5 Takeaways From Thomas Chevrolet Championships

After spending nearly 24 hours over two days in the cramped confines of Bedford High School, I think I have a much better understanding of how things look in the Southwest Region.
Some things we knew going in – such as the fact that Jared McGill of Chestnut Ridge is the favorite at 170 pounds – and some are still up in the air – such as the long-term status of Beth-Center’s Dominic Fundy, who didn’t wrestle in the tournament.

The Thomas tournament, which just wrapped up its 31st year, remains one of my favorites on the high school calendar. Yes, the facility is awfully small for a 28-team tournament, and it is now rivaled – some would argue it has been surpassed – by the Ultimate Warrior Tournament at West Branch, but it’s still a fantastic primer for what’s ahead in the AA team duals and individual postseason. That’s why Burrell coach Josh Shields loves coming back year after year to be a part of a field that also includes state ranked Chestnut Ridge, Greenville, Freedom Area, North Star and Newport.

“When I took over as head coach six years ago, I realized I was always looking for results from this tournament, so I figured, why not just get in it?” Shields said after his team finished second to Chestnut Ridge, which won its record fifth consecutive Thomas title.

You can watch the tournament broadcast here: https://cementjob.com/tournaments/thomas-tournament/2019/media/


Dayton Pitzer is as good as advertised

The 182-pound freshman from Mount Pleasant burst onto the scene in December by winning Panther Holiday Classic and Southmoreland Holiday Classic titles. He entered the Thomas tournament ranked third in the state with a 22-1 record with 19 pins. That resume included decisions over Holidaysburg’s Mason McCready and Ellwood City’s Austin Walley, so I knew that the youngster was good, but I hadn’t yet seen him in person.

I’m pretty sure I’ll be seeing a lot more of him in the future.

Pitzer pinned his way to the finals, averaging a little more than a minute on the mat in those three bouts – one of which was over Chestnut Ridge’s Austin Crouse, a state qualifier a year ago who was down to 182 pounds for the first time this season. He quickly slapped a cradle – which I had heard was his trademark move – on Crouse and pinned him.



In the finals, Pitzer faced a tough test in Penn Cambria’s Derek Brown, a Clarion recruit who is ranked third at 170 pounds but flip-flopped weights with teammate J.C. Smychynsky for the Thomas Tournament. Brown got the opening takedown and rode Pitzer for nearly a minute, but the freshman didn’t panic..
“The match isn’t over until the whistle blows,” Pitzer said. “Just keep wrestling hard until it’s over.”

He scored a reversal late in the period from a funky position that injured Brown’s knee and forced him to take a timeout.

From then on, it was all Pitzer. Brown took neutral in the second, but Pitzer scored a takedown 25 seconds in an went to work on top, where he is so dangerous. He nearly pinned Brown but had to settle for a total of five backpoints in the period.

In the the third, Pitzer chose bottom and reversed Brown. He didn’t turn him again, but the damage was already done at 11-2.

There are some aspects of Pitzer’s game that you certainly wouldn’t teach – he tried to step over Brown’s hips a few times from the bottom – but his 6-foot-3 frame and athleticism allowed him to get away with it.

That may catch up to him at some point, but Pitzer certainly has the talent to make a long run in the postseason.


The Southwest Regional team race could be a lot of fun

Winter Storm Harper deprived us of seeing No. 4 Burrell vs. No. 6 Chestnut Ridge (as well as a host of other top-10 matches) at the Johnson Motors Ultimate Duals in Brookville last weekend, but we did get a chance to see how the Southwestern powers stack up in Bedford. The answer? Pretty evenly.

If you had asked me on Friday night, I’d have said that Ridge should probably be the clear favorite in a dual. It was hard not to be impressed by what coach Greg Lazor called an “almost perfect” day that saw 10 Lions reach the semifinals.

Saturday morning was a different story. Chestnut Ridge went just 3-7 in the semis while Burrell piled up points from four of its finalists to close within 1.5 points by the end of the round.
“I think at one point, they might have even passed us,” Lazor said. “I was like, ‘Golly, gee.’ ”

I’m not sure his message to his team was that G-rated, but the Lions rebounded and eventually pulled away for a 16.5-point victory thanks to their superior depth. Kai Burkett (106) pounds and McGill (170) won titles, Nate Holderbaum (113) was second and 12 wrestlers placed in all, including three third-place finishers.

Burrell, meanwhile, went 4-for-4 in the finals, with studs Ian Oswalt (120), A.J. Corrado (138) and Austin Mele (160) joining surprise 113-pound champion Nick Salerno atop the podium. The Bucs finished with 10 medalists, although 126-pounder Trent Valovchik was the only other one to finish in the top four.

So, Ridge probably has a little more depth to its lineup, but Burrell might have more top-end talent. In a dual meet setting, it could probably go either way.

Greenville and Newport, which finished third and fourth respectively, aren’t in the Southwest Region, but North Star and Mount Pleasant (Nos. 5 and 6 in the team standings) are. District 5’s North Star is a solid dual meet team that had a champion in Hunter Tremain (195) and a runner-up in Alec Supanick (152). Mount Pleasant has a group of stud freshman – Pitzer was joined in the finals by Luke Geibig (106) and Noah Teeter (120) while Noah Gnibus (113) took third – that could make them a contender in tournaments now and dual meets in seasons to come.

