Gateway grapplers eye strong season
By Michael Love
Published: Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
This weekend, the Gateway varsity wrestling team will get a good look at where it is with action at the annual Eastern Area Invitational Wrestling Tournament.
It's a landing spot for the Gators, who have spent weeks and months preparing with work in the weight room and the wrestling room.
With several returning lettermen, including those who wrestled in the individual postseason, Gateway hopes to turn in several highlight performance in 2013-14.
“Right now, it's a day-by-day thing with the guys,” Gateway head coach R.J. Santilli.
“We're getting better each day and working hard. With that, we will take whatever comes our way down the line.”
A.J. Wilkins (wrestling at Cleveland State), Jaymar Parrish (football at Pitt) and Malik Shuman were the cornerstones of a five-wrestler senior class lost to graduation. All three qualified for the WPIAL championships, and Wilkins closed out his varsity career at states.
“It's impossible to replace guys like A.J. and Jaymar,” Santilli said.
“But with guys like (seniors) Cody (Pawlowski) and Austin (Davidson), with great leadership qualities, everyone is setting goals high, both individually and for the team.”
That leadership includes juniors Jalen Key and Justin Leone.
Key competed at WPIALs last year and finished 17-17 overall at 138, while Leone went 13-16 at 132.
Key will start at 145 and Leone at 138, but, Santilli said, both probably will drop down one weight class when the two-pound growth allowance kicks in sometime around the Allegheny County Tournament in mid January.
“Jalen and Justin both are smart kids who know what to do to make adjustments,” Santilli said.
“Jalen is definitely more confident with his technique. Justin is a lot stronger and ready to go.”
Davidson returns and hopes for big things after a disappointing end to his junior season.
He lost his first match at the Section 1 tournament and then was forced to default in the consolation round because of a knee injury.
Davidson ended the season 22-12 overall.
“That made him hungrier for this season,” Santilli said.
“He's a physically and mentally tough kid. He rehabbed in the offseason and set his goals high. He put on 10 pounds of muscle. He looks good and is moving well.”
Davidson is expected to remain at 170.
Pawlowski (195) finished 13-16 at 195 last year.
“Cody has quietly put together a nice career so far,” Santilli said. “He improves every day. He's such a hard worker.”
Sophomore Brandon Toomey, 7-17 last year, returns to 106, while senior Thaer Shouman (13-15) will be at 126 or 132.
Shouman will compete at 132 this weekend, Santilli said.
Junior Tony DeFazio (7-14) is hoping for big things at 152, and senior Zac Bell (7-11) is down to 182 from 220 last year.
“Zac worked out and lost a lot of weight,” Santilli said. “He worked hard. I knew he was working on it, but I didn't realize how much weight he lost. He looks good.”
Sophomores Nick Conti and Nate Gage will be at 160 and 220, respectively, while fellow sophomore Justin Smith will compete at 113 and 120.
Santilli said freshman Mason Boehm most likely will wrestle at 113 at Eastern Areas this weekend, while Smith will be at 120.
He also said there will be no one at 126 or heavyweight at the tournament, with heavyweight being a major question mark at the start of the season.
Gateway returns to Section 1 and will be in the 1A subsection with Franklin Regional, Kiski Area, McKeesport, Penn Hills and Woodland Hills.
The Gators went 3-2 in the subsection last year with victories over McKeesport, Penn Hills and Woodland Hills.
The top five teams from the section again will move on to the WPIAL Class AAA team tournament.
The top team from one subsection will wrestle the second-place team from the other subsection.
The two winners will then wrestle for the section title.
There will be an extra match between the third-place teams from each subsection to determine the fifth team to advance to WPIALs.
Gateway, third in 1A last year, faced Hempfield in the fifth-place match, and the Spartans came away with a 60-18 victory.
The top three teams from the WPIAL tournament will move on to the PIAA championships.
Individually, the top five place finishers in each weight class at the Section 1 tournament will advance to the WPIAL AAA/Southwest Regional tournament with the five qualifiers from each of the other three sections. At WPIALs, the top three will advance to states.
The Eastern Area tournament at Gateway High School will be Friday and Saturday.
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825, at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @Mlove_Trib.
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