Norwin's Coles, FR's Maruca capture WPIAL wrestling titles
It's probably good that Norwin hosts the WPIAL Class AAA individual wrestling championships, because the final day had a decidedly Westmoreland County feel.
Six of the 14 champions crowned Saturday, including Norwin's two-time champ Heath Coles and Franklin Regional sophomore Josh Maruca, hailed from Westmoreland County schools, while seven of the losing finalists also hailed from the county.
In addition to Coles and Maruca, Star-area schools qualified five others to this week's PIAA tournament — Norwin's Drew Phipps and FR's Michael Kemerer, Tyler Smith, Josh Shields and Luke Fleck. Penn-Trafford was shut out of the state tournament, as the Warriors' top finisher, sophomore Devin Austin, placed fifth.
Coles' back-to-back title wins came with a unique footnote. The Norwin senior lost in the Section 1-AAA tournament in both years but defeated his own section's champ in the WPIAL tournament. Where last year it was a semifinal meeting with Latrobe's Ty Lydic, this year it was a section final rematch in the WPIAL 152-pound final between Coles and Greensburg Salem's Tyler Reinhart.
Coles got this year's win, 4-3, after Reinhart tied the match on a takedown with 13 seconds remaining. The Knights' senior shook his legs free for the winning escape with :03 left, and he was free to celebrate as a dejected Reinhart stayed down on the mat.
“Last week was a tough one against him. I was too laid back and didn't wrestle my match,” Coles said. “I knew I had to wrestle my style today to get the job done.
“(At the end) I still had all the confidence in the world. If there's time left on the clock, there's still time to score. I just had to keep going.”
Coles does have a section title from his freshman year to his name to go with the two WPIAL titles, which makes him Norwin's second two-time WPIAL champ after Dave Chomanics won in 1977 and 1978.
Now, Coles' final goal is to try and add a state title to those honors, and he is fully aware that another rematch with Reinhart in the state final isn't out of the question.
“Meeting in the state finals is what we're both hoping for,” Coles said. “Two of the toughest kids in the state coming from one small county, I'd love to go at it against him again.”
With four WPIAL finalists, the odds were in Franklin Regional's favor that the Panthers' would win at least one. But after narrow losses by Kemerer and Smith, it fell to Maruca to ensure the Panthers' would have a spot atop the medal stand with his 4-3 overtime win over North Allegheny's Jessie Rodgers at 138 pounds.
Maruca liked the way his match flowed for much of the first two periods, but a late second-period takedown by Rodgers suddenly put him in a 3-0 hole. Maruca escaped to cut the lead to 3-1 in the third, and he forced the overtime period on a tying takedown with :07 left.
After a scoreless neutral overtime period, Maruca got the advantage by riding out Rodgers in the second overtime. He scored the winning point by quickly escaping in the third and fighting off Rodgers' late, desparation shots for a takedown.
“I was a little worried. I didn't want to give up a takedown,” Maruca said. “I was happy with how it was going, but then I tried a move and gave up two points. It happens, so I just had to battle back.”
Maruca becomes Franklin Regional's fifth WPIAL champ with the win, and the win makes it six straight years with a WPIAL champ for the Panthers, who got titles from Nico Megaludis from 2008 to 2011 and Kemerer in 2012.
“It was rough seeing (Kemerer and Smith) lose. My teammates are like brothers to me. We've all been working for this, but our big goal is states coming up,” Maruca said.
“I know I can compete with the kids out there. I just want to go out (to states) and show who I am. I want to make a name for myself.”
Kemerer's 126-pound final, a 3-2 loss to Stanford-bound Canon-McMillan senior Connor Schram, pitted a pair of reigning WPIAL champs against each other. Schram looked like he would have the edge after a first-period takedown, but Kemerer battled for a pair of escapes have a shot in the third period.
That set up a frantic finish, when Kemerer appeared to have Schram wrapped up for a takedown along the boundary in the closing seconds. The head referee ruled that Kemerer didn't have Schram secured before the final horn sounded, however, which gave the decision and the gold to Schram.
Smith put on a show in the 132-pound final with his furious rally against Connellsville's Ethan Kenney, who won the match, 14-12.
Kenney nearly ended the match early with a takedown and near fall in the first period for a 5-0 lead, and after a second near fall in the second period, Kenney held a 9-3 lead. Smith began to work his way back with a reversal and two more takedowns in the second period to cut the lead to 11-9.
Smith conceded a point to take a neutral start to the third period, but Kenney scored one more takedown to put the match out of reach, despite another late flurry from the FR junior.
Shields battled Canon-McMillan's Solomon Chisko in the 145-pound final, and like Kemerer's match, one takedown was the difference in a 3-2 win for Chisko.
The wrestlers traded escapes before Chisko scored in the third period. Shields escaped and nearly scored a winning takedown to end the match, but he was unable to rope in Chisko and hand him his first loss of the year.
In the third-place matches, 182-pound Norwin freshman Phipps booked a spot at states with two takedowns in a 5-1 win over McGuffey's Brent Blaharczyk. Phipps' only loss of the weekend came against North Allegheny's Alex DiCiantis, the eventual champ, and he will be one of just two freshmen in his weight class at states.
Phipps' win came after two other Knights just missed a spot at states. Senior Joel Pezze lost at 132 pounds to North Hills' Drew Walker, 7-5 in overtime, and sophomore Kevin Miller lost, 4-2, to Canon-McMillan's Brendan Price.
“I'm real happy with it. Last time I wrestled (Blaharczyk), he came straight at me and got a takedown, so I watched out for that this time and got a 0-0 first period,” Phipps said.
“I kind of used their losses as motivations when I wrestled my match. I should make it out there the next few years, and hopefully more of them make it with me.”
Franklin Regional senior Fleck will return to states in the 285-pound weight class after avenging his third-place match loss last year against Hopewell's Damon Sims Jr. with a 2-1 win.
Sims eliminated Fleck in an ultimate tiebreaker for third place last year, but this year the FR senior took a 2-0 lead with an escape and a penalty point awarded for a late shove by Sims.
“We went out of bounds, and we were still sort of tied up,” Fleck said. “There was still a little bit of pushing going on, but he got the last one in, and the ref saw that.
“I qualified my sophomore year, and we took five guys up that year. That was the first time (FR) did that, and when I wasn't able to qualify last year, it made me realize how much I really wanted to be there.”
Penn-Trafford sent three wrestlers to the final day of action — Austin, Casey McGowan and Mike Risnear. Risnear scored two wins on the weekend, and McGowan had one, but only Austin was able to score a Saturday win and advance to the 152-pound consolation semifinals. Kyle Berk also reached the consolation semifinals at 113 pounds for Franklin Regional.
In addition to the Star coverage area's individual champs, Westmoreland County's other WPIAL champs were Luke Pletcher of Latrobe (106), Sam Krivus of Hempfield (120), Zack Zavatsky of Latrobe (160) and Shane Kuhn of Kiski Area (285).
Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or firstname.lastname@example.org.