Franklin Regional wrestling coach Eric Mausser had his team practice at 8 a.m. Monday, the first day of deer hunting season across the state.
He said there aren't many deer hunters on the wrestling team.
But that doesn't mean the wrestlers aren't hunters; they are hunting for a different prize this season, one that features gold trophies.
The return of 12 lettermen and four PIAA placewinners from the 2012-13 season, including Class AAA 132-pound champion Tyler Smith, is a major reason Franklin Regional is favored to win its first WPIAL and PIAA team titles.
The Panthers also added freshman Spencer Lee, the top-ranked eighth grader in the country, to the roster after he transferred from Saegertown.
And junior Devin Brown, the PIAA Class AA 106-pound champion from 2013, also transferred from Saegertown and could play a major role for the Panthers. The WPIAL ruled him ineligible in November, deciding his transfer was motivated by athletics. His appeal before the PIAA will be heard Dec. 17.
Franklin Regional finished second to Canon-McMillan in the WPIAL team tournament and was third in the state last season.
Now the team wants more.
“We're a long way from winning anything,” Mausser said. “Our section (1-AAA) is one of the strongest in the WPIAL and, possibly, the state.
“Kiski Area beat us last year, and Latrobe is very good. We have to worry about them before we can worry about winning WPIAL and PIAA titles.”
But the Panthers are deep with talent.
Junior Michael Kemerer, a two-time PIAA runner-up is back, along with junior placewinners Josh Shields and Josh Maruca. Smith, who went 45-4 last season and has a 120-19 career record, has signed a letter of intent to attend Bucknell.
Kemerer (38-6, 77-7) finished second to Canon-McMillan's Connor Schram at 126. Shields (44-6, 81-13) was third at 145, and Maruca (43-8, 79-15) was fifth at 138.
Also back are Kyle Berk (113), Dom Giannangeli (126), Max Kubas (138), Brandon Yant (152), Nate Painter (160), Jake Pickup (182) and Brett Zanotto (220).
Freshman Gus Solomon (113) and sophomore Charlie Mazon (285) also are expected to contribute.
“We have more flexibility,” Mausser said. “We have a nice solid group. The goals are even higher this year.
“We got a taste last year. Now we want to win the Powerade, the counties, the section, the WPIAL and the PIAA titles. We also want to do well in the Ironman.”
Lee won the Super 32 last month, and he and Brown competed in the Cadet World Championships in Serbia in August. Lee fell to Latrobe's Luke Pletcher, 3-1, in the 2013 FloNationals at Indiana University in March. Pletcher was the Class AAA 106-pound PIAA champion.
“Spencer is a special kid. He's done a lot of neat things,” Mausser said. “He's very coachable and a very hard-working individual.
“Devin is a phenomenal kid — not just as a wrestler but a kid himself.”
Franklin Regional has loaded up its schedule to prepare for the postseason. The Panthers will compete in the Wyoming Seminary tournament Saturday, go to the Ironman tournament in Akron, Ohio, on Dec. 14, the Powerade Tournament at Canon-McMillan on Dec. 28 and the Westmoreland County tournament Jan. 11.
“We're going to get tested early,” Mausser said. “We had our eyes opened up at Ironman last year, and we built off that.”
Latrobe will be one of the biggest obstacles in Franklin Regional's way. The Wildcats return Pletcher, PIAA third-place finisher Zack Zavatsky (160) and state qualifier Jake Shaffer (138). Ethan McCoy (106) and Dom Scalise (160) also transferred back from Kiski School.
McCoy was a Prep School state champion and national runner-up, and Scalise placed third in the state and nation.
In Class AA, South Fayette and Burrell should battle for a WPIAL championship.
Both teams return numerous PIAA qualifiers.
Back for South Fayette are Mike Carr (120), Grant Fetchet (152) and Jared Walker (160), while Burrell returns John Andrejcik (132), Steven Edwards (138) and Alan Beattie (285).
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