Freedom Area finished ninth, with a champion in Trent Schultheis (152) and two runners-up in Kenny Duschek (138) and Jake Pail (145). If Z.J. Ward (120) and Bryson Miller (182) had been healthy enough to compete, they would have almost certainly been high on the podium and boosted the Bulldogs to a top-five finish.


Jalen Stephens could win a state title this season

This tournament was where the Meyersdale heavyweight’s season ended a year ago. This time, it might be where it really begins.

OK, that might be a bit of hyperbole. After all, the sophomore is ranked second in AA after beating state medalist Dave Schuffert of Valley in the Southmoreland Holiday Classic last month, but the way Stephens – who is every bit of 285 pounds – breezed through what arguably was the toughest weight in the tournament, shows that he’s making massive strides.

Stephens rebounded from the season-ending shoulder injury he suffered at Bedford a year ago to become a Cadet All-American in Fargo. And he just keeps getting better.

The top seed in Bedford, he had three falls – including one over No. 20 Dalton Seace of Chestnut Ridge – on his way to the finals. In the championship bout, Stephens beat No. 5 Kole Winfield of Southern Huntingdon, who edged No. 6 Max Wills of Greenville in the semis.

Although the score was only 3-1, Stephens dominated the match. He was the aggressor in the first period, then barely gave Winfield a chance to breath, let alone escape in the second. A heavyweight who can ride is almost worth his weight in gold, and Stephens kept Winfield from getting to his base for most of the period and was looking for turns.

“That’s something I’ve been working on,” Stephens said of his top game.

In the third, Stephens escaped quickly and continued to press the action instead of pressing the action. He said that’s something he learned after losing to two-time West Virginia state champion Zach Frazier in the Winners’ Choice Tournament two weeks earlier.

The aggressiveness paid off with a takedown against Winfield. Although the Southern Huntingdon wrestler escaped, the result was never in doubt.

Stephens is ranked second behind Mount Union’s Jake Ryan. Schuffert is third and Brookville’s Colby Whitehill, who beat Stephens at Fargo, is fourth.

The Meyersdale Red Raider not only looks like he belongs in that group – he might soon be at the top.


Three more of these? Sign me up

I missed the Panther Holiday Classic final where Everett’s Garret Cornell beat Bedford’s Kaden Cassidy at 132 pounds. I wasn’t about to miss this one.

No. 7 Cassidy beat No. 3 Cornell (2-1) this time, but don’t let the score fool you. It was an exciting match with some good scrambles. Cassidy got the opening takedown – always key for him since he’s so good on top. Cornell rode him for the entire second period – again think high-quality, exciting wrestling, not one guy covering the hips of the other for two minutes – before choosing bottom in the third. Cassidy returned the favor, holding Cornell down for almost the entire third, before giving up an escape with 14 seconds remaining.

Cassidy held off Cornell’s attempts, then stood and made the “feed me” gesture popularized by Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekial Elliott. The celebration drew boos from the crowd – Everett supporters and neutral fans – as well as vocal support from the home fans. Cassidy, who has heard plenty of negative comments before in a career that has seen him switch from Bedford Junior High to Bishop McCort Catholic for his freshman year, a brief move to Florida, then to Chestnut Ridge for his sophomore year and back to Bedford for his junior season, lapped up the negativity. He encouraged fans to make more noise, which they did, in terms of louder boos and cheers.

Cassidy said he later apologized to Everett’s coaches and that no ill will was intended in his demonstrations.
“Yeah, it was all emotion,” Cassidy said. “I did that because I was purely fired up. Not intention towards anyone but the Bedford people that cheer for me. Just getting my friends and fans going.”

I’d guess that it will get Cornell going a bit more for their next meeting. The teams have a dual meet scheduled for Feb. 5 – although it’s hard to imagine either side wanting this matchup again there, considering they likely will meet in the District 5 finals and possibly at the regional and state tournaments.
As for me? I’ll watch it any time I can.


Greenville 220-pounder might be McMaster of the Universe

The 220-pound weight class was one of the stronger ones in the tournament, with No. 2 Jacob McMaster of Greenville, No. 10 Ethan Rode of Newport, No. 12 Duane Knisely of Chestnut Ridge, No. 13 Jacob Baker of Beth-Center and No. 14 Jon Croft of Central Cambria.

By Saturday night, it was clear that McMaster was in a class of his own. The Greenville senior, who improved to 26-0 and pinned his way to the title.

In the semis, he scored a fall over Baker. In the finals, he built a 9-0 lead before pinning the previously unbeaten Rode.

For the tournament, McMaster outscored his opponents 29-3 – all three were first-period escapes to Bedford’s Jaydin Vargas in a first-round match – and could have made a strong argument for the Outstanding Wrestler Awards if the tournament gave one.

A year ago, McMaster’s lone loss was 4-2 in the state semifinals to Derry Area’s Dominic DeLuca. At this point in the season, it’s looking like that very well could be the state championship bout this time around.


Leave a Comment