HERSHEY — For the second year in a row, the Tri-County Area is sendings its largest contingent in recent memory to the PIAA Class AA Wrestling Championships.
This year’s crop of 17 state qualifiers is one more than last year and definitely features quality along with quantity.
Last year, only five of the 16 area wrestlers had been to states before. Fast forward a year, and 10 of the 17 local competitors who will hit the mats in Hershey have competed on the grand stage in the Giant Center.
That talented group includes four returning state medalists in Brookville senior Taylor Ortz, Brockway seniors Ryan Carlson and Mason Lindenmuth and Curwensville senior Shae Bloom.
Ortz and Bloom are both four-time PIAA qualifiers, while Carlson and Redbank Valley senior Tanner Altobelli will compete in Hershey for the third time. Ortz and Carlson are each looking for the third state medal of their careers. Ortz has finished third each of the last two years, while Carlson was eighth as a sophomore and sixth last year as a junior.
Ortz headlines a Brookville contingent that features a District 9 single-season tying record seven qualifiers. Meanwhile, Brockway has four headed to states for the second straight year, with Carlson and Lindenmuth being the only repeat qualifiers of this year’s quartet.
Curwensville and Redbank Valley each have two state qualifiers, while Clarion and Ridgway both pushed one wrestler through to Hershey.
The area has two competitors in the field at 106, which has just four returning qualifiers, and both Brookville junior Keelan Kunselman and Curwensville freshman Blake Passarelli landed in the bottom half of the draw.
Kunselman (27-11), the Northwest runner-up, faces Montoursville sophomore Wyatt Lutz (39-10) in the first round. Lutz beat Kunselman, 8-3, in sudden victory earlier this year at the Powerade Tournament.
The winner will likely earn a quarterfinal matchup with returning state runner-up Aaron Burkett (37-3) of Chestnut Ridge.
Passarelli (28-8) has a first-round bout with Benton sophomore Joseph Klock (27-7), with the winner most likely getting returning medalist Kevan Gentile of Jim Thorpe in the quarterfinals. Gentile (36-1), the Southeast champ, placed fourth at 106 last year.
The lone returnee in the top half at 106 is Southern Columbia sophomore Jaret Lane (43-1), the Northeast regional champ who placed fifth at 106 in 2015. Reynolds freshman Beau Bayless (35-7), who beat Kunsleman, 4-2, in the regional final over the weekend also is in the top half.
The area also had two entrants at 113, with Brookville junior Gavin Park and Brockway senior Mitchell Overbeck both being in the top half.
Park (20-2), fresh off winning his second regional crown, awaits the winner of a pigtail bout between Warrior Run junior Trey Heiss (34-9) and Notre Dame-GP freshman Ritchie Markulics (31-6). Park could face Boiling Springs freshman Kollin Myers (42-6) in the quarterfinals.
Overbeck (28-7) landed in the other pigtail bout in the top half against Bentworth sophomore Manny Dovshek (27-12). The winner will wrestle Benton senior Alan Diltz (32-2), a three-time qualifier who was third at 106 last year.
Williams Valley senior William Girard (33-3), who was seventh at 113 last year, also is in the top half.
The bottom at 113 features five state returnees, including returning 106-pound state champ Gavin Teasdale (32-0) of Jefferson-Morgan. Teasdale could face Fort LeBoeuf’s Abe Guariello (39-4), a seventh-place finisher at 106 last year, in the quarterfinals.
Carlson has made the move from 113 up to 120 this year and is one of 13 returning state qualifiers in the 20-man bracket. The Rover is in the bottom of the bracket and wrestles Northern Bedford junior Zach Clark (27-5) in the first round.
The winner of that contest could face Saucon Valley senior Jack Hill (31-1), the Southeast Region champ who placed fifth at 113 last year.
Another intriguing first-round bout in the bottom pits Jamestown senior Faris Messai against Southmoreland sophomore Tyler Griffiths in a battle of state returnees. Griffiths was eighth at 106 last year.
The top half could see an exciting quarterfinal contest between LeBoeuf’s Charlie Lenox (44-1), the Northwest Region, and returning state runner-up at 113 pounds Lancaster Catholic senior Joe Lobeck (39-2). Lenox was a Class AAA state qualifier a year ago at McDowell.
