Connellsville edges Trinity for 8th WPIAL team wrestling title

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Saturday, February 3, 2024 | 8:42 PM


It’s been 15 years since the Connellsville wrestling program celebrated a WPIAL Class 3A title.

The long wait ended Saturday.

The Falcons claimed their eighth WPIAL title by rallying to defeat top seed Trinity, 33-32, at Peters Township’s AHN Arena.

The win capped off four exciting matches in the semifinals and championship finals. Franklin Regional edged Bethel Park, 28-27, for third place.

Connellsville (13-2), Trinity (11-1) and Franklin Regional (19-1) qualify for the PIAA team tournament that begins Monday for the Panthers. They must defeat the City League champion (either Allderdice or Obama) to join the other two teams in Hershey on Thursday.

Connellsville reached the finals by holding off Franklin Regional, 31-28. Trinity advanced by nipping Bethel Park, 27-26, on a win by Jacob Wright in the final match.

Franklin Regional coach Matt Lebe said his team performed as he expected.

It responded after a close loss to Connellsville and came back to defeat Bethel Park.

The Panthers got a major decision win by Henry Patts (172) and pins by Troy McClelland (215) and Juliano Marion (285) to put them in position to win.

Freshman Mike Ruane delivered a 1-0 victory at 114, and freshman Sal Nassif lost by a major decision to clinch the victory.

“This was huge to qualify for states,” Lebe said. “Coming into this weekend, we thought we could win a WPIAL title or we could finish fourth. After the loss to Connellsville, adversity and how we responded was the key. We’re proud how they fought through it.”

Ruane and McClelland were huge wins that Lebe felt were crucial.

Connellsville trailed 26-21 in the final match with four bouts remaining when it made its charge.

Heavyweight Tyler Gallis got things started with a 7-3 win against Jase Banco. Freshmen Tommy Gretz (107) and Nolan Rice (114) finished the deal.

The two outstanding freshmen are 107-pound wrestlers, but with an injury to sophomore Landon Lynn, the regular 114-pounder, Connellsville coach Bill Swink had to make a decision.

“Both guys are outstanding wrestlers,” Swink said. “We knew we needed bonus points from one of them to secure the win.”

Gretz delivered a pin in the third period against Mickey Horne, which meant all Rice needed to do was defeat Jacob Wright. Rice won 7-4.

The Falcons won seven matches including pins from Kai Vielma (133), Evan Petrovich (145) and Lonzy Vielma (160).

One of the biggest wins, which decided the match, was Nicholas Rohal’s 4-2 win against Cael Nicolella at 172.

“The wrestlers responded to what we asked them to do.” Swink said. “The key wins were at 172 and the two little guys. We felt pretty good at 107 and 114.

“The pressure on our guys was wanting to achieve our goals. We wanted to get number eight. We do a lot of things at practice that end in eight. Now we’ll change that to nine.”

Swink said his team responded well after not wrestling here a year ago.

“They were two great matches,” Swink said. “We defeated two very well coached teams, and both have a lot of history as well.”

Trinity coach Ron Tarquinio said his team was in two great battles.

“I don’t think we wrestled our best,” Tarquinio said. “I think Wednesday was some of our best performances, but you’ll have that. It was a collective effort in a dual.

“At the beginning of the year we saw Connellsville, and I thought they looked dominant. I didn’t think anyone would come close to them. We were right there with them.”

Paul Schofield is a TribLive reporter covering high school and college sports and local golf. He joined the Trib in 1995 after spending 15 years at the Daily Courier in Connellsville, where he served as sports editor for 14 years. He can be reached at pschofield@triblive.com.

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