positives Mausser found from the team season is who his team lost to during the year.
Two of the losses, against Kiski Area and Erie McDowell, came against teams that Franklin Regional would beat in rematches later during the season. The other two losses came against Central Dauphin and Canon-McMillan, the two teams that met for the state championship, which was won by Canon-Mac, 34-31.
The difference in avenging the loss to Erie McDowell was the Panthers' two seniors in the lineup, Fleck and Connor Medlang. Both were not in the lineup when the teams met in the regular season, but each scored wins in the state consolation semifinals on Saturday.
“We did talk about that. We lost to the two best teams in the state, and our other two losses, we avenged them,” Mausser said. “We lost to McDowell by 18 points. Connor and Luke being back was our 18-point swing from the first time.
“Those two seniors, plus our third that was in and out of the lineup, Matt Green, it was nice to have those guys bring us along last weekend.”
Against Erie McDowell, it was Fleck who got yet another overtime win at 285 pounds, just as he did in the section and WPIAL finals, to clinch the victory.
His pin against Easton set up Andrew Marshall to wrestle the decisive match at 106 pounds and secure the bronze medals.
Among the other highlights of the weekend for FR was a 138-pound bout between Josh Maruca and Tyson Dippery of Central Dauphin, which was a rematch of last year's 126-pound state semifinal. Dippery won last year, 5-1, but this year Maruca battled to force overtime before falling to an opponent he is likely to see again.
“Josh Maruca wrestled real well this weekend and almost won the match against the kid from Central Dauphin,” Mausser said. “In a month's time, they'll probably meet again, so that was a good match for him to have.”
Attention for the wrestlers now turns to the individual competitions, which begin with the Section 1 tournament at Gateway on Feb. 23. But with 12 starters coming back for the 2013-14 team season, Franklin Regional has a lot to look forward to when this time rolls around next year.
“I think for the kids, it was a great atmosphere (in Hershey),” Mausser said. “To be able to put state medals around all of our kids' necks was a great feeling. As a coach, it's extra stressful to figure out lineups on the fly for each match, but it's more rewarding when it all comes together.”
Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or firstname.lastname@example.org.