TJ wrestling ascends to top of Allegheny County
Four years ago, Thomas Jefferson tied for 15th place in the Allegheny County Wrestling Tournament. The Jaguars placed 13th in 2017, then climbed to the runner-up spot last season.
This year, the TJ wrestlers were crowned county champions, as coach Michael Ladick’s four-year plan came to fruition.
The Jaguars finished with 170.5 team points at Fox Chapel to edge North Allegheny (168 points). Mt. Lebanon (160), Pine-Richland (141.5) and Upper St. Clair (138.5) rounded out the top five.
“This was a huge win for our wrestling program and community that will surely go down in the record books as one of the best wins in team history,” said Ladick, TJ’s fourth-year coach. “This team has met adversity all year long and continued to find ways to wrestle through tough matches. The county championship is something I have wanted for this program since I got to TJ. The tournament is the stepping stone toward the WPIAL individual tournament.
“As a wrestler, you know where you are at, good or bad, when you walk out of (the county tournament). Our three champions showcased wrestling traits that are just not coachable characteristics. They had to have come from within.”
TJ was led at the two-day tourney by sophomore Mikey Zacur and seniors Alex Weber and Max Shaw, who won championships at 126, 152 and 195 pounds, respectively.
Only two other teams — Mt. Lebanon and USC — ended up with multiple titlists.
Zacur, who took third place at 113 in 2018, defeated Hampton junior Zach Wright, 8-2, in the title round.
Weber repeated as a tournament champion by blanking South Fayette junior Eli Brinksy, 3-0, in the finals. Weber took first place at 138 a year ago.
Shaw slipped past Hampton sophomore Justin Hart, 3-2, in his championship bout. Shaw was the runner-up at 182 last year.
“As gratifying as it was to see these three win titles, the fact is the team came through to win the team championship,” Ladick said. “Our wrestlers went eight-for-eight in medal matches in the last round, and there is no way we win the team title without every single one of those wins.”
Shaw went 5-0 at the county tournament to improve to 22-0 on the season.
“I’m really excited about how our team wrestled,” Shaw said. “We won with some guys out, so it says a lot. The key was taking names out of the match and competing, no matter what.
“I feel like I competed well. I need to keep improving, but it’s a step in the right direction.”
Zacur won four matches at the tournament, boosting his overall record to 17-6.
“I think our performance was great. The key for our team was everyone taking care of their business and coming out on top,” Zacur said. “My toughest match was in the finals because (Wright) came out pretty aggressive, and I knew he liked to go upper body. I also know he is a good competitor and wasn’t going to give up.”
Weber posted four wins to hike his season record to 29-2.
“Of course, I’m proud to say I’m a back-to-back county champion,” Weber said, “but there is definitely still room for improvement. Both my semifinal and finals matches were the toughest for different reasons. In my semifinal match, I had to battle back from an early seven-point deficit, and in my finals match I knew if I made mistakes my opponent would capitalize quickly.
“I think it was a very solid showing of what our team is capable of.”
Four TJ wrestlers placed fifth in their respective weight classes: freshman Brian Finnerty (138), his brother, junior Brendan Finnerty (145), sophomore Trystan Alava (182) and senior Dom Serapiglia (285).
“I’m looking forward to the rest of the season for both my team and myself,” Weber said. “I think we have great chance to make a run in the (WPIAL) team playoffs starting with the section finals matches.”
Ray Fisher is a freelance writer.