Kittanning embraces chance to compete in Powerade event
School is still out for the holidays, but Kittanning's wrestlers will get their toughest tests of the year this weekend.
The Wildcats will compete for the second straight year in the Powerade Christmas Wrestling Tournament — perennially rated as one of the nation's best high school tournament — beginning Friday at Canon-McMillan High School.
This year's Powerade Tournament will feature 46 schools, including multiple entries from Georgia, Ohio, Maryland and West Virginia on top of the usual selection of the WPIAL and Pennsylvania's top teams. Seven of the 14 champions from the 2012 tournament will return, and Wildcats senior Jason Nolf is among that elite group.
“I'm always excited for any competition,” Nolf said. “I love wrestling in tournaments against good kids because I think it prepares me more for the future.”
Nolf won last year in the 132-pound weight class with a 10-5 decision against a friend and training partner from the Young Guns club, Franklin Regional's Tyler Smith. Both went on to win PIAA titles, Nolf in AA and Smith in AAA.
This year, Nolf is set up to compete in the 145-pound weight class, and he is almost certain to be the top seed at that weight when the seedings are announced Wednesday. InterMat ranks Nolf, a Penn State recruit, as the No. 2 wrestler nationally at that weight, but two other nationally ranked wrestlers whose teams will be at Powerade are not competing — No. 3 Solomon Chisko of Canon-McMillan, a Virginia Tech recruit, and No. 6 Joseph Galasso of Philadelphia-area Father Judge, a Cornell recruit.
Despite those absences, the 145-pound bracket will still have plenty of quality, including Franklin Regional junior Josh Maruca, the WPIAL Class AAA champ last year at 138.
“There are a lot of good kids that are going there, and obviously a lot of them are going Division I (for college),” Nolf said. “It's going to be good to wrestle against them.”
The rest of Kittanning's wrestlers don't have the expectations that Nolf does entering the event, but they still have much to gain. Powerade is the biggest tournament on Kittanning's schedule, and the chance to face a nationally ranked opponent or pick off a few wins at a major event could be a big momentum builder for some of the younger Wildcats.
“It's a huge event, and I feel like the way you go into an event like that is to make sure your team is fresh and rested,” Kittanning coach Brandon Newill said.
“I think it's really important for our young guys just to see an event like that. Even if they go down there and don't perform the greatest, it's good just to see the fanfare around one of the biggest tournaments in the country.”
Last year, senior Taylor Jack was the only other Kittanning wrestler to place at Powerade, when he took sixth at 152 pounds. Some younger wrestlers also experienced success, such as Jacob Robb, who won two matches last year and returns with another year of experience at 195 this year.
Whether the Wildcats have more wrestlers who will find success in their first trip to Powerade will be seen during the course of the two-day event, but even an 0-2 record at the event can turn out to be a positive in the long term.
“I think it's a good experience for the young guys, and it opens their eyes a little bit,” Nolf said. “It gives them a chance to see just how deep wrestling really is in a lot of places.”
“Even from our area, not a lot of teams get to go to Powerade,” Newill said. “For them to get a chance to see that and be a part of it, it's incredible.”