ALTOONA - Corey Wertz came into the District 6 Class AA wrestling championships with a simple goal: Win the team title.
Senior-laden Mount Union seemed as likely a candidate as any to win the points race. But it was no easy trip through the first day of the tournament, which began 90 minutes late in deference to the snow storm that struck the state a day earlier.
The highlights of the day included a pair of upsets - one huge - and a 100-match winner in the quarterfinals. But that was tempered with a pair of unexpected departures from the event.
Sentinel photo by JEFF FISHBEIN
Juniata’s Jared Benner (152 pounds) pulls West Branch’s Kristopher Smeal to the mat in the second round in the District 6 Class AA championships at Altoona Friday.
Juniata also had one of those moments, an unusual situation in the quarters that ended in the Indians' favor. But with just three wrestlers still active in the top bracket, Juniata's best hope is just to see how many make it to next week.
Mount Union has six semifinalists and still had 12 wrestling after the quarterfinals Friday, and was second in the team race behind rival Huntingdon. The third consolation round was wrestled Friday, but due to the late start was not completed in time to be included in this edition.
The Trojans' run into today's semifinals began with Sage Moist at 120 pounds. Moist had two physical victories to advance, the second a major decision over Glendale's Jeff Sacolic. Moist hit the mat determined, more so than he's been perhaps since the year he made it to states.
"He set goals for himself and he's working to achieve those goals. That's all you can ask him to do," Wertz said.
Jake Boozel (126) was next to the final four, but his win was followed by a pair of hard losses, both from wrestlers who pulled off upsets to advance earlier in the day. Robbie Steel, the No. 15 seed who beat the No. 2 132-pounder, fell 10-3 to Josh Gould of Forest Hills in the quarters. And Tyler Long (145) dropped a 4-0 decision in the round of eight to Richland's Nicholas Naglic.
The wins then losses forged a bittersweet response from Wertz, especially over Steel.
"He wrestled well that match, so I thought he'd keep it going. Now he's got to battle back in the consys," Wertz said. "He's been wrestling well, he's starting to open up a little bit. I thought we could carry that over into the quarterfinal match and he kind of shut down a little bit.
"I keep telling these guys, once you're in the bracket, everyone's 0-0. Seeds don't mean anything. You don't have to be the best wrestler - you have to be the best wrestler at this tournament."
Dylan Smith joined Moist in the 100-win club this season when he squeezed Jacob Driskel of Penn Cambria out of the top bracket at 160, 3-1. Smith, never in danger in either of his matches, won a pair of close ones to make the semifinals.
At 220, Darrian Stapleton seems to have found his groove, pinning two opponents on the way to the semis. But, Wertz notes, he's given up a few points along the way.
"He's getting out of position a little bit. He's got to work on the little things, to get a guy on his back and not get rolled through," the coach said.
Philip Kyle (195) and Nikolas Smith (285) were both beneficiaries of small brackets, getting passed to the quarters, but then spending little time advancing.
"They do what they do and that's what we expect out of them," Wertz said.
The same could be said of Juniata's Derek Beitz, the top seed at 160 - an accomplishment neither of his brothers, Seth and Zack, managed in a district event - who bulled his way through.
"Derek Beitz is focused. He's focused, let's face it, on the trip to Hershey," Juniata coach Mike Robinson said. "He's not letting anybody stand in his way."
Perhaps the most difficult road to the semis was wrestled by Juniata's Taylor Foster, who was winning his 182-pound quarterfinal over Dennis Link of Cambria Heights in the first period.
Or so it seemed. But his 4-2 lead that seemed to be headed to 6-2 suddenly became a 6-4 deficit.
"That was a tough call from the referee's point also. He ended up with a takedown - he was actually winning," Robinson explained. "Within a three-second time frame, he had a takedown, they took the takedown from him, and after that they awarded the other gentleman a takedown plus two back points. I was not happy about it."
In the long run, it was a test Foster passed by a 12-7 margin.
"That really could have changed the entire complexion of the match, however, Taylor Foster's a hard-nosed young man and he knows you take one point at a time," Robinson said. "That shows how much intestinal fortitude he really has."
Juniata's Jared Benner also made the semis with a 9-2 win over Central's Mike Mock. Both of Benner's victories were closer than the scores would indicate, the result of him simply taking advantage of opportunity and avoiding problems.
Benner has "Nothing flashy, nothing fancy, no rolls - just good baseline wrestling," Robinson said. "I know Jared is extremely tough in a couple positions, and we're working to get him in his best position so he can capitalize. And he does - he's proven that."
Notes: Both local teams had only 13 entrants. ... Mount Union's Devon Kylor was a medical forfeit, taking the Trojans down to 12 at the start. ... Another Trojan, senior Garrett Heidler, was declared a forfeit when he left the mat during a match.