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TN Wrestling All-Stars: Lehighton, Pleasant Vy. place three, Northwestern two on First Team

The 2023-24 wrestling season started with unprecedented excitement.

And it delivered on the buildup and buzz.

For the first time, girls wrestling was sanctioned by the PIAA. It was an overdue opportunity that wrestlers, coaches and fans embraced.

Panther Valley sophomore Brenda Banks capped an unmatched and undefeated season with a state title and was named the Times News/Lehigh Valley Health Network Girls Wrestler of the Year.

Northwestern’s Luke Fugazzotto built on a terrific freshman season that ended in Hershey with a phenomenal sophomore campaign that ended with a trip to the state finals and a runner-up finish, a performance that helped him earn back-to-back Times News/Lehigh Valley Health Network Boys Wrestler of the Year honors.

The success of Banks and Fugazzotto were among the many highlights of the season - which also included District 11 championships for Lehighton’s Reese Balk (boys) and Addison Chavanic (girls, as well as Northwestern’s Katie Brensinger (girls).

Among the milestones reached were Lehighton’s Aidan Gruber and Tamaqua’s Gabe Erbe each reaching 100 career victories. Gruber earned his on the way to capturing his second Schuylkill League title, while Erbe’s came in a clutch postseason victory at the District 11 tournament.

It was definitely an unforgettable season across the area and beyond, one that has set the stage for what could be an impressive encore next year.

But before looking ahead, we wanted to take a look back at the best of the best among area wrestlers this past season.

Following are the five boys and five girls who were picked by the the Times News as our wrestling First Team All-Stars (presented in alphabetical order).

In addition, we’ve included Second Team and Honorable Mention selections.




Reese Balk, Lehighton, Sr.


... Balk has been stellar over the last two seasons, winning 33 and 35 matches each of the last two years. “Reese had a great season for us this year,” said Lehighton head coach Floyd Brown. “We felt going into the season that he was going to win a bunch of matches at heavyweight and have a solid year. He exceeded our expectations by winning 35 matches and a district title. Reese was also a regional place winner and state qualifier. He has been a staple in our varsity lineup the last two years.”


... After placing fourth at districts a year ago, Balk had pins in all four matches at the tournament this year to win the 285-pound title. He also earned the Class 2A Pinner Award. He was sixth at the Southeast Regional Tournament to advance to states for the first time. Balk also qualified for regionals as a junior after a fourth-place finish at districts, but was unable to compete due to an injury.


... Balk won titles at the Jim Thorpe Christmas Tournament and Schuylkill League Tournament. Balk also won a league title last season, and improved on his fourth-place finish at the Jim Thorpe Tournament from his junior season. The senior was second at the Sam Lovello Classic and eighth at the Coal Cracker.


... While Balk made his mark with dominant performances on the mat - securing 29 of his 35 wins via pinfall this season - his presence couldn’t be measured in wins and losses. “Reese left a positive mark on our program in his four years with us, and his positive attitude and leadership will be missed,” said Brown. Balk finished the season 35-10 and had a career record of 73-21.

Jacob Ferguson, Lehighton, Jr.


... Ferguson has continued to make strides over the past three seasons. He was sixth at districts as a freshman, fourth as a sophomore and third this past season to reach regionals in Class 2A for the second year in a row. “Jacob had an outstanding junior season this year,” said Lehighton head coach Floyd Brown. “Coming off solid freshmen and sophomore seasons, we knew he was going to be one of our top wrestlers. Jacob loves the weight room and had a great offseason leading up to this year.”


... In addition to his improved postseason finishes, Ferguson’s win totals have also been on the rise. He was 14-15 as a freshman, 28-16 as a sophomore and 32-15 this year at 160 pounds. He won 13 matches via pinfall this season, and also posted 13 decision victories for the Tribe, who captured the Division 1 title in the Schuylkill League.


... Ferguson was a runner-up at the Schuylkill League Tournament, third at the Sam Lovello Classic and fourth at the Jim Thorpe Christmas Tournament.


... With another solid campaign under his belt, Ferguson, who has a career record of 74-46, looks primed to make another big jump next year. “Jacob continues to gain more confidence in his abilities and we expect him to come back even stronger next season,” said Brown.

Luke Fugazzotto, Northwestern, So.


... The sophomore turned up the heat in the postseason. After a runner-up finish at districts, Fugazzotto placed third at the Class 2A Southeast Regional Tournament to advance to states for the second year in a row. In Hershey, he claimed his first state medal in his second appearance at the Class 2A event with a runner-up finish at 172 pounds, falling to defending state champion Adam Waters of Faith Christian Academy in the finals. “All three of the guys he beat at states placed. So he didn’t have any easy path to the finals,” said Tigers’ coach Joe Killar. “He wrestled well to earn his spot.”


