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Hook eager to wrestle his way to Hershey

| Friday, March 1, 2013, 1:31 a.m.
Redbank Valley senior Aaron Hook (right) trains with senior teammate Bam Bailey during practice at the high school on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013.
Redbank Valley senior Aaron Hook (left) trains with Bam Bailey during practice Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, at the high school. (Bill West | Leader Times)

Redbank Valley senior Aaron Hook had documentation from a doctor that identified the splotch on his skin as the aftermath of a staph infection.

But officials at the PIAA Class AA team tournament in Hershey in early February went with their own opinion and deemed Hook ineligible to wrestle because of a case of ringworm.

Hook remained on the sidelines of the state's biggest dual meet stage while Redbank Valley made its debut in the tournament and advanced to the quarterfinals. He's now hell-bent on returning to Hershey, where a second chance awaits in the form of the individual championships.

The PIAA Class AA Northwest Regional tournament, set to begin at 5:15 p.m. Friday and continue Saturday at Sharon High School, stands between states and Hook, who claimed his first District 9 title Saturday when he defeated Cranberry's Zach Bruce, 5-1, in the finals of the 182-pound class.

“It was a bunch of anger and stuff built up that motivated me to do well at districts,” said Hook, who was the No. 1 seed and improved to 31-2 for the season. “I think regionals will be more of a test for me.”

Hook and Redbank Valley's other seven regional qualifiers must finish in the top three to advance to the PIAA championships, which begin Thursday at the Giant Center. Two of the Bulldogs, junior Willie Gruver (113 pounds) and senior Ty Haines (145), are returning state qualifiers.

There are plenty of reasons to expect a rise in the number of representatives at Hershey this season, coach Mike Kundick acknowledged. Thus far, this group of Bulldogs has accomplished more than any of its predecessors. And that success is unlikely to disappear simply because District 10 wrestlers enter the mix.

“We've wrestled D-10 all year,” Kundick said. “That's why we go to the Northeast tournament and the Grove City tournament. We try to wrestle D-10 as often as possible.”

As district champions, Hook and sophomore Cal Haines (220) hold the top spots in their respective weight classes.

Cal Haines hopes to continue a postseason run that he's still trying to wrap his head around.

“Last year, I didn't think I had any chance at being a district champ this year,” he said. “But I definitely got a lot stronger just from lifting over the summer and working hard.”

Following heart-breaking losses in the district finals, four Bulldogs share sides of their respective brackets with the District 10 champions in the regional tournament.

Gruver (113), a returning district champion, lost by fall in the finals after Kane's Cody Blankenship caught him in a vulnerable position late in the third period.

Junior Mitch Blose (126) lost by one point in the title bout.

Ty Haines (145) lost, 4-2, in overtime to Brookville's Zach Vroman, an opponent with whom he split two regular-season matches.

“I knew it'd be close,” Ty Haines said. “It is getting old. We know each other's stuff. It just comes down to whoever's day it is, and it wasn't my day.”

And senior Cole Shirey (160) dropped a 2-1 decision in the tiebreaker period of his title bout.

Rebounding is the top priority for each.

“It's riding on me a lot,” said Shirey, whose one-point loss in the third-place match of last season's regional tournament kept him from reaching the PIAA round. “I feel a lot of pressure from my family and from myself. I'm expecting a lot more out of myself than I ever have before.”

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