The Valley contingent headed to the Giant Center for the state championship wrestling tournament Thursday through Saturday takes along a wide variety of experience and achievement levels.
Of the 17 Valley participants, seven are first-timers, including three freshmen. But among those who have been there before, there are two state champions and five others who have had medals draped around their necks on high school wrestling’s biggest stage.
The group includes a pair of returning state champions: Milton senior Ryan Solomon, at 195 pounds, and Mifflinburg junior Nazar Mironenko, at 285. Both won the titles at those same weight classes a year ago, and Solomon placed sixth and second as a sophomore and junior, respectively.
The freshmen are Lewisburg’s Brian Friery and Warrior Run’s Zack LeBarron (both at 106), and Southern Columbia’s Blake Marks (152), son of two-time state champ and three-time state medalist Jerry Marks and nephew of former state medalist John Marks.
Also heading to the tournament for the first time are senior Zach Heeter (145) and junior Alex Lieberman (170) of Midd-West; Warrior Run sophomore Eric Hunt (113); and senior Jake Becker (285) of Southern Columbia.
The returning state place-winners are Mifflinburg sophomore Cole Walter (132, fourth); Juniata senior Sean Heggs, fourth (an East Juniata student, but the programs merged this season); Line Mountain senior Seth Lansberry (138); Mifflinburg senior Ty Walter (160), a returning qualifier, but fourth-place medalist as a sophomore; and Lewisburg senior Brandon Smith (220), fifth.
Two Valley sophomores and a junior will make their second trips to Hershey after not placing last year: Line Mountain’s Cameron Newman (106), Southern’s Kent Lane (126), and junior Ryan Preisch of Milton. Lane is the son of former North Schuylkill state champion Kent Lane.
Preliminaries get under way Thursday at 9 a.m. with the finals set for 2:30 p.m. Saturday.
The 106 bracket is crowded with locals. Newman (34-7), by winning the Northwest Regional title, is in the top bracket and will open with Palisades junior Jacob Wasser (36-6). Friery, who lost to Newman in the final, and LeBarron, who lost for the first time Saturday to Newman in the semifinals, are both in the bottom. Friery (32-9) faces Reynolds freshman Seth Hogue (30-13) while LeBarron (35-1) opens with freshman Taylor Ortz (32-7) of Brookville.
Hunt (35-5) will take on Ligonier Valley junior Justin Patrick (33-4). Also in the bracket is Tri-Valley sophomore Caleb Bordner (33-10).
Unbeaten Lane (37-0) will take on Pen Argyl junior Andrew Sutton (37-0). Cole Walter (34-4), who lost in the finals last weekend while struggling with a breathing problem, faces Pius X junior Michael Communale (37-6). Tri-Valley freshman Chase Schaeffer (33-10) is in the opposite bracket.
The 138 draw has plenty of local flavor. In the top bracket are Heggs (37-4), who meets Biglerville junior Jasper Hankey (39-7) in the prelims. If both advance, Heggs and Lansberry (35-4) will meet in the semifinals on Friday night. Lansberry meets Matt Humes (34-10), a Saegertown sophomore, in the prelims. Lurking in the bottom bracket is former Line Mountain wrestler Zain Retheford of Benton, who won a state title as a freshman, took third as a sophomore and sat out last season after transferring to Benton. Retherford (43-0) who beat Lansberry in the last two finals, takes on Camp Hill sophomore Alex Gallaher (29-14). Also in the bracket is Tri-Valley sophomore Hunter Harner (35-10).
At 145, Heeter (38-5) meets Tanner Cahill (35-3), a senior from Conemaugh Township. In the bottom half, Tri-Valley senior Blake Bowman (35-8) takes on Brookville freshman Zach Vroman (29-5), and Benton’s three-time state medalist Colt Cotton (40-5) wrestles Matt Johnston (41-6), a senior from West Greene.
Preisch (29-4) beat Marks (34-5) the past two weekends in the finals. Preisch opens with Mark Maloney (28-18), a Bethlehem Catholic senior, and Marks (also 34-5) gets Fort LeBoeuf senior Taylor Harrington (36-12). Halifax senior Robbie Moretz (39-1) could meet Preisch in the quarterfinals.
Ty Walter (32-3) opens with Bryce Fochtman (35-4), a sophomore from Berlin Brothersvalley. In the bottom half, Benton senior Jeric Kasunic (32-8), fifth a year ago, meets Corey Hazel (36-3), a Penns Valley sophomore. Tri-Valley senior Ty Schofstall (30-3), a returning bronze medalist, matches up with Somerset junior Landon Lohr (28-6).
Lieberman (34-6) will meet South Fayette senior Mike Fetchet (39-3) in the opener.
Solomon (36-0), the only unbeaten in his weight class, opens with Saucon Valley junior Justin Blobe (34-11).
Smith (33-1), his only loss coming to Solomon, meets Mitchell Walker (30-11), a Berlin Brothersvalley senior. Also in his bracket is Halifax senior Joey Kaufman (38-1), who lost his first match in last week’s Southeast Regional final. In addition, Central Columbia senior Eric McCracken (36-6), who lost in the regional final to Smith, meets West Greene senior Cody Jacobs (34-6).
The 285 class also has three Valley wrestlers. Mironenko (34-3) meets Wyomissing senior Ben Wertz (25-10); Becker (36-4) takes on Biglerville senior Trevor Stover (36-3); and Central Columbia senior Alex Shiber (39-3) wrestles Pen Argyl junior Brady Mutton (29-8).
Others in the field and their first-round matchups include Benton senior Matt Welliver (35-8) versus Grand Bond (37-8), a Boiling Springs sophomore, at 120; and two at 182: Tri-Valley senior Lyle Troutman (33-9) versus Burrell senior Dakota DesLauriers (32-0); and Benton sophomore Logan Womelsdorf (26-15) versus Bethlehem Catholic junior Jose Ortiz (42-4).