... At states, Fugazzotto - who finished the season with 40 wins and 30 pins - opened the tournament by beating Fort Cherry’s Braedon Welsh, who was fourth at states a year ago, with a pin in overtime. He then decisioned last season’s state runner-up Hunter Hohman of Grove City, 16-12. He followed that with a dominant win over Notre Dame Green Pond’s Keegan Ramsay, who beat him in the district final. All three of those wrestlers fought back from their losses to Fugazzotto to medal at states as Ramsay was third, Hohman fourth and Welsh fifth


... Fugazzotto was fourth at regionals as a sophomore to advance to states, where he lost in the blood round. Confident and poised, Fugazzotto made sure an early exit didn’t happen again. He also won titles at the Colonial League (back-to-back) and Rough Rider Tournaments this season, was second at the Bethlehem Holiday Classic and third at the Coal Cracker. The sky is the limit heading into his junior year.


... More than just a force on the mat, Fugazzotto also sets the standard off of it. “And to have someone like him, he’s a good leader, and someone for the rest of the kids to look up to,” said Killar. “He makes good decisions at school and outside of school. He’s very dependable, trustworthy, and a good person. I’m just happy for him to sort of lead the way for the team now going forward for the next few years.”

Dillon Lombardi, Palmerton, Jr.


... After placing sixth at districts as a sophomore, Lombardi made a run to the Class 2A finals as the sixth-seed this past season. After getting a forfeit in the quarters, he bounced No. 2 seed Chase Stephen of Tri-Valley in the 152 semis with a 9-8 decision. Down 4-0 in the first period after giving up a takedown and two back points, Lombardi got an escape and then a takedown followed by three back points to go ahead 6-4. Lombardi got another escape in the second period before Stephen scored a takedown to make it 7-6. A reversal with 1:27 left put Stephen ahead 8-7. But Lombardi dug deep, getting a reversal with 0:28 left to take the win.


... Lombardi and top seed Cole Hubert of Saucon Valley were scoreless for much of the first period before Hubert got a takedown with 0:17 left and added three back points at the end of the period to make it 5-0, which is how the score would stay for the remainder of the match. “Dillon works his butt off,” said Palmerton head coach Justin Petersen. “He is a great leader by example and does the right thing in the wrestling room, weight room, classroom, and the community. You love seeing guys like that have success. He peaked at the right time and put together a solid postseason.”


... At regionals, Lombardi battled to a seventh place finish, just outside a spot to make it to states for the first time. “Coming up just short of Hershey will certainly drive him this offseason,” said Petersen. “He texted me the day after regionals asking when we are starting offseason lifting. I am excited to see where his work ethic will take him next year.”


... Lombardi, who was second at the Colonial League Tournament and seventh at the Carlisle Holiday Classic and Governor Mifflin Holiday Tournament, finished the season 26-12. After going 10-6 in matches decided by a decision his sophomore year, Lombardi went 16-4 in those matches as a junior. He has a career record of 62-31.

Jason Schubert, Pleasant Valley, Sr.


... Schubert showed his resiliency to make it to the Class 3A Northeast Regional Tournament at 215 pounds. The senior’s journey to the podium was the long road, as he lost his opening bout of the district tournament 3-0 to Jacob Lance of Bethlehem Catholic, and then won four straight matches in the consolation round to lock up a regional berth before losing his third-place match to Southern Lehigh’s Ryan King 2-0.


... One of the biggest wins for Schubert came in the consolation semis when he took down Liberty’s Dante Morrison 5-2. Knocking off the second-seed clinched a trip to regionals for the first time. Schubert’s fourth-place finish also marked his first medal at districts. He was 3-7 as a sophomore and 11-11 as a junior before going 17-8 this year.


... Schubert suffered two close losses at regionals, falling 2-0 to Pittston’s Brody Spindler and 5-2 to St. Joseph’s Prep’s John Boggs. Jason had a great season,” said Bears head coach James Weiss. “He was a leader on my team and set a great example for the rest of our wrestlers. He had some setbacks throughout the season but at the end of the regular season, going into the postseason, he seamed to loosen up and really hit his stride.


... While Schubert will be missed at Pleasant Valley, Weiss is excited to see what the talented wrestler will do at the next level. “The other day I attended his commitment and meet and great up at ESU,” said Weiss. “I see him having success there and am excited I will get to go watch him wrestle.”




