50th annual Powerade Christmas tournament
Site: Canon-McMillan High School, Canonsburg
Today: Round of 32 at 8:15 a.m.; quarterfinals at 7:30 p.m.
Friday: Semifinals at 11 a.m.; finals at 7 p.m.
1. North Allegheny (2-0)
2. Kiski Area (8-0)
3. Belle Vernon (2-0)
4. Canon-McMillan (2-1)
5. Franklin Regional (2-1)
1. Burrell (2-1)
2. Derry (9-0)
3. Freedom (2-1)
4. Beth-Center (2-0)
5. Burgettstown (3-0)
Ones to watch
• Trent Bechtold, Jr., Burrell, PIAA Class AA tournament qualifier last season
• Joey Blumer, Sr., Kiski Area, No. 3 seed at 145 pounds
• Noah Levett, Jr., Kiski Area, No. 7 seed at 126 pounds
• Darren Miller, So., Kiski Area, No. 2 seed at 106 pounds
• Issac Reid, Jr., Kiski Area, No. 3 seed at 285 pounds
More time might need to pass before Kiski Area wrestling coach Chris Heater finds new highlights to associate with sophomores Darren Miller and Cam Connor.
What Miller and Connor did to propel the Cavaliers to a first-round upset of District 3 champion Cumberland Valley in the PIAA Class AAA team tournament in February still looms large in Heater’s mind. Miller secured a major decision in the second-to-last bout of the dual meet, and Connor followed with a pin to deliver Kiski Area a 35-31 win.
Opportunities to write new chapters exist this week, though, as the Cavaliers head to the prestigious Powerade Christmas tournament at Canon-McMillan High School on Thursday and Friday with hopes of collecting individual and team hardware.
They head back after finishing third in the team standings in their Powerade debut, and they return with one placewinner, senior 145-pounder Joey Blumer.
But Miller enters the tournament with the best seed among the Cavaliers. He’s No. 2 at 106 pounds. Blumer (No. 3 at 145), junior Noah Levett (No. 7 at 126) and junior Isaac Reid (No. 3 at 285) are the others with seeds.
A season ago, the competition at Powerade opened Miller’s and Connor’s eyes to where they stood among local and regional talent. After strong starts to their freshman campaigns, both finished a win short of medaling.
“Cam and Darren, they didn’t really wrestle like your typical freshman for much of last year,” Heater said. “Some of those (Powerade losses) kind of refocused them. I think that’s why both of those guys made such a strong run in the new year.”
Humbling moments proved elusive for the duo as they proceeded through middle school wrestling.
Miller won Pennsylvania Junior Wrestling’s Junior High state championship at 87 pounds in 2015, and he placed second in the junior high division at 77 pounds a year earlier.
Connor took second in the PJW Junior High division at 112 pounds in eighth grade and third in the 11-12 year old division’s 100-pound weight class the year before.
The highs and lows of Connor’s freshman season, which also included falling a win short of qualifying for the PIAA Class AAA individual championships, led him to change the amount of attention he devoted to online rankings and speculation about tournament results.
“I usually did spend a lot of time online, but I don’t really think rankings matter as much anymore to me,” Connor said. “I think the team aspect at Kiski, our overall mindset is that rankings don’t make up who you are. You just have to go out there and perform. Anything can happen out there on the mat. Anybody can upset anybody at any time.”
That attitude might help Connor as he enters a 138-pound weight class at Powerade that includes just three seeded wrestlers from the PIAA and only one, Hempfield junior Luke Kemerer, from the WPIAL.
More pressure awaits Miller, who sits behind only St. Pauls (Md.) sophomore Kurt McHenry, a 2016 Maryland state champion, in the 106 seedings. But like Connor, Miller frets less about potential opponents and paths to titles now than in the past.
“I feel like it gives me a little more to think about than what I should be worrying about,” he said.
The sophomores agree: When they lose, they learn. They want spots on the medal stand, but both recognize the season continues regardless of their Powerade results.
“They were huge contributors to the success of the team (last season),” Heater said. “Both had big wins in the state (team) tournament. It’s going to be a long time before I forget that pin of Cam’s. The place went nuts. But that all came from them being in those (tough midseason) matches, regrouping, and moving on.”
Bill West is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BWest_Trib.