Blumer one of Kiski Area’s 11 semifinalists in WCCA tournament
Kiski Area senior Joey Blumer’s bad memories of his performances at the Westmoreland County Coaches Association tournament blurred together a bit as he rattled them off during the 64th rendition of the event Friday evening at Franklin Regional.
He nailed the name of every opponent that defeated him. Maybe the quality of wrestler that topped him each time made that feat a little easier.
Blumer, the No. 1 seed in the 145-pound weight class, enters Saturday’s WCCA tournament semifinals in search of his first title bout berth. Two of Westmoreland County’s more decorated wrestlers, three-time PIAA Class AAA champion Luke Pletcher and three-time PIAA Class AA champion Micky Phillippi, beat him the last two times he made it to the final four. Another of the county’s celebrated grapplers, Hempfield senior Jared Verkleeren, sits on the other side of Blumer’s bracket as a potential threat to the Kiski Area senior’s title chances.
“I have very few good memories here,” Blumer said. “It’s not even nerves at this point. I know, win or lose, as long as I gave it my best, I’m not going to be disappointed. But sometimes my best isn’t doing me too well here. The kids I’m wrestling here are pretty good.”
Verkleeren, an Iowa State recruit, won a championship at the vaunted Powerade Christmas Tournament last week.
“I can easily say that’s the first time that’s ever happened,” Blumer said of claiming the top seed in the county. “I’m going to try not to worry about seedings too much. I’m just going to try to go out there and beat whoever I have to.”
The semifinals begin at 11 a.m. Kiski Area has 11 wrestlers still in the hunt for titles and leads the team standings with 114 points, almost double the total of second place Franklin Regional (67).
A season ago, the Cavaliers won the county crown with no champions but four finalists. Blumer, Darren Miller (No. 1 seed at 106 pounds), Matt Siszka (No. 3 at 120), Noah Levett (No. 2 at 126), Cam Connor (No. 2 at 138), Nick Delp (No. 4 at 152), Brad Nagy (No. 1 at 170), Vince Romano (No. 3 at 182), Dan Starr (No. 1 at 195), Tom Starr (No. 2 at 220) and Isaac Reid (No. 1 at 285) give the team plenty of chances to head home with gold this time.
Siszka looks to join Blumer as a four-time medalist. He reached the finals for the first time in 2016 but found himself seeded third in his weight class as this tournament behind last season’s 113-pound champion, Franklin Regional’s Colton Camacho, and the third-place finisher at 113, Vince Distefanis.
“There’s really no reason I can’t win this tournament, so that’s the main goal,” Siszka said. “I didn’t really take (the seeding) as disrespect, because I know with us three, it could’ve gone either way. It’s more important who’s No. 1, 2 and 3 at the end than the beginning.”
Levett left the tournament with silver each of the previous two seasons. Franklin Regional’s Devin Brown, an eventual PIAA Class AAA champion, defeated Levett in the finals in 2015. Then Southmoreland’s Tyler Griffiths, the top seed, prevailed 2-1 in the title bout in 2016.
Unfortunately for the Kiski Area junior, his odds of finishing atop the medal stand Saturday likely are less favorable than in either of the previous two years, as three-time state champion Spencer Lee of Franklin Regional is the No. 1 seed at 126.
“I’m hoping to try to pull something out,” Levett said. “I’m not going to back down.
“The only way I’d be upset (with another second-place finish) is if I know I didn’t give my hardest out there. I use these as a learning experience. These tournaments mean something, but really the main thing is placing at states as high as I can get. These are all just learning experiences.”
Burrell 138-pounder Ethan Awes and 145-pounder Corey Christie pulled off two of the tournament’s rare upsets to become the Bucs’ semifinalists. Christie won 6-2 over Norwin’s Caleb Salvi, a No. 3 seed. And Awes pulled off a last-second reversal to prevail 2-0 over Greensburg Salem’s Ian Ewing, a No. 4 seed.
“Our team is competitive,” said Awes, who placed sixth at 126 a season ago. “We’re just going to go out there and work our offense like we know how to.”
Valley heavyweight Dave Schuffert, the No. 2 seed in his weight class, pinned both of his opponents before the end of the first period to guarantee himself a medal. A season ago, he finished one win short of the top six.
“It’s way different this year,” Schuffert, a sophomore, said of his tournament experience. “It’s me and Isaac now. I just can’t wait.”