Brenda Banks, Panther Valley, So.


... Banks was on top of her game each time she took the mat this season. The sophomore did it all, and did it in dominant fashion, finishing the season with 21 of her 29 victories by pinfall. But that wasn’t the most impressive thing coach Kris Nalesnik saw from Banks. “This season I saw tremendous gains in her wrestling IQ,” said Nalesnik. “She understood situational wrestling and adding that to her already outstanding physical talent made her a whole different animal. She works harder than anyone else I’ve seen in a long time and has the unique blend of confidence and humility that allow her to walk tall without being cocky.”


... Banks authored one of the greatest seasons in recent memory, winning every match she wrestled, and doing so as the favorite. A year after winning non-PIAA regional and state titles, Banks left little doubt she was the class of the field this season. She had three pins in under a minute to claim the 235-pound District 11 title. Banks had two pins and a 7-1 decision over Souderton’s MacKenna Atkinson to win the regional title. Her run at states started with a pair of pins before she topped South Western’s Kayla Henderson 2-0 in the semis, and recorded another win over Atkinson - this time 3-0 - to claim the state title. She was unscored upon at states.


... In addition to her postseason success, Banks also won titles at the PA National Guard Invitational, BAGUBA Brawl, Mattness at the MACC, Coal Cracker, Battle of the Bucks and Perkiomen Valley Lady Viking Classic.


... Banks, who now has a career record of 37-1, is just getting started in what has already been a remarkable career. “There really are so many things I can say about her, but I’ll leave it with this: Even though she achieves continual success, she understands there are still plenty of places to improve,” said Nalesnik. “She will not be satisfied until she is able to patch up any hole in her technique and will never rest on her successes.”

Katie Brensinger, Northwestern, Sr.


... Brensinger has a had a tremendous wrestling career, and this season was able to shine in the first year the sport was sanctioned by the PIAA. Brensinger won the 148-pound District 11 title, was a regional runner-up and finished her high school career with a fifth-place finish at states. “Katie tries her best every time she wrestles, and she did and did well in the state tournament, so I was very happy for her,” said Tigers’ coach Joe Killar. “It’s awesome for her and the program to have a state placer for the girls.”


... Prior to districts, Brensinger had wrestled one match against girls in exhibition competition. She competed against boys throughout her career, going 12-44 with four pins. Against girls, she was 33-8, including 8-3 this season.


... Brensinger had pins in seven of her eight victories this season, including a fall in 1:44 against Lake Lehman’s Alahna Morris to close out her run at states in the fifth-place match.


... Brensinger was a regional champion in non-PIAA events as a sophomore and junior. She was a state runner-up as a sophomore and third as a junior. “She competes hard whenever she wrestles, which is mostly against the boys,” said Killar. “So it’s good to see her have success and get to shine on a big stage like that in Hershey (at states).”


... Brensinger, also a tremendous soccer player and track and field athlete at Northwestern, will continue her wrestling career at East Stroudsburg University.

Addison Chavanic, Lehighton. Sr.


... Chavanic made in immediate impact on the mat as a newcomer to the sport, posting a stellar record and claiming a District 11 190-pound title. “Addison had an outstanding season this year,” said Indians’ head coach Floyd Brown. “In her first year of wrestling, she had some great accomplishments. She was our first girls district champion and a regional qualifier. She won 18 matches and placed in every tournament she entered.”


... Chavanic was tremendous at districts, especially in the final. Trailing 5-0 to top seed Bryce Snyder of Palisades, Chavanic was able to get a reversal with 0:49 left in the first period before finishing the match with a pin in 1:50. It was a remarkable turnaround against an opponent who had pinned Chavanic twice - in 0:36 and 0:28 - earlier in the season. Chavanic, who was seeded third at districts, had two pins in under a minute to reach the finals.


... The senior won the Upper Dauphin Lady Trojan Invite, was third at the Coal Cracker and also at the Bedlam for the Belt. Chavanic placed sixth at regionals, where she reached the semifinals by pinning Alyssa Crespo of William Tennent in 3:34, after she was unable to finish the tournament due to an injury. She won her first match at regionals, had 16 pins this season and finished the year with a record of 18-7 and is currently a force for the softball team. More than that, she was one of the catalysts for the girls program at Lehighton. “Addison was one of our senior leaders (along with senior Maggie Pagotto),” said Brown. “They did a great job of motivating the younger members of our team.”

Lily Decker, Pleasant Valley, Jr.


