Wrestling elite return to mat eyeing states
While some of his wrestling cohorts elsewhere in Western Pennsylvania study film on opponents and break down brackets habitually as part of a preparation routine, Burrell senior Phil Marra believes in the power of blinders.
“I keep my head focused,” Marra said. “I don't even know who I'm going to wrestle half the time until I'm out there.”
That approach worked in the WPIAL Class AA individual championships, when Marra, the No. 2 seed at 145 pounds, upset No. 1 seed and defending champion Tanner Sutton, 5-0 in the finals to claim his first district title.
His strategy seems unlikely to change when he heads to Cambria County War Memorial in Johnstown for the PIAA Southwest Regional tournament, which begins at 1 p.m. Friday and continues Saturday.
“I'm here for the big thing, to get my name out in the state,” Marra said after he stepped off the medal stand last Saturday at Chartiers Valley. “The WPIAL, yeah, it's nice. But I'm shooting higher.”
Like all the other wrestlers in the Southwest Region, Marra must place fifth or better Saturday to advance to the PIAA Class AA championships, which begin March 7 at Giant Center in Hershey.
A fellow Buc echoed Marra's sentiment about the WPIAL title. Senior 182-pounder Dakota DesLauriers won a third district championship, but he kept his attention centered on the two upcoming tournaments.
“This is just a steppingstone,” said DesLauriers, who can also become a three-time regional champ. “I'm going trying to steamroll my way into states.”
DesLauriers is the No. 1 seed in his weight class, and sophomore Al Beattie, a WPIAL champion, holds the top spot among the region's heavyweights.
Valley senior 182-pounder Terrell Fields looks to make a return trip to the regional finals, where he might earn another rematch with DesLauriers. And several other Vikings aim to join Fields as title contenders — five Valley wrestlers reached the regional level.
Senior 120-pounder Josiah Hughes enters the regional tournament as the WPIAL runner-up. He expects vast improvement from his 2012 performance, which involved a first-round loss by pin and no medal.
“I know I should've made it further,” Hughes said. “I got caught (in the pin). … I learned that anybody can beat anybody. Just because you're better doesn't mean anything. You have to wrestle smart.”
Junior 126-pounder Pat Dewitt looks to rebound after a disappointing WPIAL tournament. As the No. 1 seed, he endured a semifinal upset and finished fourth.
A season ago, Dewitt entered the regional round as the WPIAL's 106-pound champion. But his effort to maintain such a light weight led to fatigue, and Dewitt exited as an also-ran.
“The weight-cutting caught up with me,” Dewitt said. “I don't think I'd ever wrestled that bad in my life.”
His path to the podium is more arduous this season, but Dewitt considers himself capable of medaling.
“It's a lot less pressure,” he said. “It helps.”