A total of 17 TIMES NEWS area wrestlers survived the first step on the Road to Hershey.
With the District 11 tournaments now history, it is now time to move on to interdistrict competition on the Regional level this week, with the survivors moving on to the PIAA Championships at Chocolatetown's Giant Center March 10-12.
Northern Lehigh and Pleasant Valley lead the TN area with five Regional qualifiers each, while Lehighton, Northwestern and Palmerton each have two and Tamaqua one.
Four champs were crowned in AA (No. Lehigh's Zane Heller and Colin Hedash, Northwestern's Bobby Clymer and Tamaqua's Garth Lakitsky). Clymer earned the AA Outstanding Wrestling Award for his fall over top seeded and returning State silver medalist Kyle Dehaut of Bethlehem Catholic, while Lakitsky won the AA Pinner Award for racking up three falls in 5:21.
While one would assume that experience counts for a lot during the postseason, it is interesting to note that only five of those grapplers are seniors (No. Lehigh's Lucas Dise, Nikko Stevens and Colin Hedash, Northwestern's Clymer at Tamaqua's Lakitsky).
Junior Regional qualifiers include Pleasant Valley's Ernest Klingel, Michael Dahlstom and Alex Yanovich; No. Lehigh's Heller; Lehighton's Anthony Farole and Mitch Moyer; and Palmerton's Kane Kralik.
Also earning Regional berths were sophomores Ty Herzog of No. Lehigh, Sean Bianco of Pleasant Valley and Michael Ortiz of Northwestern and freshmen Kenny Yanovich of Pleasant Valley and Josh Evans of Palmerton.
"It was a goal," said Ortiz of making it to Regionals, which he did by placing fourth at 130 pounds at the 11-AA tournament. "I hope I can wrestle a little better at Regionals, so I can push through and make it out to States."
Evans, who lost in the AA quarterfinals at 112, had to come back through the consolations by winning four straight bouts, including avenging his lone loss to Salisbury's Anthony Dee, in order to place third.
"It feels pretty good," said Evans. "As a freshman, I wasn't coming in here looking for first or second, but I thought I could get third and I ended up with it."
The Regional qualifiers are all hoping to live on to fight one more week.
NEAR MISSES - Several area wrestlers just missed qualifying for Regionals by placing fifth at the 11-AA tournament.
Two seniors had particularly heartbreaking outcomes.
Panther Valley's Nick O'Donnell, a Regional qualifier last year, had the bad luck of butting heads, literally, with Saucon Valley's Bryan Israel in the semifinals, causing O'Donnell to injury default. Panther Valley coach Tim Robb noted that O'Donnell wasn't himself when he wrestled and lost 3-0 to Jaryd Flank of Wilson.
O'Donnell did recover to edge Tamaqua's Colin Mashack 6-5 for fifth place. That final win was the 99th of O'Donnell's career.
Tamaqua's Kolby Mashack, a two-time State qualifier, lost a 6-5 decision to Pen Argyl's Luciano Burriesci in the 140 semis in a bout that turned on a late stalling call that Blue Raiders' coach Jim McCabe vehemently protested. Mashack was then edged by Lehighton's Farole 4-3 in the consolations before ended up fifth. He ends with 127 career victories.
Among the underclassmen, Palmerton junior Sam Oberlander made it to the 125 semis, where he lost to Becahi's Jaydon Rice, then fell 5-2 to Saucon Valley's Paul Sloand before settling for fifth place.
No. Lehigh sophomore Connor Hedash advanced to the 152 semis, falling to Becahi's Dehaut 5-2, then lost to Saucon's Travis Buddock in the wrestlebacks on the second OT tiebreaker to be pushed into the fifth place bout.
Lehighton junior Mike Balliet was another semifinalist, losing to eventual champ Elliot Riddick of Becahi at 160 before a 6-5 setback to Pen Argyl's JD Rabenold ended his run for Regionals.
Northwestern junior Levi Veppert fell to eventual 171 champ Colin Hedash in the semifinals, then dropped a 4-2 verdict to Tyler Horn of Pen Argyl before ending up fifth.
SOUTHEAST CLASS AA REGIONAL - District 11-AA wrestlers will battle with Districts 1 and 3 at the PIAA Southeast Regional at Wilson West Lawn High School near Reading.
District 11 advanced four wrestlers into each 12-man bracket, while District 3 qualified five grapplers and District 1 three.
The top five placewinners at each weight class move on to the Giant Center in Hershey for the PIAA State Meet.