... Decker thrived for the Bears this past season and made the most of her opportunity, placing third at the District 11 Tournament at 235 pounds to advance to regionals. “Last year Lily was the only girl on our team and didn’t really have a chance to compete,” said Pleasant Valley head coach James Weiss. “This year we had a lot more girls come out and at least practice with us. I think this made her really step up being the only upperclassmen out of all the girls.”


... In the third-place match at districts and with her season on the line, Decker pinned Northampton’s Danielle Glaser in 1:21 to punch her ticket to regionals. The junior won her first match at districts, posting a 4-0 decision over Nazareth’s Brianna Gold before falling to eventual district, regional and state champion Brenda Banks of Panther Valley. But Decker, was third at the non-PIAA regional and qualified for states as a sophomore, finished the tournament with back-to-back pins to reach regionals, topping Nadia Mohammed of Emmaus before pinning Glaser.


... While she didn’t advance to states, Decker showed her heart at regionals. Trailing 6-2 against Glaser in the fifth-place match, Decker rallied to get the pin in 4:03. She ended the year with a 5-3 record and has plenty of momentum heading into her senior season with the Bears set to have a girls team next year. “The one thing I will tell you about Lily is she is a technique sponge,” said Weiss. “She picks things up quickly, maybe quicker then anyone else is our room. I am excited to have her going into the first year PV will have a girls team and I think next year she will go just as fare or further in the postseason.”

Juliette Trout, Pleasant Valley. Fr.


... Trout advanced to both District 11 and regional finals and won a match at states wrestling at 112 pounds this season. She pinned Alexis Ogutu of Emmaus in 0:21 in her first match at districts before topping Mia Lopez of Pocono Mountain East with a 12-1 major decision. At regionals, Trout knocked off Upper Merion’s Kyla Riley with a 16-0 (2:28) technical fall before delivering a 13-4 major decision against Anjaleen Siddiqui of William Tennent in the semis. Trout fell to East Stroudsburg North’s Andi Bideau, who was fifth at states, in both the district and regional final. “I could really talk all day about Jules and wrestling,” said Pleasant Valley head coach James Weiss. “I remember the first time I saw her wrestle. I think she was in third or fourth grade. Back then she knew what she was doing. She may be the most technical wrestler PV has.”


... At states, Trout rebounded after getting pinned in her first match by Manheim Township’s Isabella Baccio to post a 15-0 (2:39) technical fall victory against Selinsgrove’s Nevaeh Strouse in first consolation match. Despite falling to ELCO’s Kylee Trostle, who placed seventh at states, in her next match, Trout was still able to experience the environment in Hershey for two days. It’s one Weiss believes will last even longer next time. “I think if she puts her nose to the grindstone and works hard, we are going to see her on the podium at Hersey a few times over the next three years,” said the coach.


... Trout finished the season with a combined record of 8-6. She was 5-4 against girls, and 3-2 against boys, where she had three pins, including two in the first period. Trout won the 106-pound title at the Coal Cracker Girls Tournament as an eighth grader.


Second Team

Gabe Erbe, Tamaqua; Sam Frame, Northern Lehigh; Aidan Gruber, Lehighton; Stephen Korte, Jim Thorpe; Brody Schlier, Tamaqua; Noah Schlofer, Northwestern; Evan Temarantz, Tamaqua.

Honorable Mention

Braydon Uricchio, Northwestern; Noah Gosart, Northern Lehigh; Aiden Schlier, Tamaqua; Josh Merkel, Palmerton; Trent Croll, Northwestern; Blake Muffley, Lehighton; Derek King, Palmerton; Evan Wentz, Lehighton; Wyatt Sherer, Lehighton; Nikolas Schwartz, Jim Thorpe; Grady Newhard, Northern Lehigh; Asher Traylor, Lehighton; Aiden Sterling, Jim Thorpe; Jack Tosh Northern Lehigh; Rory Dixon, Panther Valley; Evan Gillespie, Pleasant Valley; Andrew Mihalichko, Pleasant Valley.


Second Team

Skylar Benninger, Palmerton; Haylee Fessler, Panther Valley; Kyla Mcquillen, Panther Valley; Maggie Pagotto, Lehighton; Gretchen Schaible, Palmerton; Angelina Spachman, Northwestern.

Luke Fugazzotto, Northwestern
Brenda Banks, Panther Valley
Reese Balk, Lehighton
Jacob Ferguson, Lehighton
Dillon Lombardi, Palmerton
Jason Schubert, Pleasant Valley
Juliette Trout, Pleasant Valley
Lily Decker, Pleasant Valley
Katie Brensinger, Northwestern
Addison Chavanic, Lehighton