Kiski Area wrestlers hoping to challenge for WPIAL team title
With two of the top wrestlers in the country highlighting an experienced roster, Kiski Area could be poised to put a firm headlock on plenty of individual and team honors this season.
The Cavaliers return three PIAA qualifiers, including the team's first state champion, and five other WPIAL qualifiers from a squad that won the Section 1-AAA title and advanced to the WPIAL quarterfinals.
Kiski Area is ranked No. 4 among 48 WPIAL Class AAA teams by Trib Total Media. The regular season opens Friday.
“I think we have a very solid lineup with some outstanding guys, and that makes you a team that has to be respected,” Kiski Area coach Chuck Tursky said. “Barring injuries, we could qualify up to seven guys for states, if not more.”
The Cavaliers' leader on the mat is NCAA champion Penn State recruit Matt McCutcheon, ranked No. 4 in the nation at 195 pounds by Intermat.
Last season, McCutcheon (41-1, 31 pins) captured the PIAA Class AAA title at 182 pounds. Even though he's highly touted at 195, there's a possibility he could drop to 182 again during his quest for a second crown.
“One thing my dad and coaches have said is that repeating is harder than the first one,” McCutcheon said. “There are some people that win and think they're on top and don't work as hard. I'm trying to work as hard, or even harder, than last year.”
Kiski Area also features a Division I prospect in junior Shane Kuhn (37-6, 29 pins), who is ranked No. 11 nationally in the 285-pound class by Intermat. Last season, Kuhn took WPIAL runner-up honors and placed fourth in the state. And he did that even though he was light enough to compete at 220. He chose to move up and probably will again.
The versatile Kuhn, who also is a standout linebacker/tight end, has started receiving Division I interest in wrestling and football, according to Tursky.
“Before his high school career is all over, he'll have choices to make, and that's a good thing,” Tursky said about Kuhn's recruiting.
Senior 138-pounder Cole Landowski (31-5) placed third in the WPIAL and qualified for states last season. The Division II Pitt-Johnstown recruit provides the Cavaliers with a solid leader in the lighter weights.
Kiski Area's other returning WPIAL qualifiers and their probable weight classes this year are seniors Shawn McGowan (160) and Kyle Skelly (152), juniors Ryan Hardaway (120) and Jake Ardellitz (132), and sophomore Vaughn Curcio (126).
Freshman Tyler Worthing (182), who had a distinguished youth career, also should contribute.
The Foxes finished 2-3 and ended up one win short of qualifying for the Section 3-AAA team tournament last season, but they could be ready for a return to the playoffs.
For leadership, Fox Chapel will lean on junior Corey Mahon (152) and sophomore Tyler Heasley (160), who qualified for the WPIAL individual tournament last season.
But their jobs will be made easier by the return of seniors Tyler Lever (285), Artie Newman (126) and Jared Rice (113). All of them had last season cut short by injury.
“They give us a big boost in leadership and experience,” said Fox Chapel coach Ron Frank, who enters his 33rd season with the Foxes.
Frank is pleased by the turnout of nearly 30 wrestlers, including a large, promising group of freshmen.
“We'll experience some growing pains the first part of the season, but the whole room is working hard,” Frank said. “We're delighted the way things are going.”
The Knights showed improvement last season but still are seeking their first trip to the team playoffs since joining the WPIAL in 2006-07.
Knoch's most experienced wrestlers include seniors Blaine Elliott (126) and Tyler Hlebiczki (145) and junior Trevor Hilliard (152). Brian Mowry (195), a 6-foot-6 senior, is a new face and will be among the tallest wrestlers in the WPIAL.
“When he showed up, I asked him if he was in the wrong place, if he was on the basketball team,” Knoch coach Mark McLaughlin said. “He said, ‘I hate basketball.' ”
The coach's son, junior Col McLaughlin (145), has transferred to The Kiski School, a private, all-male boarding school located in Saltsburg that competes in the Interstate Prep School League.
Hamstrung by injuries, Plum failed to fill a handful of weight classes at times and struggled last season.
However, with more than 25 wrestlers available to cover 14 weights, things are looking much more positive, Plum coach Mike Supak said.
The Mustangs will be led by a pair of WPIAL qualifiers — senior Jake DiGuilio (220) and junior Eric Green (132).
During the offseason, Plum was realigned from Section 1-AAA, which includes Kiski Area, to Section 3-AAA, which remained home to Fox Chapel and Knoch.
Paul Kogut is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 724-224-2696.