Dedication pays off with trip to WPIAL tournament for Penn Hills wrestler

Sunday, March 3, 2024 | 11:01 AM

Penn Hills wrestling coach Jeremy Packer couldn’t help but admire Julian Lavender’s desire to make his senior year a special one.

One day, Packer, who lives in West Deer and works in Pittsburgh, wasn’t planning on coming in to open up the wrestling room.

Lavender, a 127-pound senior wrestler, called and asked him to reconsider. Packer obliged, opened the practice room and hung out for an hour.

Lavender’s work was rewarded when he placed fourth at the section tournament to reach the WPIAL Class 3A championships for the first time. The WPIAL tournament was scheduled for March 1-2, after the deadline for this edition.

“Julian wanted to be in this position since last year when he didn’t make it,” Packer said. “He spent all summer working hard and doing extra things. He’s been going to a club and wanted this. I’m not surprised.”

Lavender has a 35-35 record in his career. He didn’t start wrestling until his sophomore year of high school. Joining the wrestling team was part of a quest for Lavender to earn a varsity letter. Despite going 3-3 as a sophomore, Lavender felt at home with his new sport.

“When coach Packer, all the coaches and everyone believed in me, I felt like I was starting to get better,” said Lavender, explaining why he stuck with the sport.

Lavender was one of two Penn Hills wrestlers to qualify for the WPIAL tournament along with Jacen Wright (189 pounds). Wright also had taken some time off from wrestling.

Wright, who is 19-12 this season, competed for two years in the middle school program before trying some other sports. He was on the fitness team last year and qualified for WPIALs by placing sixth.

“The big talk in the room this week was about how we are taking two kids to WPIALs that have a combined 4.5 years of wrestling experience,” Packer said. “Those guys put in a lot of hard work and want to do it.”

Lavender is 20-14 this season and was seeded second at the section tournament. He beat Gateway’s Troy Boden in the quarterfinals with a pin. Lavender lost to Connellsville’s Chase Sparks, 6-0, in the semifinals.

He clinched a spot in the third-place match with a 3-2 win over Penn-Trafford’s Logan Ventura. Lavender said he was throwing up a few days before the tournament and was still feeling it when the event started.

“Sections was a tough tournament,” Lavender said. “There was a lot of good competition and I was sick earlier this week. It made me feel like even though I didn’t get where I was seeded, I was confident with how I wrestled against tough competition.”

Lavender was hoping to show at the district meet that he is among the top wrestlers in the WPIAL. Wrestling has taught him a lot of lessons beyond the sport.

“It taught me this is a sport where everything is earned and not given,” Lavender said. “A lot of sports, a lot of things are given. Wrestling is you and one other person. You have to take it or they are going to take it from you. Hard work will push you further.”


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