Two Bison Grapplers Earn Trip to States in Wild, Emotional Day at NW Regional Tourny

ALTOONA – The regional finals concluded on Saturday night at the Altoona High School Field House. Clearfield had three wrestlers compete in the finals and consolation finals, and they all did their home town proud. The day was action packed, each wrestler had their own story to tell, and there were life lessons to be learned for all in attendance.

McGonigal placed 2nd this weekend with his eyes totally focused on Hershey next week (Photo by HL)

Bison senior Luke McGonigal (31-1) continued his journey to becoming Clearfield’s 41st state champion on Saturday when he drilled Philipsburg’s Brandon Anderson (28-9) before his finals match. The 195-pound sensation continued his remarkable season by securing another first period fall in 58 seconds before meeting up with State College junior Cole Urbas (26-1). Urbas placed third at states last year and was ranked #2 tonight behind McGonigal by PA Wrestling Power Rankings. In a way, this was a prelude to a possible rematch next weekend.

In the finals, though, McGonigal learned that in order to stand on top of the podium next week, it’s not going to be a walk in the park as he tasted his first defeat on the season by losing 1-0. It may be better to lose this week and have time to rethink his strategy in the next few days, than to face Urbas in the state finals and lose. An important lesson for everyone who thought McGonigal was unbeatable, is that anyone can lose on any day, and previous success won’t be enough fuel to win next time you step on the mat.

#1 McGonigal faced off against #2 ranked Cole Urbas (Photo by HL)

“That wasn’t the match we wanted to wrestle.” said head coach Jeff Aveni. “That’s not what we talked about. We need to go out and win the match in the first period, not try to win the match at the buzzer. We’ve got to make some adjustments.”

This year, McGonigal won’t be the only Bison representing Clearfield in Hershey. After dropping down to the consolation bracket Friday night, senior Hunter Wright (28-11) came back looking like a man on a mission. In the tournament, Wright locked up and pinned five different opponents including four in a row in the consolation wrestle backs.

Wright wrestled State College’s Ian Barr (20-8) in the consolation finals. On Friday, Wright was tech falled 20-5 by Barr, but today was a different day, and a different Hunter Wright had emerged from the ashes.

Hunter Wright goes for the improbable fall and gets it! (Photo by HL)

While you could sense a timid nature in Wright in last week’s district finals match, Wright wore a different face Saturday, one that you see on great leaders in difficult moments. Wright was outmuscled, not as fast, and didn’t appear to have as much technique, but he had a big heart. So when Barr got deep on a single leg and appeared to take Wright to his back, Wright did what any man in a live or die situation does: he fought back instead of admitting defeat.

Wright flipped Barr over to his back, sunk in the boots, squeezed like his entire life depended on it, and got the biggest upset fall of the entire tournament and his career.

Aveni wore a glowing smile when talking about Wright. “I knew Hunter was going to make a run. The whole question was, was he going to find an opportunity to put his kid on his back. I’m real glad to take him to the next level.”

Hunter Wright took third place and earned a trip to states! (Photo by HL)

The final senior Bison at regionals this week learned a different lesson, one far harder to swallow, but an important lesson nonetheless. In Matt Ryan’s (27-9) semi-finals match against General McLane’s standout freshman Matt Leehan (27-8) at 120, Ryan was pinned from a neutral stalemate position in the third period, after giving up a very questionable takedown and four back points in the first and second period.

With that loss, Ryan dropped down to the consolation semi-finals where he met Bellefonte’s Cole Stewart (28-9) for the second time in the tournament, and the third time in the season. Ryan showed how much he wanted to win after being down late in the second period. Ryan used two escapes and a third period takedown to win his match 4-3 and advance to the consolation finals.

In the consolation finals, with Ryan’s entire career riding on this last match, Ryan wrestled yet another common foe in Mifflin County’s Derek Burk (25-15). After winning 7-3 on Friday in the quarter-finals, Ryan gave up an early takedown, and Burk rode that the whole way to the end of the match, winning 3-2. Ryan was deep and nearly scored on multiple occasions, but Burk consistently found a way to get out of bounds or create a stalemate.

