Below are my five takeaways from The Surge on Sunday. Although it was the first ever Tournament we ran – I was able to observe some high quality wrestling and made several notes on the day. Let me know what you think of the following on Twitter @PAPowerWrestle or comment below!
#1. Freshmen Jared Keslar and Erik Gibson are Studs
When asked what was the biggest thing I learned following The Surge on Sunday – I quickly responded, “Jared Keslar and Erik Gibson wrestled like high school State Champions – not PJW State Champs.” I expected both to do well at The Surge, meaning a possible top four finish from each, but not both rolling to Championships in the Tournament’s deepest weights. Keslar more so than Gibson surprised me. Outside of PJW action I hadn’t seen much of him – but my impression after Sunday is he will be on top of the podium in Hershey by the time his career is over. The four wrestlers Keslar defeated on Sunday have a total of 221 career wins to only 57 defeats. All four of those wrestlers have made trips to the PIAA State Tournament and three of them own hardware as State Medalists. Gibson was equally impressive at 145 lbs. after a mediocre performance at the Super 32 last weekend. I may have been a little hard on Gibson after he went (2-2) at The Super 32 but the expectations were high. He left no doubt on Sunday defeating four straight State Qualifiers with a combined record of 283 wins and 85 defeats. Gibson said he wants to be a State Champion this season – I think he could be.
#2. Chappell – Herrera Combo Reminds me of Scott – Headlee
Last season Waynesburg Central head coach Joe Throckmorton said to me, “The reason Coleman Scott wasn’t a four-time Pennsylvania State Champion was because the only guy in the State who could beat him was Drew Headlee – and they happened to be teammates.” Coleman’s freshman season he was a natural 103 pounder but sophomore Drew Headlee beat him in their wrestle-off. Scott bumped up to 112 lbs. that year where he took 6th at the PA State Championship. In 2002 the teammates flipped weights with Headlee going up to 112 lbs. and Scott moving down to 103 lbs. – in case you forgot they won back-to-back State Championships that season. Something similiar could happen in 2019 with Herrera-Rondon and Chappell. Last year Chappell and Herrera-Rondon were both natural 106 lbs. wrestlers with each splitting time between there and 113 lbs. Alejandro won the 106 lbs. wrestle-off and would go on to win a PIAA State Championship at the weight. Chappell bumped up to 113 l bs. and was one win away from qualifying for the State Tournament. This season we could see a Scott – Headlee like duo between Chappell and Herrera-Rondon. Chappell looked powerful, comfortable, and poised at 106 lbs. in The Surge and will be a State title contender. Likewise Alejandro Herrera-Rondon looked strong and fast at 113 lbs. in The Surge where he comes in as the top ranked wrestler.
#3. Franklin Regional will be Sneaky Good This Year
The Franklin Regional Panthers finished (9-5) last season in dual meet competition but expect them to turn it around in 2019. That is thanks in-part to the development of two wrestlers in the off-season; Mason Spears and Zach McCann. Four Panthers finished with hardware at The Surge on Sunday anchored by Champion Zach McCann at 132 lbs. In the finals he downed 2018 PIAA State Medalist Nathan Higley (Sullivan County) to claim The Hammer. Spears downed WPIAL rival Drew Vlasnik (Seneca Valley) in the first round then took out top seed and PIAA State fourth place medalist Tye Varndell (Cambridge Springs) in a tight (3-2) bout. Spears advanced into the Championship finals after a (3-0) win over PA State Qualifier Kenny Duschek (Freedom Area). Spears was joined by Carter Dibert who was a runner-up at 106 lbs. Teammate Garrett Thompson went (4-1) at 120 lbs. to take third. Throw in 2018 PA State Finalist Colton Camacho and tough rookie Finn Solomon and the Panthers have a pretty solid squad from 106 to 145.
#4. Jonah Niesenbaum is going to Turn Heads in 2019
The former hockey player turned wrestler is a huge human being. He is very Hunter Catka like in his build and physique. It is only his third year of wrestling and clearly Jonah is picking up on how to be successful on the mat. At The Surge he won three straight matches competing at 220 lbs. taking out Levi Hoover (Berlin Brothersvalley) by fall and winning (5-2) in the semifinals against State Qualifier Tonee Ellis (Methacton). In the finals Jonah faced PIAA State Medalist Bryson Miller who bumped up from 195 lbs. to compete in the 220 lbs. field. Niesenbaum held on for another (5-2) decision and The Surge Power Hammer. Last season he went (18-14) but qualified for the PIAA State Championships. Expect him to end on the podium in 2019.
#5. Forest Hills is Already Showing Their Strength
Forest Hills is the buzz of Pennsylvania Class AA programs heading into the 2019 season. Most of the comments I hear are things such as “Forest Hills will be tough this season but next year, watch-out.” While I agree the future looks bright for the Rangers, this season they will be in the mix for team hardware at the PIAA Tournament. Last season Forest Hills went (17-4) in dual meet competition and return nine varsity starters (17-4). Throw in newcomers Jackson Arrington, Erik Gibson and Ryan Weyandt to the line-up and the Ranger’s dual meet potential for 2019 is high.