Boiling Springs junior Jalin Hankerson (23-7), who was sixth at 106 last year, also is in the top half along with Southwest champ Liam Flaherty (29-6) of Everett.
While the 120-pound class may have more returning qualifiers, 126 may be the craziest weight at states this year as the bracket includes three returning state champs and a returning state runner-up.
The area has two entrants mixed in with those heavy hitters, with Lindenmuth and Altobelli seeming to fall on the better side of the draw in the bottom.
Central Cambria junior Max Murin (37-1), who won a gold medal at 113 last year, is the only one of those finalists in the bottom. Murin is a potential quarterfinal opponent for Altobelli (31-2) if the Bulldog gets past Hughesville senior Trevor Sones (26-11) in the first round.
Lindenmuth (31-5), who was seventh at 132 last year, faces Line Mountain junior Brian Earlston (33-9) in the first round. The winner could see Saucon Valley senior Jonah Zych (38-8), the Southeast champ, in the quarters.
The top half at 126 is loaded with talent, including returning state champs Cole Matthews (40-4) of Reynolds and Bedford senior Johnathan Gabriel (29-3). matthews won his title at 120 last year, while Gabriel struck gold at 126.
Gabriel, who lost to Murin in the Southwest Regiona finals over the weekend, could face Athens junior Brian Courtney (37-2) in the quarterfinals. Courtney placed second at 120 last year.
Ortz (40-0) has bumped from 120 up to 132 this year is search of his first state crown and enters states as the favorite to land on top the podium. Ortz awaits the winner of a pigtail contest between Northern Lebanon junior Trevor Loenard (43-9) and Mount Pleasant senior Mike Novak (30-14), a returning qualifier.
Waiting in the wings in the quarterfinals for Ortz could be Southern Columbia junior Todd Lane (33-3), who was a state runner-up as a freshman before missing all of last year.
Also in the top half with Ortz is Palisades senior Jacob Wasser (39-0), the Southeast champ, and Benton junior Mike Stuart (27-8), a two-time medalist who was eighth at 126 in 2015.
The bottom half at 132 includes two two-time medalists in Bishop McDevitt junior John Pipa (35-7) and Huntingdon senior Collin Glorioso (36-6). Pipa was a runner-up as a freshman and fourth at 120 last year, while Glorioso won medals his first two years but not last year a junior.
The 138-pound field features 11 returning qualifiers, one from two years ago and another from the state of Maryland.
Brookville senior Cole Aaron (34-5) is one of those 11 qualifiers and faces another returnee in Westmont-Hilltop sophomore Carnell Andrews (33-5) in a first-round bout in the bottom half of the draw.
The winner will face another wrestler with state experience in the quarters, as Warrior Run senior Zackery Lebarron (38-0) awaits the pigtail winner between Northern Lehigh senior Matt Schmall (31-7) and Berlin senior Joe Swank (28-8). Schmall was eighth last year, while Swank was a state qualifier two years ago.
The bottom at 138 also features senior Cole Wetzel (31-7), a two-time Maryland state runner-up who transferred to Boiling Springs this year, and Chestnut Ridge sophomore Justin McCoy (38-3), who placed sixth a year ago.
The area has a second competitor at 138 in Brockway senior Dustin Jamison (32-12), who was arguably the biggest surprise overf the weekend at regionals in Sharon. The Rover went from placing fourth at districts to earning a trip to states.
Jamison has a pigtail match with Bishop McDevitt junior Jayden Johnson (18-15), with the winner facing two-tome state champ George Phillipi of Derry Area. Phillippi (39-2) won a title at 132 last year.
Fort LeBoeuf senior Jarrette Carter (35-3), who was fourth at 132 last year, also is in the top half along with a handful of other returning qualifiers.
There field at 152 features a baker’s dozen in terms of returning qualifiers, with Bloom and Brookville sophomore Caleb Hetrick among those 13.
Bloom (32-1) find himself in the top half and awaits the winner of a pigtail bout between Saucon Valley senior Nathan Harka (34-9), a state returnee, and South Fayette senior Ben Previte (44-13). Bloom placed fifth at 138 a year ago.
A win by bloom would set up a potential quarterfinal match against Burrell senior Damon Greenwald (39-8), who placed seventh at 152 last year. The top has two other returning medalists in Biglerville senior Nate Newberry (36-2) and Huntingdon senior Jon Wagner (41-6). Newberry was seventh at 145 last year, while Wagner was sixth at 160.
Hetrick (28-9) is in the bottom at 152 and faces Delone Catholic junior Brian Shermeyer (33-8) in the first round, with the winner possibly getting a returning medalist in Hughesville senior Zach Fry (30-0) or Jeannette junior Gio Vonne Sanders (26-6) in the quarterfinals. Sanders and Fry were sixth and eighth, respectively, at 145 last year.
Also in the bottom are returning 145-pound state runner-up Robert Patrick (36-20 of Ligonier Valley and Saegertown senior Nick Monico (37-5), a three-time medalist who was fourth at 145 a year ago. Hetrick edged Monico, 2-1, over the weekend in the regional semifinals.
The area has no competitors at 160 or 170, but Brookville junior Noah Cieleski (32-6) in the field at 182. The Raiders will battle Lewisburg sophomore Adrew Shedleski (36-5) in the first round for the right to most likely face returning state champ Greg Bulsak (40-1) of South Park in the quarterfinals. Hetrick won his gold medal at 170 last year.
The top half at 182 features the returning state champ at the weight in Franklin senior Dakota Geer (37-0), the Northwest champ. Mountoursville senior Garrett Hoffman (46-2), the Northeast champ who was eighth last year, could face Geer in the semifinals.
At 195, Clarion senior Zach Sintobin (30-3) is one of eight returning state qualifiers and one of four in the bottom half. Sintobin opens against Danville senior Sam Crone (33-7), with the winner likely to face Jefferson-Morgan senior Bill Bowlen (35-3), the Southwest champ who placed sixth at 182 last year.
The bottom half also features Southeast Region champ Connor Frey (38-1), a senior from Lehighton who was seventh at 182 in 2015.
The top half at 195 has three returning medalists in Chestnut Ridge’ senior Connor Buttry (37-5), Montoursville sophomore Gavin Hoffman (44-2) and Greenville junior Blake Reynolds (43-0). Buttry was third at 195, Hoffman sixth at 170 and Reynolds eighth at 152.
Brookville sophomore Tyler Cook (29-11) is the lone area wrestler at 220, a field that has just a handful of state returnees.
Cook finds himself in a pigtail bout against returning qualifier Julian Wismer (29-11) of Notre Dame-GP. The winner gets Southwest champ Josiah Jones (31-5), a sophomore from Westmont-Hilltop.
The only other returnee in the top half if Greenville’s Gage Gladysz (43-0), the Northwest champ.
The bottom at 220 has four returnees and one medalist in Reynolds junior Cole Rickert (27-15), who was seventh at 220 a year ago. However, Bishop McDevitt junior Cole Nye (38-5), the Southeast region champ also is back in the mix.
Nye was a national prep sixth-place finisher while wrestling for Wyoming Seminary last year but transferred back to McDevitt for this season. Seminary is a non-PIAA school.
The area’s final two competitors this weekend are both heavyweights in Redbank senior BryLee Shumaker and Ridgway junior Colton McClain. Both are in the top half of the bracket.
Shumaker (35-2), fresh off winning his first regional title, is one of six state returnees at the weight. He awaits the winner of a pigtail bout between Keystone Oakes senior Joe Kazalas (29-6) and Northern Lebanon senior George Thompson (29-12).
McClain (30-8) finds himself in a pigtail against Williams Valley junior Ian Minnich (32-7), with the winner getting returning state runner-up Jacob Beistel (32-0) of Southmoreland in the first round.
The bottom at 285 features a first-round contest between returning medalists as Cambridge Springs senior Zach Stafford (29-6) takes on Mount Pleasant senior Josh Lind (33-8). Stafford was sixth at 220 last year, while Lind was fifth at 285.
The winner of that bout will most likely face Line Mountain junior Garrett Kieffer (39-5), the Northeast champ who is a returning qualifier. The other regional champ in the bottom is Salisbury Township senior Alexander Nicholas (30-1).
Class AA action gets underway Thursday at 9 a.m. at the Giant Center.