ALTOONA – The Clearfield Bison wrestling team will travel to Altoona on Friday and Saturday to participate in the PIAA AAA Northwest Regional tournament. As is tradition, the tournament will be held at the Altoona Area High School Field House.
The Bison qualified nine wrestlers for the tournament during their stellar District 4/9 AAA championship they earned over the weekend. Those remaining will all have different goals and standards for a successful weekend, and many of them have hopes of qualifying for a trip to Hershey for the PIAA AAA State Wrestling Championships next week.
Participating in the Northwest Region are all the teams from District 4, 6, 8, 9 and 10, and there are some power house wrestling teams that are always in the mix in this region. Erie Cathedral Prep is the returning champion from last year. Earlier this month, they participated in the PIAA Team Championships and won two matches, including a win over District 6’s Mifflin County. District 10 also features strong opponents like Warren, Erie McDowell, Meadville and Erie.
Meanwhile, District 6 also offers other great teams like Central Mountain, who won their district championship last week, and Bellefonte, who handed Clearfield a sizable loss at the beginning of February. Hollidaysburg, State College and Altoona are all decent teams as well, while Greater Johnstown and Juniata round out the district at the bottom of this year’s talent.
District 8 isn’t known for a lot of great wrestlers, but they did produce their first state champion this decade. The Pittsburgh inner city schools are comprised of Brashear, Carrick, Obama Academy, Perry Traditional Academy, Taylor Allderdice, and Westinghouse.
Wrestling at this level still means that if you lose twice, you go home and your season is over. You have to place in the top three to earn a trip to the sweetest town in the state, Hershey, where the place-winners will represent our region in the Giant Center. Can you hear Darude’s Sandstorm yet?
The road to the finish will be paved one round at a time, and the Clearfield Bison don’t have a single wrestler on the team who has ever placed in the top three to move on to states. However, prospects this year are looking good to possibly send nearly half the lineup if all the chips fall where they need to.
Starting at 106 pounds, senior “JT” Johnathan Thomas looks to continue his story of a wrestler who was bumped out of the varsity lineup as a junior, who had to cut weight half the season to start, and who won a district championship this past weekend. JT sports an 11-2 record, having won four matches by major decision and pinning two others. Not bad for a former JV. John Thomas will wrestle the winner of DuBois’ Kam Stevenson (12-16) or Altoona’s Luke Hileman (26-11) in the quarter-finals.
Following JT are two freshman – Nolan Barr and Karson Kline at 113 and 120 pounds, respectively. Barr (20-13) will meet sophomore Ryan Barnard (3-2) of Brashear in the opening round, and then he’d meet Meadville’s sophomore Vincen Rinella (29-3) with a win. Kline (24-14) will wrestle junior Jamale Crockett (16-17) of Erie Cathedral Prep in the opening round, and if he wins he’ll wrestle senior Christian Fisher (29-7) of Mifflin County in the quarter-finals.
Senior Jude Pallo also has an opportunity to get in some scraps and go far into the tournament. While there are two stalwarts at his weight class, including Erie McDowell’s Jeffrey Boyd (24-0) and DuBois’ Ed Scott (32-0), Pallo is right in the mix after that with a 21-8 record. Pallo will wrestle senior Cody Coleman (22-9) of Central Mountain in the preliminary round. The winner of that match will then face Boyd in the quarter-finals.
Moving up just a weight class, Bison Caleb Freeland looks to finish his senior year on a high note as well at 145. Freeland has wrestled well this year, and his record is currently 24-9. He will wrestle Juniata’s Albert Hesiter (5-20) in the preliminaries, and if he wins he’ll face the winner of Drew Balestrini (25-8) of Shikellamy or Lane Porter (21-9) of Central Mountain. Again, Freeland has several kids in his weight class, including himself, of similar records and ability that will fight for a top spot.
Going up to 152 pounds, freshman Mark McGonigal looks to carry his incredible freshman year forward to states, and it certainly looks like he has a path to be in the regional finals and contend for his first title. McGonigal is 27-7 so far in his inaugural outing, and he’ll face Mifflin County’s Anson Wagner (11-20) in the preliminaries. The winner of that match will then meet either Williamsport’s Owen Mahon (13-13) or Alonzo Henry (22-11) of Central Mountain.
Clearfield will then have Brett Zattoni attending regionals for his first time this weekend. A junior with only two years of wrestling experience, Zattoni has grown rapidly this year at 170 pounds, sporting an 11-21 record, and will have an opportunity to grow even more. His first match will be against Nathan Fisher (19-9) of Hollidaysburg, and the winner of that match will wrestle Erie McDowell’s Noah Bielak (8-10).
Then freshman Oliver Billotte will represent the thundering herd at 195 pounds. Billotte is a deceptive 13-7, having missed most of the season due to injury. His first match will be against sophomore Jeremy Follin (12-14) of Carrick, and the winner will then face Erie Cathedral Prep’s junior Kareem Carson (34-8).
The final contender for the Bison this year is heavyweight District 4/9 AAA champion Avry Gisewhite. Gisewhite will have his hands full from the first match he wrestles against senior Jacob Edwards (23-7) of Central Mountain. The winner of that match will then meet either Williamsport’s Ethan Williamson (13-14) or Mark Chambers (18-12) of McDowell.
This year’s tournament will feature nine returning regional champions. Senior Christian Fisher (29-7) of Mifflinburg at 120, sophomore Matt Sarbo (32-3) at 126, junior Ed Scott (32-0) of DuBois at 138, senior Jeffrey Boyd (24-0) of Erie McDowell at 138, sophomore Paniro Johnson (32-5) from Erie Cathedral Prep at 145, senior Carter Starocci (36-0) from Erie Cathedral Prep at 182, senior Cole Urbas (30-0) from State College at 195, sophomore Nate Schon (33-1) of Selinsgrove at 220, and senior Kawaun Deboe (33-0) of Erie Cathedral Prep at 285.
Overall, Erie Cathedral Prep qualified an immense 13 wrestlers for the Northwest Regional AAA Championship. Central Mountain and Carrick will each bring 11 wrestlers, while Bellefonte, Warren and Mifflin County each have 10 wrestlers representing their schools.
Wrestling is set to begin Friday afternoon at 5:30 PM with the quarter-finals starting directly after that. The Saturday morning session will begin at 10:00 AM, and the final session should begin with the Parade of Champions at 6:00 PM.
For full brackets, courtesy of PA-Wrestling.com, click here.