HERSHEY — Prior to the start of the medal rounds of the PIAA Class AA Wrestling Championships on the floor of the Giant Center, Brookville head coach Dave Klepfer was honored with the Coach of the Year award.
His peers apparently didn’t need to see anything else from his team to convince them he deserved the award. But just in case there was any doubt, his Raiders made him look really good again as five went on to medal and total up enough team points to win the team title for the first time in program history.
So indeed it was a double-title performance this year for the Raiders, who came in second to Bethlehem Catholic in 2014. Their 1999 dual meet squad came up short at individual states, placing second behind Wyalusing.
Klepfer was able to not only have his wrestlers gun for state medals, but help the team along as well for a trophy it hadn’t won. And in the end, it came down to bonus points in a 72.5-70.5 edge over runner-up Huntingdon.
With state champion senior Taylor Ortz leading the way at 132 pounds, the Raiders got a fourth-place finish from senior Cole Aaron at 138, a fifth-place from junior Keelan Kunselman at 106, a seventh from junior Gavin Park and an eight-place finish from sophomore Caleb Hetrick at 152, the Raiders barely offset Huntingdon.
The Bearcats also had a state champion, and a fourth- and fifth-placer to go along with two sevenths, but the Raiders wound up getting — and you’ve heard it all year — more bonus points.
“Always does, in dual meets and individuals,” Klepfer smiled. “There are always going to be four or five teams on the top who get the bonus points. We weren’t the only ones, but we got a little more than the others. We’re always talking about it. You’re iffy with it at this tournament, because you’re looking out for the individual more than anything. When they’re up 6-0 and you’re preaching to get another takedown, you’re still wanting them to stay in a position to advance because first and foremost it’s about the individuals down here.
“All seven contributed. I told Tyler (Cook) and Noah (Cieleski) and the guys who medaled, all of you won this award and without all seven we would’t have won it.”
Kunselman (31-13) had a nice run through the 106-pound bracket. After losing in Friday morning’s quarterfinals to Chestnut Ridge’s eventual third-placer Aaron Burkett, he notched two straight wins to clinch a top-six finish — 2-1 over Garrett Cornell of Everett and 1-0 over Joe Klock of Benton — before losing to Reynolds’ Beau Bayless, 2-0. In the fifth-place bout, he blanked Bishop McDevitt’s Chase Shields, 7-0, scoring two sets of three-point backpoints in the third period.
“I knew that if I got on top of him, I would be able to ride him out and maybe turn him,” Kunselman said. “I wrestled him at the Powerade and beat him 6-2, so I felt confident going into the match but I wasn’t sure because he looked good the entire tournament. I wasn’t quite sure how it was going to play out, but I got on top of him up 1-0 and did what I needed to do. I wanted to get the major for the team, but I feel good right now.”
Park (23-4) beat Notre Dame-Green Pond’s Richie Markulics, 1-0, to claim seventh at 113. He broke a scoreless tie with a third-period escape for the only point of the bout. Park wound up going 3-2, rebounding from a 6-4 semifinal loss to eventual runner-up Kollin Myers of Boiling Springs. Park led 3-1 going into the third period before Myers turned a reversal into a five-point move.
Park then won two of his next three bouts, pinning Harborcreek’s Nick Oosterkamp to secure a medal before losing to Benton’s Alan Diltz 3-0 to set up his seventh-place bout with Markulics.
“He’s down a little right now, but when you’re all-state, it’s pretty impressive when you missed six weeks, six important weeks during the grind of the schedule,” Klepfer said. “I think when he sits back and reflects on the weekend, he’s going to be pretty happy with the state medal.”
Aaron’s first state-medal performance saw him get to the 138-pound semifinals before he dropped an 11-4 decision to Cole Wetzel of Boiling Springs. Prior to that, he notched an 8-0 major over Westmont-Hilltop’s Carnell Andrews and a 3-1 decision over Warrior Run’s unbeaten three-time state qualifier Zach LeBarron in the quarterfinals.
Aaron clinched a consolation finals berth with a 6-1 win over Wyalusing’s Creighton Edsell. That got him a rematch with Fort LeBoeuf’s Jarrette Carter, who beat him in the regional finals. This time around, Carter used a takedown with 18 seconds left in the 60-second overtime period to win 3-1.
“It was a nice way to end the season,” said Aaron, the Division I Franklin & Marshall recruit who finished the year 37-7 and his career with 120 wins. “Obviously, I would’ve liked it to end a little better, but pretty much anybody could say that about their season.”
“I thought he had a great tournament. He’s another one you’re going to miss,” Klepfer said. “He was a captain and was one of the guys who put us in the spot where we could win this thing. We felt good about getting a finalist, but you have to have a guy getting in for third or fourth and couple others place and he just put together a great weekend. It was real close to being third. He’s another kid who was pretty satisfied with how things went and he should be because he came down last year and was a win or two short.”
Hetrick (30-12) wound up going 2-3, but won his first bout on Thursday to get to the quarterfinals where he dropped a 7-1 decision to eventual runner-up GioVonne Sanders of Jeannette. He clinched a top-eight finish with a 7-1 win over Saucon Valley’s Nathan Harka.
From there, he fell 3-1 to Morgan Deremer of Chestnut Ridge and then to Huntingdon’s returning placewinner Jon Wagner 4-3 to finish eighth.
“Coming down here, he’d made the trip last year and his goal is to win it and that’s just how the kid thinks and operates and works for it,” Klepfer said. “He’s on the track and does the right things. … He was a boy mixed in with a lot of men and that’s what happens when you’re in that weight class, but he did not back down anybody and brought it every single match.”
Even though Cieleski and Cook didn’t medal — Cieleski went 1-2 at 182 with a pin and Cook was 1-2 at 220 with a major decision — the two helped with a couple bonus points. It didn’t go unnoticed.
“In the dual meet season, it was all 23 guys,” Klepfer said. “Here, it was all seven guys who allowed us to hoist that trophy at the end.”
And while holding the state trophy with his coach of the year trophy somewhere else, he could only deflect credit to his staff and his wrestlers.
“Coach of the year, let’s be real, there are probably 20 or more who deserve it across the state,” Klepfer said. “I see a lot of these guys in the offseason taking their kids around doing the same things they’re doing. It’s a huge honor, obviously with as many schools as there are in Pennsylvania, to be chosen to receive this award is a pretty good honor.
“It’s a program award. Without all of our help at the elementary and junior high levels, even a lot of guys not on the staff any more who helped bring these guys along through the years … It’s pretty awesome. A lot of guys helped earn all of these awards we got this year. I’m just lucky enough to be steering the ship, I guess.”
And it’s a ship, that’s docking, momentarily at least until the typical offseason grind begins soon.
“It’s been a special year and safe to say, it’s one you don’t want to end,” Klepfer said. “The season is over, so there’s no better way to go out than we did.”