The Southeast AA schedule has action beginning on Friday at 5 p.m. with the preliminaries, quarterfinals and first round of consolations. On Saturday, the semifinals/second round consolations begin at 9:30 a.m., with the third round of consolations at 11 a.m. and the third/fifth place consolations at 12:30 p.m. The championship finals are scheduled for 5 p.m.
The District 11 and 3 champions receive preliminary round byes in the brackets. That includes Heller at 125 and Hedash at 171, Clymer at 152 and Lakitsky at 215.
At 35-0, Lakitsky is one of four undefeated wrestlers in the tournament, joining Church Farm School's Baffour Atakora-Bediak (30-0) at 112; Wyomissing's Nick Hodgkins (39-0), a former state champion, at 145; and Williams Valley's Ben Ancheff (13-0) at 285.
The following are the preliminary round pairings for TN area wrestlers.
112 - Fr. Josh Evans, Palmerton (27-5) vs. Jr. Derrick Garber, Halifax (33-7).
119 - Sr. Lucas Dise, Northern Lehigh (25-6) vs. Jr. Bryan Vavra, Milton Hershey (22-4).
125 - Jr. Zane Heller, Northern Lehigh (25-5) bye; faces winner of Sr. Tanner Coyle, Bermudian Springs (33-2) vs. So. Nick DiPasquale, New Hope-Solebury (19-10).
130 - So. Michael Ortiz, Northwestern (22-6) vs. Jr. Mike McKenna, Lower Moreland (27-8).
135 - Sr. Nikko Stevens, Northern Lehigh (23-7) vs. So. Tyler Rodgers, Pottstown Pope John Paul II (24-11).
140 - Jr. Anthony Farole, Lehighton (31-6) vs. Sr. Jesse Gardner, Biglerville (30-8).
145 - So. Ty Herzog, Northern Lehigh (26-5) vs. Jr. T.J. Nickle, Boiling Springs (21-14).
152 - Sr. Bobby Clymer, Northwestern (28-4) bye; faces winner of Sr. Kyle Flohr, Fairfield (31-3) vs. Sr. Jesse Goldstein, Lower Moreland (27-12).
152 - Jr. Mitch Moyer, Lehighton (25-11) vs. Sr. Michael Honeywell, Springfield-Montco (38-6).
171 - Sr. Colin Hedash, Northern Lehigh (27-2) bye; faces winner of Jr. Mitchell Ball, Pequea Valley (34-3) vs. Sr. Beau Schwantes, New Hope-Solebury (29-6).
215 - Sr. Garth Lakitsky, Tamaqua (35-0) bye; faces winner of Sr. Mitch Moll, Schuylkill Valley (29-10) vs. Sr. Stephen Pepe, Bristol (18-5).
215 - Jr. Kane Kralik, Palmerton (23-8) vs. Sr. Chris Makowski, Faith Christian (9-2).
NORTHEAST CLASS AAA REGIONAL - District 11-AAA qualifiers will compete with Districts 2 and 4 at the Northeast Regional at Bethlehem Freedom High School.
District 11 advanced six wrestlers into the 12-man brackets, with District 2 getting four spots and District 4 two slots.
The top three placewinners at each weight class advance to the State Meet at Hershey's Giant Center.
Action begins on Friday at 5 p.m. with the preliminary and quarterfinal rounds. On Saturday, the first round of consolations is scheduled to start at 9:30 a.m., with the semifinals/second round consolations at 11 a.m., third round consolations at 1:30 p.m. and third place consolations at 5 p.m. The championship finals are scheduled for 6:30 p.m.
Five Pleasant Valley wrestlers have qualified for Regionals. Their prelimary round match-ups are as follows.
103 - Fr. Kenny Yanovich, Pleasant Valley (31-8) vs. Fr. Colby Ems, East Stroudsburg South (25-9).
112 - So. Sean Bianco, Pleasant Valley (25-10) vs. Fr. Chase Zemenak, Nazareth (27-4).
125 - Jr. Ernest Klingel, Pleasant Valley (32-7) vs. Jr. Austin Soboleski, Berwick (33-8).
130 - Jr. Michael Dahlstrom, Pleasant Valley (37-4) vs. Jr. Frank Mahmoud, Wilkes-Barre Coughlin (31-8).
140 - Jr. Alex Yanovich, Pleasant Valley (33-8) vs. Sr. Cody Zechman, Selinsgrove (33-7).