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Laurel Highlands wrestling team shows growth in loss to Connellsville

| Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014, 11:15 p.m.
Kelly Vernon | Trib Total Media
Connellsville's Dakota McWilliams (top) competes against Jim Islar in the 220-pound weight class Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014, at Laurel Highlands High School.

Prior to returning to the WPIAL this season, the Laurel Highlands wrestling team had been out of action since the 2009-10 campaign. However, it seems the Mustangs are laying the groundwork for a solid program in the future.

On Wednesday, Laurel Highlands faced Connellsville, one of the most stable and successful programs in the area. The Mustangs fought hard, but in the end, the Falcons met the challenge and scored a 56-21 road victory in Section 2-AAA (2A).

“Our kids are tough kids, and when people come at them, they respond well,” Connellsville coach Tommy Dolde said. “We had some tough matches (this past weekend) at the Battlefield Duals, and they responded. I'm proud of them.”

The win kicks off a busy stretch for the Falcons (8-2, 4-0). Connellsville will compete at the Central Dauphin Duals on Saturday before wrestling four out of in five days starting Monday.

“We'll have four matches in five days,” Dolde said. “We have to respond well.”

Connellsville made sure it started this hectic portion of its schedule with a solid effort.

Tyler Kenney (113 pounds), Brenden Cooper (132), William Bell (145), Dale Provance (170) and Matt Butler (195) each won by first-period falls.

Tommy Provance (182) and Dakota McWilliams (220) needed until the second period in their respective matches but also won by pin. Bryce Butler (138) scored a second-period technical fall, and Gunnar Lynch (285) picked up a victory on a decision. Ryan Burkholder (126) won by forfeit.

Just as the Falcons responded to an inspired challenge from a Laurel Highlands team that is experience plenty of growing pains, the Mustangs can take solace in having come a long way in a short amount of time under coach Mike Zavada.

“I could see fear in their eyes (when we first started),” Zavada said. “But now, they come at people, and they believe in themselves. I know they won't back off of anybody, and I think the sky is the limit.”

Laurel Highlands certainly isn't at the level of Connellsville, but the Mustangs showed they are willing to compete.

“It's always good to wrestle a team the caliber of Connellsville,” Zavada said. “It shows our kids where they need to be.”

The Mustangs (2-3, 2-3) had strong efforts throughout the lineup, and some of those efforts were rewarded with results on the scoreboard.

Kaige Lewis (106), Lucas Boyle (152) and Jimmy Pierce (160) each recorded a pin for Laurel Highlands. Zeke Beatty (120) won by decision.

“My most experienced kids wrestled well,” Zavada said.

For the Falcons, building momentum at this stage of the season is important, and Dolde likes where his team is at this point.

“Our lineup is set, and we are where we want to be,” Dolde said.

Jason Black is the local sports editor of the Daily Courier. Reach him at jblack@tribweb.com.

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