Three PA Wrestlers Victorious at Flo's Who's #1

LEHIGH – Pennsylvania wrestlers went 3-3 at FloWrestling’s Who’s #1 event on Sunday night at Grace Hall on the campus of Lehigh University.

The Keystone State was represented in two-thirds of the nine high school matches in the event, which looks to bring together the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked wrestler in each weight class as determined by FloWrestling.

“Just to have six guys in this, that’s incredible,” said Pennsylvania’s own Jody Strittmatter of Young Guns, who coached the Green Team. “They did a great job. Obviously, we would have liked to go 6-0, but it’s tough. Just to be included in this event … the atmosphere was incredible tonight. I was wondering what it was like on a Sunday evening, but the wrestling fans in Pennsylvania, they show up. They were great.”

So were the wrestlers.


Mike Labriola 3, Travis Wittlake 1DSC_0208

Bethlehem Catholic’s Mikey Labriola, the top-ranked 170-pounder, had the most dramatic victory of the night. Facing No. 2 Travis Wittlake, of Oregon, in the final high school bout, Labriola won a scramble with 6 seconds left in the third period for a 3-1 victory. That whipped the BECA students surrounding the mat into a frenzy.

Labriola was active offensively, but Wittlake had perhaps the best scoring opportunity of the match with a little less than a minute remaining. Labriola was able to fight off Wittlake’s leg attack and a potentially dangerous situation ended the threat.

Wittlake attacked again after the restart, but he was unable to finish his low single. Labriola, a Class AAA PIAA State Champ and Nebraska recruit, was able to pass the leg for the decisive takedown.


Michael Beard 12, Jelani Embree 6michalebeard

Another top-ranked Pennsylvania wrestler, Michael Beard of Malvern Prep, defeated No. 2 Jelani Embree of Michigan at 182 pounds.

Beard, a national prep champion, dominated the bout, scoring four takedowns and tilting Embree. A junior, Beard showed off an impressive array of skills, from a nearly unstoppable sweep single, to strong defense – including bowling over the Michigan recruit for a takedown off a shot attempt – to a nice tilt from the standing position.



Jarod Verkleeren 10, Kaden Gfeller 3verk

In a matchup that could continue for years to come in the Big 12, No. 4 Jarod Verkleeren of Hempfield Area took on No. 2 Kaden Gfeller of Oklahoma at 145. Verkleeren is headed to Iowa State while Gfeller has committed to wrestle at Oklahoma State.

Verkleeren took a 3-0 lead with a second-period escape and a double-leg takedown, but Gfeller escaped at the end of the second and then came up with a quick reversal in the third to tie the bout at 3.

Knowing that it would be difficult to ride Verkleeren for the final 1:04 to keep the match tied, Gfeller cut him and fell behind 4-3.

Gfeller tried a lateral drop with 30 seconds left and Verkleeren easily countered it for a takedown and two backpoints. Verkleeren turned him again with 15 seconds left to make the final score much more lopsided than the bout actually was.

“I thought he did a great job,” Strittmatter said of Verkleeren, who was one of three Young Guns wrestlers in the event. “He did the things he needed to do. He put a tough ride on there throughout the match. If you can wrestle all three positions, that can really help you.”


David Carr 4, Cameron Coy 2DSC_0148

No. 2 Cameron Coy of Penn-Trafford was looking to knock off top-ranked David Carr of Ohio at 152 pounds, but couldn’t quite get the job done.

Coy escaped in the second, but Carr quickly seized the lead with a beautiful duck-under.

Another Coy escape tied it at 2 and, after a wild scramble that didn’t result in any points, Carr took control of the match with takedown in the closing seconds of the third period.

Strittmatter said that was big, not just in terms of points, but because Coy didn’t get the opportunity to try to turn Carr in the third because the Ohio wrestler chose neutral and held on for the 4-2 lead.

“Unfortunately, Cam never got a chance (on top) because he gave up that second takedown right at the end of the period,” Strittmatter said.

Coy, a Virginia recruit, came close to a takedown in the closing seconds, but couldn’t finish it.


Jordan Decatur 8, Gavin Teasdale 7gteasdale

This was arguably the biggest upset of the night, and it came in the opening bout, as Gavin Teasdale of Jefferson-Morgan was the clear No. 1 coming in but fell to No. 2 Jordan Decatur of Ohio at 120 pounds.

Teasdale was the aggressor and tried to throw Decatur in the opening minute, but it backfired and Decatur ended up putting the Iowa recruit on his back for a 4-0 lead.

“You can be aggressive and make big mistakes,” Strittmatter said. “You love the mentality and the aggressiveness. You just can’t make mistakes in matches like this.”

The Ohio wrestler came up with another takedown at the first-period buzzer for a stunning 6-1 lead.

Teasdale rallied with a second-period escape and an inside trip that put Decatur on his back to tie it at 6.

An escape at the end of the second and another at the start of the third put Decatur back up by 2, and Teasdale couldn’t erase it. Another inside trip attempt momentarily put Decatur on his back, but Teasdale couldn’t hold him there long enough to even get a takedown out of it.

A stalling point closed the deficit to 1, but Teasdale couldn’t get come up with a winning takedown.

“I thought Gavin didn’t get to his best stuff,” Strittmatter said. “He’s best on the legs and on the ankles, and he didn’t get that.”


Nick Lee 8, Sammy Sasso 3DSC_0082

Nick Lee’s performance might have been the most impressive of the night. The top-ranked Indiana wrestler, who has committed to wrestle at Penn State, was relentless against No. 3 Sammy Sasso of Nazareth.

“There’s really no excuse to be out of shape,” Lee said. “Just train hard 100 percent of the time.”

The match was very entertaining early, as Sasso’s leg-pass scrambles were able to fight off Lee’s attempts and provided for some crazy situations, but Lee eventually wore him down. Leading 4-3 in the second, Lee used a double-leg for a late takedown that opened up the match.

Lee scored a reversal to start the third and then rode out Sasso for the victory.


Overall thoughts

This was my second time covering the Who’s #1 event, and while it didn’t quite live up to the high bar set by the 2015 event, it was impressive. The 3-3 mark by Pennsylvania guys wasn’t a bad showing by any means.

The event attracted 1,582 fans to the Snakepit.

Strittmatter, who has coached in all four versions of the event, was impressed.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “Flo does an amazing job with these kids, treating these kids so good. It’s tough. You don’t expect to come in here and get three pins. You’ve got the best guys in the country. Selfishly, you want to come out on the winning end. There’s work to be done, and I think the kids know that. They’re excited. They’re talking about what we have to do. We’re not forgetting about tonight, but learning from it and thinking about the next thing.”

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