A-K Valley wrestlers look forward to PIAA tournament debuts

Tuesday, March 6, 2018 | 8:51 PM

Jack Blumer sat by himself after losing in the so-called “blood round” during the WPIAL Class AAA wrestling championships in 2017, his dreams of qualifying for the PIAA tournament as a freshman up in smoke.

That made what he accomplished in his return to Canon-McMillan last weekend all the much sweeter — kind of like the chocolate Hershey is known for.

Blumer, a Kiski Area sophomore, will make his first appearance at the PIAA tournament, which begins Thursday morning at Giant Center in Hershey. And he won't be alone — teammate Nick Delp also will make his PIAA debut, as will Valley's David Schuffert and Burrell's Corey Christie, A.J. Corrado, Shaun Gates, Austin Mele and Ian Oswalt.

“It feels so much better,” said Blumer, the WPIAL 152-pound champion. “Last year it just (stunk). I just went in the corner and thought about what I could have done better to win that match.”

Many of the first-time qualifiers came close to the PIAA tournament in the past. Delp also lost in the blood round last season at WPIALs.

Christie made it to the PIAA Class AA Southwest Regional last season but was eliminated by Forest Hills' Connor Law in the consolation bracket. With a chance at redemption at regionals last month, Christie beat Law in the quarterfinals and clinched his trip to Hershey.

“I just got the weight off my shoulders,” said Christie, a senior 152-pounder. “I haven't got there the past three years, so it feels good to get there now.”

Wrestlers dream of making it to Hershey for PIAA individuals, one of the most prestigious state tournaments in the country. The wrestlers from Burrell and Kiski Area competed at Giant Center for the state team tournament in February, but the individual tournament represents something more.

“You hope your kids embrace this type of situation,” said Burrell coach Josh Shields, a former state runner-up from his high school days. “I think the guys we've got going certainly will. The sport we do, it's hard. It's brutal. We've got morning practice. We've got afternoon practice. We start in April, and we'll end this weekend. It's a year-round commitment for these guys.

“The Pennsylvania state tournament, really, to me, is the pinnacle of high school wrestling around the country. So for these guys to get to go there and showcase their talent in front of the crowds that are there is awesome. I hope these guys go there and embrace that.”

Schuffert is making his first trip to Hershey, team or individual.

“You always look forward to this, always, watching on TV when you're little, watching your family and your friends,” he said.

The wrestlers who competed at Hershey earlier this season have that experience to bank on, along with participation at other strong tournaments throughout the season. They won't go in there blind.

But the PIAA individual tournament draws thousands of spectators and carries the weight of expectations.

“I'm sure the atmosphere might be a little different, but I can't let that affect my wrestling or anything,” said Oswalt, a freshman. “I can't get nervous. I'm going to be a little nervous, obviously, since it's my first time up there, but I'm just going to wrestle how I do.”

Kiski Area's wrestlers can lean on seniors Noah Levett and Isaac Reid and junior Cam Connor, all of whom have experience at PIAA individuals. Burrell's wrestlers can look to their coaching staff, as can Schuffert, for advice.

“It just brings up the intensity,” Christie said. “You've got to be ready to put your ‘A' game out there.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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