Franklin Regional wrestling team eyes WPIAL, PIAA titles
Franklin Regional wrestling coach Eric Mausser considered 2012-13 a season of firsts, as the Panthers captured their first-ever Westmoreland County and section championships.
With many of the wrestlers from last season's squad returning, 2013-14 could turn into a season of bigger firsts: WPIAL and PIAA titles.
The Panthers will begin their season this weekend looking to build off their successful season, which also included a second-place finish in the WPIAL Class AAA tournament and a third-place finish in the state tournament.
“That was a great accomplishment for the kids,” Mausser said. “They worked extremely hard, and they built off that. The goals are even higher this year. So after having success last year, they set the bar high. I give a goal at the beginning of the year for team goals, and one of them's to repeat as section champs, (become) WPIAL champs and hopefully we'll have an opportunity to win the PIAA tournament as well.”
As Franklin Regional looks to build off last season's accomplishments, the team can depend on a bevy of experienced wrestlers, including five defending Section 1-AAA champions in their weight class.
Senior Tyler Smith, a Bucknell recruit, headlines the returners. Smith went 45-4 and won the state championship at 132 pounds last season.
Smith will be joined by a strong class of juniors: Kyle Berk, who won the section championship at 113 pounds; Michael Kemerer, the section champion and WPIAL and PIAA runner-up at 126 pounds; Josh Maruca, who won the section and WPIAL titles at 138 pounds before placing fifth in the state tournament; and Josh Shields, who won the section championship and finished second in the WPIAL and third in the PIAA at 145 pounds.
Seniors Nate Painter and Brandon Yant, junior Andrew Marshall and sophomore Jake Pickup also wrestled in the WPIAL tournament last year.
“All of those guys are coming back, and it's nice,” Mausser said. “They can feed off each other and work with each other. It's kind of neat to see them wrestle in the room because they're all so tough.”
While Franklin Regional has a strong core of returners, the Panthers also boast some impressive newcomers.
Freshman Spencer Lee, who moved into the district from Saegertown, is one of the most highly touted ninth-grade wrestlers in the country. He competed at the Cadet World Championships in August in Serbia and took home the title at 113 pounds at the 2013 Super 32 Challenge, one of the top preseason wrestling tournaments in the country, earlier this fall.
“Spencer's a special kid. He's done a lot of neat things, but he's also very coachable and he's a very hard-working kid, too. He comes in and he works his tail off every day. The nice thing is he likes to wrestle with the Tyler Smiths and Mike Kemerers, even though they're a lot bigger than him. He likes that challenge. He gets that challenge every day in the room.”
Franklin Regional is awaiting word from the PIAA about the status of another transfer from Saegertown, junior Devin Brown. Brown won the PIAA Class AA title at 106 pounds last season before moving to Murrysville earlier this year.
The WPIAL ruled Brown ineligible last month, but Franklin Regional and Brown are appealing the decision to the PIAA. Mausser said a decision was expected later in December.
“He's a phenomenal kid — not just a wrestler but a kid himself,” Mausser said. “He's fantastic to have in the room. He's very polite, very nice and very humble. Hopefully, the PIAA will overturn the WPIAL's decision.”
Sophomore Charlie Mazon will step in at heavyweight to replace Luke Fleck, who finished third in the WPIAL last season. Freshman Gus Solomon is expected to contribute at 113 or 120 pounds, and junior Brett Zanotto will be looked to fill the vacancy at 220 pounds.
Because of the depth on Franklin Regional's roster, publications Flowrestling and Intermat ranked the Panthers No. 10 in the country. Wrestling USA ranked Franklin Regional fourth in the Northeastern Region.
“We kind of feed off it different ways,” Mausser said. “It just depends on what's going on and how we need to work.”
Franklin Regional will compete for one of two guaranteed WPIAL playoff spots in a Section 1-AAA subsection that also includes Gateway, Kiski Area, McKeesport, Penn Hills and Woodland Hills. The Panthers could also earn a playoff bid with a third-place finish.
The Panthers will begin the season this weekend at the 2013 Friends of Sem Wrestling Duals, where they will compete against prep school power Wyoming Seminary and six other squads. They will compete in the Ironman Tournament Dec. 13 and 14 at Walsh Jesuit High School before beginning the section season Dec. 18 at Woodland Hills.
“(It will be nice) just to get the season started and see what we can do,” Mausser said. “We had our eyes opened pretty fast last year going to the Ironman tournament (because) it's such a brutal tournament. We were able to improve on that and do pretty well at the Powerade Tournament (in late December), and we just built off that. It was nice to start off the season that way last year and get our butts kicked a little bit. I'm hoping we can return the favor more this year.”