A total of eight wrestlers from THE TIMES NEWS area have traveled the Road to Hershey all the way to the Giant Center for this year's PIAA State Championships, which begin Thursday and run through Saturday night.
Those who survived the Southeast Class AA Regional at Wilson West Lawn High School included Northern Lehigh's Zane Heller (103), Ty Herzog (145) and Colin Hedash (171), as well as Lehighton's Anthony Farole (140), Northwestern's Bobby Clymer (152) and Tamaqua's Garth Lakitsky (215).
Meanwhile, a pair of Pleasant Valley grapplers, Kenny Yanovich (103) and Michael Dahlstrom (130), braved the brackets of the Northeast Class AAA Regional, which was held at Bethlehem Freedom High School.
That number is about average for the TN area. although this season snapped a streak of six straight years of double-digit State qualifiers. The last time the total dipped below twin figures was in 2004, when six made the cut. The all-time high count from the region came in both 1985 and 2006, when 17 wrestlers earned PIAA berths.
To put that into perspective, Bethlehem Catholic is sending nine wrestlers to States this week. The most any area school has sent in any one year was the eight that No. Lehigh qualified in 2005.
The Bulldogs also went over the century mark in State qualifiers at Regionals and now have 101. The Dawgs' have also extended their streak of seasons of sending at least one wrestler to the PIAA Meet to 24, the longest among area schools. The last time the 'Dawgs failed to qualify at least one grappler was in 1987.
Conversely, Panther Valley has the longest current State Meet drought. The last Panther to qualify for States was Nick Kopp in 2004.
There are strong family connections with States for several members of this year's contingent.
For No. Lehigh, Zach Heller's father, Ron, was a two-time State qualifier (1985 and 1986); Colin Hedash brothers Casey (2007, 2008) and Craemer (2009, 2010) both wrestled at States; and Ty Herzog's father Todd is the current Dawgs' mentor and has guided many a wrestler on the mat at Hershey.
Northwestern's Bobby Clymer is the third Clymer brother to make it to States for the Tigers. Scott Clymer did it four times, winning the State crown at AA 125 in 2006 while finishing third in 2007 and fifth in 2004. Ben Clymer qualified for States three times and took home the AA 171 title in 2008.
Tamaqua's Lakitsky is following in the footsteps of his father, Garth Sr., who placed third at AA 167 in 1985 and fourth at that weight class in 1986.
Will any of this year's contenders navigate the brackets and pick up the four wins needed to emerge atop the State wrestling heap? Here is a look at how those brackets shape up.
125 - Zane Heller (28-5), a junior, is wrestling in his first State Meet and carries two District 11 crowns and a Southeast AA Region titles into his preliminary round bout against South Side Beaver freshman Shane Gentry (38-9), the number four finisher from the Southwest Region. Heller's half of the bracket also includes Claysburg-Kimmel's Ty Dively, a qualifier from last; Central Cambria's Ben Rager (33-1) and Towanda's Cody Wheeler (45-1), a PIAA bronze medalist last year. Should Heller get through all that, defending State champion Mason Beckman (45-0) of Reynolds is on the other side of the bracket.
140 - Anthony Farole (35-7), a junior, placed third at Districts and Regionals and is making his first trip to States, where his preliminary bout will be against South Side Beaver's David Demor (39-7), the Southwest runner-up. Farole's side of the bracket includes Reynolds' Austin Matthews (41-4), who placed eighth at States a year ago, and Pen Argyl's Luciano Burriesci (35-11), who beat Farole 2-1 at Regionals. Lurking at the bottom of the bracket is Montoursville's Luke Frey (37-0), a State runner-up from last year, who could be a semifinal opponent should Farole win his first two bouts.
145 - Ty Herzog (30-7), a sophomore, is in his first State Meet after placing fifth at Regionals. Herzog's preliminary round opponent is Troy Hembury (40-4), a sophomore from Muncy and the Northeast Regional champ. Herzog's half of the brackety includes returning State qualifiers Corey Aungst (40-4) of Claysburg-Kimmel, Michael Innes (37-4) of Chartiers-Houston and Francis Mizia (41-4) of Bentworth, but the big name is Wyomissing's Nick Hodgkins (43-0), a State champ in 2009 and bronze medalists from a year ago and had a tech fall over Herzog at Regionals. On the other side of the bracket are State medalists Cody Copeland (37-1) of Greenville, third last year, and Juniata's Zach Beitz (37-2), who was fifth a year ago.
