Franklin Regional wrestling returns talented, deeper roster
The Franklin Regional wrestling team is back and on the prowl.
After a year where the Panthers welcomed some young talent and struggled to fill every weight class, third-year coach Matt Lebe has an eclectic mix of wrestlers that will be hard to ignore.
“We got guys that think they can win a state title, and we got guys that think all they can do is win a few matches,” Lebe said. “I can promise you this, they will compete hard from top to bottom because of these kids’ characters and makeup. From 106 (pounds) to heavyweight, we will be one of the hardest competing teams.”
The Panthers had limited success in team competition a year ago. The Panthers finished fifth in Section 1-AAA. But that was to be expected. Low roster numbers, untimely injuries and a large roster turnover was a single-leg takedown that not even one of the WPIAL’s top wrestling programs could defend against. But things happen, programs move on and rebuild, which is what Franklin Regional did last season.
“We love what we have coming back,” Lebe said. “Myself and our staff are excited. There’s experience within experience. We’re thinking that we can be a very good team, but there’s challenges of that, too.”
The Panthers have nine returning starters, including senior Colton Camacho. The Pitt recruit stood atop the WPIAL podium last season as the Class AAA 132-pound champ and reached the PIAA championship match before losing to McDowell’s Jeffrey Boyd, 5-4.
Senior Zach McCann, an American University commit, moves up from 126 pounds to 132. Last year, he reached the WPIAL quarterfinals.
“We’re log jammed at those weight classes,” Lebe said. “Those things seem to find a way to sort itself out. That’s the great thing about wrestling.”
One drawback to having such a young team is that teenagers often hit their growth spurts in between their sophomore and junior years, so the Panthers have a ton of depth at the lightweights.
Sophomore Carter Dibert will be back wrestling at 106 pounds. Last season, Dibert reached the WPIAL semifinals and is looking for more now that he has a year’s worth of experience.
“He’s certainly ready to take that next step,” Lebe said.
Lebe is high on 113-pounder Finn Solomon. A freshman, Solomon’s first competition will be with sophomore teammate Dalton O’Neil. Lebe said he’s looking forward to watching both wrestlers making one another better in the wrestling room.
“Dalton is tough,” Lebe said. “He’s gonna challenge for a starting spot.”
The Panthers have another WPIAL quarterfinalist at 120 pounds in sophomore Garrett Thompson.
Sophomore Mario Sarnic (126 pounds) is coming off a 20-win freshman campaign and will be looked upon to score some points for the team.
“(Sarnic’s) right there with one of the best guys on our team,” Lebe said. “It’s a grueling schedule to win 20 matches, and I’m exited about him.”
After bouncing around the last few seasons, junior Mason Spears (145) will get to wrestle at his preferred weight class, and Lebe is expecting some big things.
“He’s going to be one of our biggest surprises,” Lebe said. “He’s settled, and I think that he’s going to turn some heads this year.”
Lebe also is excited about the number of first-time wrestlers out for the team. They will help Franklin Regional fill all of the weight classes and compete as a team.
“It’s exciting and you get to see that growth in there, and it’s a lot of fun,” Lebe said. “I can’t say enough for all the new guys that come out. We’re proud to be coaching them as a staff.”
Senior Colin Brady and junior Jonah Hartman are a couple of rookie grapplers who will play roles this season. Brady will battle with sophomore Adam Lucci at 145 pounds, while Hartman will get the start at 152. The Panthers also have a new heavyweight in senior Brandon Lieu, also a rookie.
“He’s brand new and never wrestled before,” Lebe said. “Give him credit because it’s a tough sport.”
The Panthers have some depth at 195 with seniors Lucas Fox and “Smiling” Sam Alamili. Fox hasn’t wrestled since his freshman year. Last season’s heavyweight, Dylan Singleton, worked hard in the offseason and has since dropped down to 220 pounds.
Lebe said he’s looking forward to the beginning of the season and can’t wait to jump into Section 1A-AAA action. The Panthers open the section schedule on the road against Penn-Trafford on Dec. 12.
“One thing about our schedule and our section, it doesn’t take long to get you in there with some of the best guys,” Lebe said. “We don’t ease into our season at all.”
William Whalen is a freelance writer.