The Panther Holiday Classic has gone through changes in name and location over the past decade, and it’s also gained prestige as the tournament continues to add quality AAA squads and lure teams from outside of Pennsylvania.
This year’s event, which begins at 11 Friday morning at Mount Aloysius College in Cresson, includes dozens of state-ranked wrestlers from Pennsylvania as well as some from Virginia and even Colorado.
Forty-five teams are scheduled to compete in the event, led by returning team champion North Allegheny. The Tigers’ Dylan Coy is back after winning a title last year, although he has moved up from 106 pounds to 120.
Coy is one of just three returning champions – Father Judge’s Eamonn Logue (up from 120 to 126) and Glendale’s Brock McMillen (up from 126 to 132) are the others – and his North Allegheny team, which is ranked 17th in AAA, might just be the favorite to repeat. That’s due in part to the influx of talent in Wexford.
Grant McKay, who was a two-time PJW champion in junior high, leads the way. The 152-pounder checks in at No. 2 on PA Power’s Top Incoming Freshman Report. He’s joined on that list by teammates Nick Gorman (106), Nathan Monteparte (126) and A.J. Rohan (132).
They are strong additions to a returning core that includes 30-match winners Freddy Junko (145) and Ian Branstetter (160).
Big Mac attack
Glendale’s McMillen isn’t just a returning tournament champion. He’s also the lone state champion in the field. That doesn’t mean he’ll walk to a title on Saturday. His 132-pound bracket might be the most top-heavy in the tournament, with Altoona’s Matt Sarbo – a PIAA medalist in 2017 – and state qualifiers Dave Evans (Tunkhannock) and Daniel Merida (Colonial Forge) registered.
Missing in action
Mount Pleasant’s Dayton Pitzer, who burst onto the scene as a freshman at this tournament a year ago on his way to a state title, won’t be back to defend his PHC title. Pitzer is out with an injury, and coach Zach Snyder said there is no timetable for his return.
So who could follow in Pitzer’s footsteps this season and make a name for himself at Mount Aloysius? McKay is the obvious answer. Other freshmen who could make some noise are Benton’s Chase Burke (106), Glendale’s Zeke Dubler (113), Marion Center’s Liam Cornetto (120) and Penn Cambria’s Austin Wagner (220).
Douglas County is making the trip from Colorado, and Max Black will be looking to take a 120-pound title back to suburban Denver. The junior is a two-time Colorado state medalist and a Fargo All-American. His weight class also includes Austin Pollard, a Virginia third-place finisher from Colonial Forge.
Mount Union’s Jake Ryan went 39-2 last season, with his only losses coming to eventual champion Raymond Christas in the PHC semifinals to Brookville’s Colby Whitehill in the state finals.
After wrestling at 285 all last season, Ryan has dropped back down to 220 for his senior year. He’s off to a 5-0 start at the lower weight, where another District 6-AA wrestler – Glendale’s Cory Johnston – returns after placing sixth in the PIAA tournament.
No matter where he finishes in the 170-pound bracket, Canton’s Timmy Ward might be the biggest winner in the tournament. Ward, who won 30 matches as a freshman and 30 more as a sophomore – when he reached the state tournament – missed all of his junior season after being diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma.
Now cancer-free, Ward is off to a 4-0 start to the season and should be among the favorites at a weight that includes Woodbridge’s Joel Diaz, who placed eighth in the Virginia state tournament, and Spring Grove’s Thomas Dressler, a AAA state qualifier.
2019 Panther Holiday Classic
Friday, Dec. 13
11 a.m. Round of 64 (6 mats)
12:30 p.m. Round of 32/first-round consolations (6 mats)
3:30 p.m. Round of 16/second-round consolations (6 mats)
5:45 p.m. Quarterfinals/third-round consolations (6 mats)
Saturday, Dec. 13
8:45 p.m. Fourth-round consolations (6 mats)
10:15 a.m. Fifth-round consolations (6 mats)
11:45 p.m. Semifinals/consi quarters (6 mats)
4 p.m. Third-, fifth-, seventh-place matches (3 mats)
6 p.m. Parade of champions
6:15 p.m. Championship finals (1 mat)
2018 Champions (2019 returnees in bold)
106-Dylan Coy, North Allegheny (120)
113-Luke Hileman, Altoona
120-Eamonn Logue, Father Judge (126)
126-Brock McMillen, Glendale (132)
132-Garrett Cornell, Everett
138-Tommy Traver, Tunkhannock
145-Caleb Dowling, St. Joseph’s Catholic
152-Alex Weber, Thomas Jefferson
160-Tyler Stoltzfus, St. Joseph’s Catholic
170-Anthony Hinson, Spring Grove
182-Dayton Pitzer, Mount Pleasant
195-Shane Noonan, Hazleton
285-Raymond Christas, Dallastown
Altoona (6AAA), Bedford (5AA), Bellwood-Antis (6AA), Berlin Brothersvalley (5AA), Bishop McCort Catholic (6AA), Cambria Heights (6AA), Canton (4AA), Central (6AA), Central Cambria (6AA), Colonial Forge (VA-6A), Conestoga Valley (3AAA), Corry (10AA), Dallastown (3AAA), Everett (5AA), Father Judge (12AAA), Glendale (6AA), Hazelton (2AAA), Hollidaysburg (6AAA), Huntingdon (6AA), Ligonier Valley (6AA), Mifflinburg (4AA), Moshannon Valley (6AA), Mount Union (6AA), North Allegheny (7AAA), Penn Cambria (6AA), Penns Valley (6AA), Portage (6AA), Richland (6AA), Saint Marys (9AAA), Shamokin (4AA), Somerset (5AA), Spring Grove (3AAA), Tunkhannock (2AA), Tyrone (6AA), Woodbridge (VA-6A).
Benton (4AA), Douglass County (CO-5A), Hempfield (3AAA), Marion Center (6AA), Mars (7AAA), McGuffey (7AA), Mercer (10AA), Westmont Hilltop (6AA).