HYDE — The Clearfield wrestling team was forced to compete without veteran head coach Jeff Aveni in the corner Saturday at the District 4/9 Class AAA Championships, but if this unprecedented winter season has taught athletes anything, it’s to expect the unexpected.
And, the Bison responded with a strong showing — one that saw nine of its 11 entrants land on the podium (Top 4 finish) and six wrestlers advance to the Northwest Regional this weekend in Altoona with second-place finishes.
Only the Top 2 wrestlers at each weight class advanced this year, instead of the usual four, under the guidelines being used to limit postseason tournament sizes beyond districts because of COVID-19.
A true-second place match was held when the loser of the finals had not met the third-place finisher in the tournament because only two wrestlers advanced this year. If the finals loser had already beat the third-place finisher, then he automatically was the runner-up.
Without Aveni, who missed the tournament as a result of a precautionary quarantine, Clearfield put six wrestlers in the finals and had 10 of 11 competitors win at least one bout as the Bison finished second in the team standings to Williamsport, 177.5-152. The Millionaires crowned six champions, while Clearfield saw just one of its finalists land on top the podium.
That one was junior Mark McGonigal, who carried the banner for the Bison in their home gymnasium by winning the title at 215 pounds for his second district crown in three years.
Teammates sophomore Evan Davis (106), junior Luke Freeland (138), junior Karson Kline (145), freshman Carter Chamberlain (172) and junior Oliver Billotte (285) will join McGonigal in Altoona after finishing second at their respective weights. All but Freeland and Billotte did so by having to win true second place matches.
“It was very difficult not to be there,” said Aveni. “I’ve been helping run the tournament and been a part of this tournament for 20 years. It was really hard talking to my kids through text messages and them calling me, and me just not being able to be there for them. That was a tough experience for me.
“I thought the team responded well, and wrestled well. My coaches, (Brent) Lykens and (Andy) Squires have been with me for 20 years so I have the upmost confidence that they’re going to do everything they can for our kids and our program.
“And, Coach (Myles) Caragein and Coach (Nate) Sipes have been around for quite some time now too. I have great coaches and I am blessed for that. They were able to step right in and keep our kids moving forward. That’s a credit to the program we have and the quality of the coaching staff.”
McGonigal, the top seed, notched a pair of bonus-point victories on his way to the Bison’s lone title.
He pinned past district champ Jeremy Garthwaite of St. Marys in 1:34 in the semifinals before blanking Selinsgrove senior Ryan Aument (20-6), 8-0, in the finals. Aument edged three-time district runner-up Adam Young of Shikellamy, 3-2 in the ultimate tiebreaker in the other semi.
McGonigal did all his scoring in the first and third periods, recording a takedown and two nearfall points in each en route to the major decision. He rode out Aument in the second period.
“Mark looked solid all day long,” said Aveni. “He was cool, calm and collected. He wrestled under control. He put people on their back. He had two bonus point wins. There were three returning state qualifiers in that weight as well as a district champ. So, there were quality kids. Mark wrestled two of them and dominated both.”
Davis put together a 3-1 day as the third seed at 106 to finish second, with all three wins being sub-one minute falls.
He pinned St. Marys’ Isaac Beyer and second-seeded Dysen Gould of Punxsutawney in in the quarterfinals and semifinals in 35 and 43 seconds, respectively. Gould had pinned Davis in the regular season.
The Bison then lost 15-0 in the finals to Williamsport sophomore Cael Nasdeo, won won his second straight title at 106. However, Davis bounced right back and decked Shikellamy’s Alex Reed in 25 seconds in a true second place match to secure the silver medal.
Chamberlain, the third seed at 172, also went 3-1 on the day and reached regionals for the first time by pinning Shik’s Gage Wolfe in 2:31 in a true second place match.
The Bison freshman reached the finals by pinning Selinsgrove freshman Cale Bastian in 3:30 before upending second-seeded Sebastian Robinson of Williamsport 4-2 in the semifinals. He then fell 12-3 in the finals to St. Marys senior Nick Crisp, the top seed, which forced the extra bout against Wolfe.
Kline was the only other Bison regional qualifier to win two bouts on the day.
The second seed at 145, Kline reversed DuBois’ Austin Mitchell to his back in the final 15 seconds of their semifinal bout to pull out a late 4-2 victory. Knowing he would have a true second place match, Clearfield elected to have the banged up Kline injury default to Williamsport junior Riley Bower in the finals, giving Bower his third district title.
Kline then beat Selinsgrove sophomore Garrett Paradis, 3-0, in that true second place match to reach regionals again.
Freeland and Billotte both went 1-1 as they finished second at 138 and 285, respectively, after getting byes into the semifinals.
Freeland beat St. Marys freshman Tristan Dilley, 11-1 in the semis but was tech falled in the finals (18-3 in 5:24) by DuBois senior Chandler Ho, who won his second crown. Dilley, an injury replacement, finished third, which meant Freeland advanced by way of his head-to-head victory.
Billotte had a much more nerve-racking day, as the junior had to go the distance in his semifinal bout against Williamsport’s Charles Crews to advance. The Bison junior needed an escape in the final 30-second ultimate tiebreaker period to pull out a 5-4 victory.
That head-to-head win was a necessity, with the winner having to face Selinsgrove senior Nate Schon, a two-time state finalist (one title), in the finals. Schon built a 7-1 lead before pinning Billotte in 3:34 in a battle of returning state medalists.
Schon became a four-time district champ with win and was named the Tournament’s Outstanding Wrestler. Crews was the third-place finisher.
While Clearfield pushed six wrestlers through to regionals, it could have had a couple more.
Juniors Nolan Barr (126) and Hayden Kovalick (189) each placed third at their respective weights.
Barr, the second seed, was 2-1 on the day, but a head-to-head 5-3 overtime loss to DuBois sophomore Brendan Orr in the semifinals ended the Bison’s hopes of a regional trip when Orr lost his finals bout to Williamsport’s Carter Weaver, 13-1.
The Barr-Orr match had a wild ending were it appeared Barr had won 5-4 after scoring a late takedown in the third before Orr escaped. However, DuBois’ coaches questioned the call, and after conferring, the two officials reversed the call and said the takedown should not have been awarded.
That decision wiped out the final three points scored and made it a 3-3 bout again, a decision that questioned by Clearfield’s staff. The end result was the two went to overtime, where Orr scored a takedown to win 5-3, the same score Barr beat Orr by in the regular season.
Barr bounced back with a pair of pins in the consy bracket but fell one win short of advancing.
Kovalick (16-3), the top seed at 189, reached the finals by pinning Punxsutawney’s Josh Miller in 4:15. However, the Bison dropped a tough 7-6 decision to St. Marys sophomore Waylon Wehler, the third seed, in the finals.
Kovalick took a 4-2 to the third period in that bout, but Wehler came up with a huge move from the bottom position as he rolled through and reversed the Bison to his back for a five-point move that proved to be the difference even though Kovalick notched a late reversal of his own.
The loss forced Kovalick into a true second place bout against Selinsgrove’s Steven Miller where he again held a late lead, this time 3-2 at the start of the third. However, the second-seeded Miller took down the Bison before recording a pin in 3:54 to grab a berth to Altoona.
Clearfield’s ninth and final medalist on the day was junior Wyatt Reorda, who went 2-2 and placed fourth at 160.
Freshman Will Domico (152) went 1-2 in his first district appearance, while senior Justin Hand (138) was 0-2.