PIAA Championships: A Giant challenge for AML matmen

Port Allegany's Chet Tanner wraps up opponent Drew Jackson late in their consolation-round match during the PIAA Class AA State Championships at the Giant Center in Hershey. Tanner would go on to score a 4-1 decision in the bout. (Photo by Lee Chase)

 
Lori Chase
Port Allegany Reporter Argus
March 17, 2011

With six returning PIAA placewinners in the 16-man Class AA 130-pound weight class at last weekend’s state championships – four in Chet Tanner’s half of the bracket – the Port Allegany senior knew he’d be in for a battle just to make it to the podium.

“It’s rough,” Tanner said. “You’ve got to take these kids one match at a time, because they’re all just as good as you are.”

The five Allegheny Mountain League wrestlers making the trip to the Giant Center in Hershey were reminded of that in Thursday morning’s preliminaries, with only Bradford senior Mark Havers, wrestling in the AAA 152-pound weight class, avoiding the consolation bracket with a first-round win.

So, after dropping a 7-0 decision to Montoursville’s David Batkowski, Tanner knew the stakes when he walked onto Mat 2 against Drew Jackson, the Southeast Region’s No. 4 seed, that afternoon.

“You don’t want to go home. That would have been really bad to go two-and-out, so I just went out there and wrestled as hard as I could,” he said.

Wrapping up the Pequea Valley junior’s left ankle late in the first period, Tanner turned it into a takedown and a 2-0 lead just before the buzzer sounded. Jackson chose to begin the second in the down position, a decision which backfired when he couldn’t break free from the lanky Gator’s grasp, and another takedown midway through the final period secured Tanner’s 4-1 victory to send him through to the next round.

“I knew I was safe from there,” he said of the third-period scoring move. “There was only about 40 seconds left, so I knew I just had to wrestle defensively and stay on my toes.

“I was relieved; a lot of stress was taken off me. I didn’t want to go back to town going two-and-out. Being the only Port kid to come down here, I didn’t want to let my fellow Gators down.”

His coach, Sean Lathrop, was pleased with Tanner’s rebound.

“In the first match, he really wasn’t that aggressive. I think it was just the nervousness of being here,” Lathrop explained. “Your first trip down here, I don’t care if you’re a junior, senior, or freshman, you get the butterflies. It happens.

“From the first match to the second, he was a totally different kid. He kept wrestling on the edge of the mat the whole way through – he had two takedowns on the edge of the mat, where before, he gave up two. We were the aggressor, going after it. Real smart match this time. The first match, he wrestled well, but just gave stuff up at the edge.”

Tanner’s tournament run ended on Friday morning against one of those returning placewinners, Arty Walsh. Already up 4-1 entering the second period, the lightning-quick Schuylkill Valley junior – who won the PIAA 112-pound AA title as a freshman at Wyomissing before transferring first to Juniata, then to his current school – countered Tanner’s shot into a near-fall of his own, going on to notch an 18-3 technical fall at 3:12 of the third period.

Walsh (37-7) went on to claim fifth place over Batkowski (36-6), while Northwest champ Dylan D’Urso (46-6) finished third following a semifinal loss to eventual gold medalist Coltin Fought, meaning Tanner’s last three losses were to wrestlers who finished in the top six in the state.

“At state tournament, the quality of wrestling is so impressive,” said Lathrop, justifiably proud of Tanner’s season, which concluded with a 39-6 record. “There were nine returning state champs, and only two repeated. Everybody’s equal; you make one mistake, somebody’s going to capitalize. If you’re on, you’re placing. If you have one bad moment, you’re battling through the consis.”

***

Tanner was the only wrestler wearing Gator orange and black on the Giant Center mats, but another person with Port Allegany ties was also involved in the tournament. Dr. Isaac Greeley, a 1994 PAHS grad who went on to become a two-time All-American at Pitt-Johnstown while helping the Mountain Cats capture a pair of NCAA Division II national championships, was an assistant coach for the Class AA team champion Burrell Buccaneers. The traditional WPIAL powerhouse eked out an 85-83.5 victory over Reynolds to earn its second state crown, following a 2008 team duals title.

“This year was special because the kid who won us the title, Travis McKillop, was the first youth wrestler I coached when I moved to Burrell,” said Greeley, now a chiropractor in the Pittsburgh area. “The biggest part of winning these titles is the special bond you form with everyone involved. I can honestly say that I feel like the luckiest person in the world with the relationships I’ve made through wrestling.”

***

Havers (38-3), seeking a state title to add to his runner-up finish as a freshman, defeated DuBois’s Geno Morelli in a rematch of the District 9 championship to make it back to the finals. Unfortunately, that’s where freshman phenom Chance Marsteller, already dubbed by some observers “the next Cary Kolat” (after the four-time undefeated PIAA champ), was waiting. Marsteller, who was taking on – and beating – college wrestlers in open competitions as an eighth-grader, scored a 9-4 decision to win his first gold medal. Odds are, it won’t be the last.

***

Johnsonburg senior Jesse Wolfe also made it to the second round of wrestlebacks before bowing out of the 125-pound bracket with a 32-5 record. The two Smethport wrestlers, freshman Trent Neely (103 pounds, 26-6) and junior Nate Schwab (112, 28-5), both lost their first two matches on Thursday to exit the tournament.

“Coming down here, we knew we had our work cut out for us,” Hubbers coach Terry Schwab said before adding, “It’s nice being down here with two underclassmen. That should definitely pay dividends in the future.”

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