152 - Bobby Clymer (31-5), a senior, is a first-time State qualifier after winning a District title and placing third at Regionals. Clymer will take on Lewisburg senior Curtis Schneider (27-12), the Northeast runner-up, in the opening round. Clymer's half of the bracket includes a preliminary match-up between returning State champion Nick Carr (38-1) of South Fayette against State silver medalist Kyle Dehaut (28-11); Clymer scored falls against Dehaut at Districts and Regionals. Annville-Cleona senior Dylan Killian (39-4), who handed Clymer his lone Regional loss, is also on that side of the bracket but would have to get past the Carr-Dehaut winner before Clymer gets a rematch in the semifinals. Four grapplers on the top of ther bracket have 40 wins or more.
171 - Colin Hedash (30-2), a senior, is making his third trip to States, having placed fourth in 2009 and fifth last year. He is a District champ and two-time Regional titlist. His preliminary bout pits him against Jefferson-Morgan sophomore Dustin Conti (37-15), the fifth place finisher out of the Southwest. There's two more returning State medalists on Hedash's side of the bracket in Grove City's Wes Phipps (26-0, who was third) and Fort Cherry's Sam Guidi (31-5, who placed fourth). Should Hedash get to the finals, Lewisburg's Nathaniel Brown (34-0), a State silver medalist last year, could be his opponent, but Hedash is also familiar with Burrell's Dakota DesLauriers (43-5), with whom Hedash split two bouts at States a year ago.
215 - Garth Lakitsky (38-0) is a senior in his third appearance at States, placing fourth last year. The D-11 and Southeast champ, Lakitsky will square off with Ligonier Valley senior Clayton Nanassy (28-4), the Southwest fourth place finisher, in the preliminaries. Forest Hills' Jeff Meier and Northern Bedford's Joe Suter (24-1) are also in Lakitsky's half of the bracket. A possible semifinal foe is defending State 215-pound champion Eric Laytos (42-1) of Lackawanna Trail. There are also three returning medalists on the other half of the bracket, including runner-up Matt Mongera (40-0) of Seneca, Ryan Solomon (31-2) of Milton, who placed sixth, and Brian Beattie (44-5) of Burrell, who placed eighth.
103 - Kenny Yanovich (35-9), a freshman, is in his first State Meet after placing sixth at Districts and third at Regionals. Yanovich will wrestle against Colin Ochs (36-2) of Governor Mifflin, a junior and South Central Regional champ. There are some impressive win totals in this bracket, including Norristown's Zach Fuentes (50-5), Colt Shorts (46-1) of Canon-McMillian, Pennsbury's Jason Bing (41-9) and Peters Township's Tyler Buckiso (49-5). Council Rock South's Billy Rappo (39-2) placed eighth at States a year ago.
130 - Michael Dahlstrom (41-5), a junior, is making his first appearance at States. He placed fourth at Districts and third at Regionals. Dahlstrom's preliminary opponent will be Canon-McMillan freshman Solomon Chishko (42-4), the Southwest Region champ. Nazareth's Zach Horan (45-0), a State runner-up last year, is also on Dahlstrom's side of the bracket, as is South Western's Cameron Throckmorton (35-0). If that isn't enough, Blue Mountain's Brandon Choate (45-7), a bronze medalist last year, is on the other side of the bracket. Two of Dahlstrom's five losses have been to Choate, with another coming against Horan.
OFF THE MAT - Mark Dugan's Off The Mat Class AA State Rankings have been released with projections for the State Meet.
Off The Mat projects Colin Hedash to finish second, Bobby Clymer fourth, Garth Lakitsky fifth and Zane Heller seventh. Ty Herzog is ranked 12th and Anthony Farole 13th.