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Palmerton wrestlers trending upward

With a young and inexperienced team, Palmerton head wrestling coach Justin Petersen isn’t expecting early season positive results.

Instead, Petersen understands how patience can be a virtue.

“We’re young,” said Petersen, who is in his 10th year in charge of the program. “We have 18 wrestlers on the roster.

“We had some kids who opted out last year because of COVID, and some of them came back. We have six returnees who we feel good about.”

Petersen has high aspirations for senior Dennis Lombardi, who finished fourth at districts with a 10-7 record at 138, along with junior Daniel Lucykanish, who posted a 5-7 record between 148-160.

Senior Aaron Gardner, who had a 7-8 slate in the 126-145 range, will miss the season due to complications from concussions. Gardner was fourth at districts last year at 126 pounds.

“Dennis did a nice job for us last year, and he worked very hard,” said Petersen. “He placed against some of the tougher kids. (Lucykanish’s ) record doesn’t show it, but he is just as good as anyone, and he is ready to take the next step.

“Losing Gardner was a big loss for us. He could have had a nice year.”

Petersen stated the rest of the lineup would be determined through wrestle-offs that were held just before the start of the season.

“We have a lot of freshmen and sophomores,” he said. “We brought back a group of kids who didn’t have much varsity experience.

“We’ll have some new faces out there. The kids have been working very hard, and they are anxious. We likely will have a hole at 106 because we don;t have someone there now. But we expect to have a full lineup.”

Freshman Derek King has been impressive, and he could be the candidate at 138. Fellow freshmen Caleb Gaffney and Josh Merkle both have been emerging as possible starters at either 113 and 120. Jameson Trainer, another freshman, could get the nod at 126.

“We like what we see from King,” said Petersen. “He has shown a lot of improvement and works hard.

“Gaffney and Merkle also have both looked good, and they should play a prominent role. Jameson has been doing a lot of good things.”

Others in the mix will be seniors Westin Herr (4-11, 126-38), Colyn Metz (3-8, 160-72) and Jeremy Mooney (6-9, 189-215).

Petersen also is confident his feeder program can get back on track after COVID sidetracked both the varsity and feeder programs last year.

“It’s weird,” offered Petersen. “We have some decent numbers from seven (seventh grade) through 12 (12th grade). But we have only six (wrestlers) in seventh and eighth grade. We have a decent number in sixth grade.

“We’re fortunate to have 10 freshmen on our roster, but we would like to have a balanced number at all grades. We took some hits because of COVID last year, and we got some of those kids back. But some like the idea of not wrestling, and they realized how demanding of a sport it is. It is easier for them to stay home.”

The Blue Bombers will open the season at Wilson Dec. 15. They will travel to Carlisle Invitational Dec, 17-18 and to the Governor Mifflin Holiday Tournament Dec. 29-30.

In January, they will participate in the renowned Coal Cracker Tournament in Lehighton.

Peterson expects to see some dividends at the end of the season.

“We know that Notre Dame and Saucon Valley are at the top of the league and two of the best in the state,” he said. “We’ll get better over time. We do believe we can compete against anybody in the league.

“We’ll figure it out as we go. We see the team getting better every day. It will be a matter of where we are in February. We do have the ability to go to team districts and we should have good individual performances.”

Palmerton wrestling team members are, front row, from left, Aidan Ortiz, Dillon Lombardi, Josh Merkel and Bryce Smith. Middle row, Gretchen Schaible, Brandon Burkhardt, Caleb Gafney, Jameson Trainer, Daniel Lucykanish, and Derek King. Back row, Chase Montaneri, Ethan Page, Colyn Mertz, Dennis Lombardi, assistant coach Zack Christman, head coach Justin Petersen, Westin Horn, Aaron Gardner, Jeremy Mooney and Emma Snyder. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO