Cody Wiercioch recently won a Walsh Ironman title (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
The POWERade Christmas Wrestling Tournament celebrates its 45th edition on Friday and Saturday at Canon-McMillan High School just to the south of Pittsburgh. For a tournament that has always been superb, in fact ranked the fourth best in the country according to InterMat, some aspects this year make it even more special than normal.
It is extremely likely that the most anticipated regular season matchup of the 2012-13 season will happen during Saturday night's finals that start at 7:30 p.m. Junior Chance Marsteller from Kennard-Dale, Pa., is ranked No. 1 in the nation at 170 pounds, and No. 1 overall in the Class of 2014. He also is a two-time state champion, a two-time POWERade champion, yet to lose a match in his high school career. However, in senior Cody Wiercioch from the host school Canon-McMillan, Marsteller might see a true equal.
Wiercioch is ranked No. 2 in the nation at 170 pounds, a two-time state champion (three-time finalist), a two-time POWERade champion (three-time finalist), and a two-time Super 32 Challenge champion. His career record is 137-4, with all those losses coming to one wrestler: Travis McKillop, a Burrell graduate who earned NCAA Division II All-American honors as a true frosh at Pitt-Johnstown in 2012 -- as part of a seven match series over two years. Headed into the POWERade this weekend, Wiercioch is working on a 60-match winning streak.
Joining Marsteller as top-ranked wrestlers in their weight classes are Zain Retherford (Benton, Pa.) at 138 pounds and Kyle Snyder (Good Counsel, Md.) at 220.
Retherford, ranked third overall in the Class of 2013, will be joined by another pair of nationally ranked wrestlers in his weight class: No. 6 Mason Manville (Blair Academy, N.J.), who scored the first takedown against Retherford in the Ironman final but still lost 4-2, and No. 14 Joseph Galasso (Father Judge, Pa.), a FloNationals runner-up and Super 32 placer. Also in the weight class are additional Pennsylvania state placers in Josh Maruca (Franklin Regional), Ethan Kenney (Connellsville), and Brock Zacherl (Brookville).
Snyder, ranked second to Marsteller in the Class of 2014, is also undefeated in a high school career that includes two National Prep titles, two Ironman titles, and three Beast of the East titles. His weight class features three other nationally ranked wrestlers: fellow junior Thomas Haines (Solanco, Pa.), a two-time state champion seeking to win back-to-back titles in this event, who is No. 3 in the weight class and No. 6 overall in the Class of 2014; as well as No. 10 Alex Campbell (Canon-McMillan, Pa.), runner-up in this event last year, and No. 20 Chalmer Frueauf (Cincinnati Moeller, Ohio).
The nation's top-ranked team, Blair Academy, N.J., is in the tournament for a second straight year and is a strong favorite to repeat as team champion. Their anchor wrestler Brooks Black, ranked No. 2 in the nation at 285 pounds and No. 6 overall in the Class of 2013, will most likely have to battle defending state champion Nazar Mironeko (Mifflinburg, Pa.) in order to win a repeat POWERade title on Saturday night.
The other defending Buccaneer champion at the POWERade is senior Russ Parsons, ranked No. 6 in the nation at 152 pounds. However, he will face an extreme challenge from No. 5 Anthony Collica (Solon, Ohio), a two-time state champion, Junior National freestyle champion, and three-time POWERade placer (5th/3rd/4th). Also present here is state placer Heath Coles (Norwin, Pa.), who is likely to meet Collica in the semifinal round.
Two past POWERade champions, both of whom are ranked inside the top ten nationally, are featured at 126 pounds. No. 4 Connor Schram (Canon-McMillan, Pa.) won the 112 pound weight class in 2010, and is a three-time state finalist; No. 8 Michael Kemerer (Franklin Regional, Pa.) was champion at 113 last year, finished as a state runner-up, and was runner-up at the Super 32 in October. Joining them in this weight are No. 3 Ryan Diehl (Trinity, Pa.), a three-time state champion, and Joey McKenna (Blair Academy, N.J.).
McKenna, a two-time National Prep champion and Junior National freestyle runner-up this summer, is a top ten prospect in the Class of 2014; it is his season debut, as he is back earlier than expected from a major injury that occurred while competing at the FILA Cadet freestyle World Championships in August. This quartet at 126 is joined by fellow state placers Cole Walter (Mifflinburg, Pa.) and Matt Welliver (Benton, Pa.).
A total of ten past POWERade champions will be competing in this year's event, with an eleventh in Solomon Chishko (Canon-McMillan, Pa.) unable to seek a repeat title at 145 pounds due to an injury sustained during the championship match of the Super 32 Challenge in late October. Already mentioned were Schram, Kemerer, Parsons, Wiercioch, Marsteller, Haines, and Black. Rounding out this group are Vincenzo Joseph (Pittsburgh Central Catholic, Pa.) at 120 pounds, Dakota DesLauriers (Burrell, Pa.) at 182, and Jacob Hart (Hampton, Pa.) at 195; DesLauriers and Hart won their titles last year in the same weight class.
Joseph, last year's winner at 106 pounds, faces an absolutely stacked field at 120 pounds with four nationally ranked wrestlers present. No. 3 Matthew Kolodzik (Blair Academy, N.J.) was a Cadet National freestyle champion this summer, and has already finished runner-up at the Ironman and Beast of the East this year; No. 5 Sam Krivus (Hempfield Area, Pa.) finished third at both the POWERade and state tournaments last year, and won the Super 32 Challenge two months ago; No. 11 Dalton Macri (Canon-McMillan, Pa.) was runner-up at 113 here last year; while No. 18 Brandon Thompson (Solon, Ohio) is a two-time state champion and two-time POWERade placer (3rd and 5th).
DesLauriers, a state champion last year and three-time state placer, is the top seed in a weight class with No. 19 Addison Knepshield (Blair Academy, N.J.), who placed fourth at both the Ironman and Beast of the East earlier this month, as the sixth seed. Also present in this weight is state fourth placer Nicholas Shawley (Bellefonte, Pa.).
Hart finished runner-up at state last year in Class AAA and placed in the Super 32 two months ago. However, it is No. 3 Frank Mattiace (Blair Academy, N.J.), a National Prep champion last year, and two-time Ironman placer who enters this tournament the favorite. In last year's event, Mattiace was upset the round before he would have met Hart, and reversed that result in consolation on the way to a third place finish. Also present here is National Prep and Super 32 placer Spencer Neff (Good Counsel, Md.).
The remaining five weight classes -- 106, 113, 132, 145, and 160 -- also feature nationally ranked wrestlers, meaning that every single weight in this tournament features a genuinely elite level of competition.
Two nationally ranked freshmen are featured in the 106 pound weight class: No. 2 Luke Pletcher (Greater Labrobe, Pa.), a two-time Super 32 placer and five-time PJW champion, and No. 8 Alex Mackall (Walsh Jesuit, Ohio), who placed fourth at the Ironman. However, neither is seeded, as they do not have a high school based criterion. The top two seeds here are Devon Brown (Saegertown, Pa.), who placed third in Ohio last year and is a Cadet Greco-Roman All-American, and state runner-up Tommy Aloi (Forest Park, Va.) who also was a NHSCA Junior runner-up.
State champ, and two-time state finalist, Ethan Lizak (Parkland, Pa.) is ranked No. 7 nationally to anchor the 113-pound weight class. Based on the draw, the other two nationally ranked wrestlers are slated to meet in the quarterfinal round as the two and seven seeds respectively: No. 13 Chaz Tucker (Blair Academy, N.J.), runner-up at the National Prep and Cadet National freestyle championships, and No. 19 Jordan Allen (Huntington, W.Va.), a state champion and POWERade placer.
The two nationally ranked wrestlers at 132 are seeded to the top half of the draw: No. 5 Jason Nolf (Kittanning, Pa.), third at the Super 32 and a junior with the only loss in his high school career coming to Diehl in the state semifinals last year, and No. 11 Dennis Gustafson (Forest Park, Va.) who placed fifth in the Super 32 and was a runner-up at the NHSCA Junior Nationals. Three-time state champion Brandon Brunner (Baylor School, Tenn.) is seeded to hit Nolf in the quarterfinal, while the bottom half of the draw is led by state placer Tyler Smith (Franklin Regional, Pa.), who was a match away from placing at the Ironman; and two-time state placer Mikey Kostandaras (Walsh Jesuit, Ohio).
Two-time National Prep runner-up Dylan Milonas (Blair Academy, N.J.), runner-up last year in this 145-pound weight class, is ranked No. 8 nationally and the favorite. He also was a Junior Naitonal freestyle All-American this past summer and has finished third at the Ironman and Beast of the East earlier this month. He is joined by No. 15 Colt Cotton (Benton, Pa.), a three-time state placer and NHSCA Junior runner-up, as a nationally ranked wrestler in this weight class. Also in this weight class is NHSCA Junior National champion Justin Arthur (Huntington, W.Va.), who was a Junior National freestyle All-American this summer.
Finally at 160 pounds, No. 11 Zack Zavatsky (Greater Latrobe, Pa.) is the lone ranked wrestler. He placed third at the POWERade and placed eighth at state in this weight class last year. He is joined by a pair of Pennsylvania state placers in Zach Voytek (Greensburg Salem, Pa.) and Jeric Kasunic (Benton, Pa.), as well as 2011 state placer Ty Walter (Mifflinburg, Pa.), a two-time Super 32 placer.
The robust nature of this field is also reflected in the excellence of the programs that will assemble this weekend. In addition to No. 1 Blair Academy, two other nationally ranked teams are present: No. 6 Canon-McMillan, Pa., and No. 34 Cincinnati Moeller, Ohio; No. 12 Clovis, Calif., and No. 39 Hermiston, Ore., had to pull out of the tournament due to travel logistics. Other teams meriting attention include Franklin Regional, Pa., Good Counsel, Md., Huntington, W.Va., and Parkland, Pa.