Coach Lykens and Matt Ryan share a heartfelt moment together as Ryan’s career comes to an end. (Photo by HL)

“Ryan worked hard, he earned it. That’s that agony of defeat. He busted his butt every day and that’s tough.” Said Coach Aveni. “He did everything he needed to do and he earned it.”

With this tournament over, Matt Ryan will sleep hard tonight, maybe the coming week, but his career was noteworthy and he really turned a corner this season. Ever since he was pinned in Clearfield’s dual meet against Bellefonte, we witnessed a new Ryan that refused to quit wrestling. With that attitude, Ryan has learned the secret to finding success in life, the whole reason we learn to wrestle in the first place. While Ryan dropped one match short of reaching his goal, he can look back and reflect on how far wrestling took him over his years as a Clearfield Bison, and no one can ever take back the work ethic he developed. He ended his career 87-61.

Junior 152-pound Bison Caleb Freeland (20-12) also made a move deep into the consolation wrestling bracket, but he fell one match short of wrestling in the consi-finals. Freeland won his first consolation bout with a 15-0 tech fall in just 2:03 against his DuBois opponent Austin Fairman (9-13).

Freeland then met up against Warren sophomore Jameson Douvios (14-16). Freeland looked good in his 1-0 victory, nearly scoring on several takedown attempts and throwing Douvios out of bounds to his back.

Matt Ryan took 4th place (Photo by HL)

After that, Freeland met against Philipsburg’s Matt Johnson. Unfortunately, Johnson proved too strong of an opponent for Freeland, and he lost 7-1. Freeland finished his junior year with a 34-28 career record.

The four remaining wrestlers for Clearfield lost in their first round of wrestle-backs.

Sophomore Peyton Smay (11-14) forfeited in his wrestle back match at 113. He finished his season with a career record of 24-31.

Bison Jude Pallo (17-16) battled hard in his consolation match against Erie McDowell’s Hayden Butterfield (17-17) at 126. The two wrestlers both wrestled aggressively, and Pallo certainly wrestled to win, but he got caught with a takedown onto his back late in the third period to lose 10-5 after being tied at four points apiece at the end of the second.  Pallo ended his junior year with a career record of 46-53.

At 138 pounds, sophomore Nate Barr was pinned in the first period by Hollidaysburg senior Nathan Swartz (29-7). Barr ended his inaugural varsity wrestling season with a 10-13 record.

Finally, Avry Gisewhite (18-16) lost in his wrestle back match against Philipsburg-Osceola’s Josh Hubler (20-12) at 220. After scoring a beautiful initial takedown, Gisewhite was never able to score offensively again, and he was beaten 13-3. Gisewhite will carry a 26-36 record into his senior season.

Erie Cathedral Prep overwhelmingly won the team title this weekend, by placing nine wrestlers and winning four titles with 189 points. In second place was Mifflin County with 125.5 points, followed by Central Mountain, Bald Eagle Area, and Philipsburg-Osceola. In ninth place was Clearfield, who improved over last year’s 14th place performance with 61.5 points.

The regional champions were as follows: 106 – Matt Sarbo (30-5), Altoona; 113 – Christian Fisher (31-7), Mifflin County; 120 – Paniro Johnson (24-6), Erie Prep; 126 – Ed Scott (33-2), DuBois; 132 – Jeffrey Boyd (32-2), McDowell; 138 – Seth Koleno (34-0), Bald Eagle Area; 145 – Kolby Ho (32-4), DuBois 152; – Gage McClenahan (32-4), Bald Eagle Area; 160 – Carter Starocci (42-0), Erie Prep; 170 Trent Hidlay (39-0), Mifflin County; 182 – Luigi Yates (41-5), Erie Prep; 195 – Cole Urbas (26-1), State College; 220 – Nate Schon (26-0), Selinsgrove; 285 – Kawaun Deboe (39-1), Erie Prep.

With the regional tournament over for another year, it’s time to look forward to the PIAA State Championships. The three-day tournament will begin this coming Thursday and will end Saturday evening. Clearfield will be represented with two wrestlers, both of which have been battle tested for years and are ready to put their name in the Bison history books. Look for our full preview soon!

Full brackets, courtesy of PA Wrestling, can be found here.



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