West Mifflin wrestling team opens up with new look
Without two of his top wrestlers and using a handful of freshmen and sophomores, West Mifflin coach Tony Salopek didn't know what to expect when his squad took the mat in the opening weekend during the Eastern Area Tournament at Gateway.
“For a lot of them that was their first go at some varsity competition,” Salopek said. “Kind of what I expected. Couple pleasant surprises.”
Seniors Carter Shar and Vince Williams led the Titans with a pair of top-five finishes. Shar dropped a 3-0 decision to North Allegheny's AJ Boeh to finish fourth in 138 pounds, while Williams pinned Penn-Trafford's Matt Shirey to capture fifth place at 170 pounds.
Six other Titans finished one win shy of placing, which Salopek thought was an accurate measurement.
“We'll have our ups and downs here,” he said.
With heavyweight Shawn Devey and 145-pounder Austin Bonacci sidelined with injuries, West Mifflin must rely on others like junior Dan Howard (182 pounds) and sophomore Zach Schrott (132) to fill the void.
“(Schrott) went in unseeded, drew the second seed and pinned him. He had a pretty good day. He wrestled pretty tough,” Salopek said. “The matches that (Howard) lost early in the tournament, he was clearly rusty. He came back and wrestled the tournament pretty tough.”
It will take that type of grit to compete for a playoff spot in Class AAA Section 2B, but if the section is like last season, Salopek knows it will be wide open.
“Last year in our dual meets, I think every match except Peters Township we either won or lost by three points,” Salopek said. “They were all super competitive. I think we're going to be able to be in a similar situation.”
One difference that could impact the course of this season is the absence of a 106-pounder. Salopek said this is the first time he can remember he hasn't been able to fill out all the weight classes.
“All the kids got too big,” he said.
Salopek believes West Mifflin could send up to eight wrestlers to the WPIAL tournament, and possibly a couple of them to the PIAA tournament.
“I think by the end of the year, realistically, we should get seven or eight WPIAL individual qualifiers,” Salopek said. “Maybe we can get one of those guys to the state tournament.”
Bonacci, who went 28-11 last year as a freshman, is expected back in time for West Mifflin's holiday tournament Dec. 27-28.
In the meantime, the Titans opened up section play Wednesday with a 36-35 loss to Bethel Park; the Black Hawks won six matches to West Mifflin's four. Perhaps a microcosm of what could be a tight year.
“That's life with a young or inexperienced team,” Salopek said. “We're looking to improve as the year goes on.”
West Mifflin will return to action Wednesday against section opponent Upper St. Clair.
Justin Criado is a freelance writer.