Gaul, Ward look to become four-time section champions
While some wrestling coaches in Class AA would like to see the section tournaments eliminated, there are just as many who think the section tournaments are important to the athletes.
The WPIAL wrestling committee agrees, and because the PIAA southwest regional at IUP’s Kovalchik Center can be contested only Feb. 22-23, the WPIAL decided to combine the section tournaments and the WPIAL tournament over two days beginning Friday at Canon-McMillan.
“I’d rather see just one tournament,” Derry coach Mike Weinell said. “At least they are starting the WPIAL tournament on Friday.”
A compromise for holding the section tournaments is to begin the WPIAL tournament a night earlier, so they could complete only wrestlebacks.
“We used the follow-the-leader method in prior seasons,” WPIAL wrestling chairman Frank Vulcano said. “Now we’re giving wrestlers a chance to wrestle back. It’s what the coaches wanted.”
The section tournaments, all at Canon-McMillan, begin 3 p.m. Friday with the opening round. The section finals are at 7 and the opening round of the WPIAL tournament at 9:30.
The top four wrestlers in the section advance to the WPIAL tournament, and the top seven in the WPIAL tournament advance to the PIAA southwest regional.
There are only two wrestlers — Burrell’s Bryan Gaul (132 pounds) and Freedom’s Z.J. Ward (126) — looking to become four-time section champions.
Gaul (16-6) missed much of the season with an injury. He returned in time to help Burrell win its 13th consecutive team time and make a good showing in the state tournament.
The Burrell senior won the 106-pound title in 2016, 113 in ‘17 and 126 in ‘18. This season, he is seeded No. 2 in the section at 132 behind Derry senior Jason Baker.
“It’s been a tough season for Bryan,” Burrell coach Josh Shields said. “Now he’s ready, and we’re hoping for no more setbacks.”
Ward, like Gaul, also won section titles at 106, 113 and 126. He remains at 126, where he will have to contend with Carlynton’s Eddie Huehn (26-5).
Wrestlers looking for their third titles are Burrell senior Dan McCarthy, Valley senior heavyweight Dave Schuffert, Frazier junior Thayne Lawrence and Freedom senior Bryson Miller.
McCarthy won his titles in 2016 (113) and ‘17 (138). He did not compete in the section tournament last season. He is seeded second at 170 this season.
Schuffert won his section titles in 2017 and ‘18, and Miller won the 195 titles in 2017 and ‘18.
Lawrence (15-3) is on track to be the next four-time champion. He won the 138 title in 2017 and the 152 title in ‘18. He is a returning PIAA champion with a career mark of 82-11. He will be seeking his third WPIAL title.
Miller and McGuffey’s Christian Clutter also are looking to join Lawrence has three-time WPIAL champions. Miller won the 195 titles the past two seasons, and Clutter, a senior, won the 160 title in 2017 and the 170 crown in ‘18.
Others previous and returning champions are: Ward (106, 2016), Burrell’s Trent Valovchik (106, ‘17), McGuffey’s Jett Pattison (120, ‘17), Beth-Center’s Dom Fundy (182, ‘17), Quaker Valley’s Conner Redinger (106, ‘18), Burrell’s Ian Oswalt (113, ‘18), Derry’s Ty Cymmerman (120, ‘18), Freedom’s Trent Schultheis (132, ‘18), Freedom’s Jake Pail (138, ‘18), Bentworth’s Jon Vargo (182, ‘18) and Derry’s Dom DeLuca (220, ’18).
Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at [email protected] or via Twitter @Schofield_Trib.