WPIAL champion Franklin Regional sets sights on 1st PIAA crown
Franklin Regional's Jake Pickup (right) celebrates after scoring on Latrobe's Travis Schmeling to win their 195-pound match in ultimate tiebreaker during the WPIAL Class AAA team championship at Chartiers Valley High School on Feb. 1, 2014, in Bridgeville. Franklin Regional defeated Latrobe, 42-19. Photo by Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
After running through the WPIAL with relative ease, the Franklin Regional wrestling team will try to dominate the state this weekend in Hershey.
The Panthers (19-1) haven't lost a match since falling to Wyoming Seminary, a prep school in eastern Pennsylvania, on the opening weekend of the season. Franklin Regional wasn't a full strength for the match.
Franklin Regional did score higher than Wyoming Seminary at the Ironman Tournament on Dec. 13-14.
“We're just focused on our first match,” Franklin Regional coach Eric Mausser said. “We're wrestling well. Hopefully, we can stay healthy and get through it.”
It won't be easy for the Panthers, who are in search of their first state title. District 1 champion Boyertown (22-0) is undefeated, District 3 champion Cumberland Valley and runner-up Central Dauphin have solid teams, and District 11 champion Nazareth and runner-up Parkland are always tough.
Then there is Latrobe (12-2) and North Allegheny (15-1) from the WPIAL, who also have strong squads.
Franklin Regional will open the PIAA tournament at 8 p.m. Thursday against District 3's Wilson.
Latrobe faces District 4 champion Jersey Shore and North Allegheny faces Cumberland Valley, both at 6 p.m.
Franklin Regional finished third in the tournament a year ago, opening with wins against Jersey Shore and Owen J. Roberts. After a loss to Central Dauphin in the semifinals, the Panthers bounced back with wins against Erie McDowell and Easton.
Experience is why Franklin Regional is favored to win the title. The Panthers return numerous starters from the 2013 squad, including Michael Kemerer, Tyler Smith, Josh Maruca, Josh Shields, Brandon Yant and Kyle Berk. Adding to the lineup Devin Brown (106), who wrestled in the Class AA tournament for Saegertown, and freshman standout Spencer Lee (113) makes the Panthers nearly unbeatable.
“Whenever a team is as fortunate as we are, as soon as one person wins and then the next person wins, it's just like a snowball effect,” Shields said. “You feed off of everybody's emotions and enthusiasm. It pumps you up and gets everybody hyped up. You've got to love it.”
Latrobe coach Tad Harbert said there is a reason why Franklin Regional is No. 1 in the state.
“What can you do against them?” Harbert said. “They're top 10 in the country and that's our two losses. The six studs are unbeatable.
“We gave our heart and gave our all against them. Our kids have to be like a bad golfer, short-time memory loss. If you hit a bad shot, move on.”
North Allegheny earned its second consecutive trip to Hershey. The Tigers easily defeated City League champion Allderdice, 72-6, Monday.
Tigers coach Jamie Kyriazis said his team must reset and focus on some new goals.
“We have a lot of young guys who haven't been there,” Kyriazis said. “As a coach, if you can't get to Hershey as an individual because how tough it is, get there as a team and get the experience.”
WPIAL Class AA champion Burrell has different goals. With the tournament loaded with talented teams, especially District 11 power and returning champion Bethlehem Catholic, the Bucs' goal is to finish in the top four.
“I've preached the message to these guys all year: Guys like (seniors) Steve Edwards, Corey Falleroni, Nick Pattock, they can't win us a team medal,” Burrell coach Josh Shields said. “Can they help? Certainly. But the most they can do is get us six points. It's going to take guys with less credentialed backgrounds giving us 100 percent effort to achieve our team goal, and that's to come home with a medal this weekend.”
Burrell was 1-2 last season, while South Fayette went 0-2.
Burrell's first match is against District 6's Hamburg at 2 p.m., while South Fayette faces District 6 champion Huntingdon at 4 p.m.
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