Franklin Regional wrestling again features strong lineup of lightweights

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Saturday, January 18, 2020 | 12:14 AM


When the Franklin Regional wrestling team was winning WPIAL and PIAA Class AAA titles earlier this decade, the Panthers featured a nearly unbeatable lineup from 106 to 160 pounds.

Devin Brown, Spencer Lee, Gus Solomon, Dom Giannangeli, Tyler Smith, Michael Kemerer, Josh Maruca and Josh Shields all went on to wrestle for NCAA Division I programs.

Fast forward to 2019-20, and the Panthers have a similar group, just not quite as deep.

Coach Matt Lebe can string together five wrestlers — Carter Dibert, Finn Solomon, Garret Thompson, Nate Stone and Mason Spears — capable of matching the earlier teams in the lighter weights.

But what has hurt this team is forfeiting a couple of heavier weight classes. That was the case against No. 5 Kiski Area last week, when Solomon, Thompson, Stone and Spears each recorded pins, but the Panthers fell 52-27.

Franklin Regional also lost talented junior Mario Sarnic to a football injury before the season.

The Panthers (3-2, 3-2) finished third in Section 1, subsection A behind Kiski and Norwin. They were scheduled to face Greensburg Salem (3-3, 3-2), which finished third in subsection B, for fifth place and a spot in the WPIAL Class AAA team tournament Wednesday.

A win against Greensburg Salem would make it 13 consecutive seasons the Panthers qualified for the WPIAL tournament.

“Our goal is to make the team tournament,” Lebe said. “It’s a program goal. We’d love to be a higher seed, but we have to take care of business against a very good Greensburg Salem squad.”

While the teams have not met in a dual meet, they have met in the county tournament. The coaches expected a tight match.

“It’s all about matchups and we don’t match up well against them in the lighter weights,” Greensburg Salem coach Randy Parsley said. “If we can stay off our backs, we’ll have a shot.”

Greensburg Salem gave up seven pins and a forfeit in a loss to No. 4 Hempfield last Wednesday.

Dibert is the returning PIAA Class AAA 106-pound champion. Solomon was the 113-pound runner-up in 2019.

The Panthers had three finalists in the 2019 tournament. Colton Camacho, now at Pitt, placed second to Kiski Area’s Darren Miller in the 126-pound final.

Dibert, a junior, is having another outstanding season, winning the Eastern Area Invitational to open the season and the King of the Mountain tournament at 120.

He dropped to 113 and placed second at Powerade and won the Westmoreland County Coaches’ Association title for the second time.

While Dibert was disappointed he dropped a 5-2 decision to Reynolds junior and returning PIAA Class AA champion Gary Steen, Dibert still has his eye on the WPIAL and PIAA 113-pound title.

Dibert placed second in the WPIAL to Seneca Valley’s Dylan Chappell, but bounced back to defeat Chappell last season in the PIAA 106 finals.

Solomon also has wrestled well. He won the 126-pound title at the King of the Mountain, placed sixth at Powerade at 126 and was second to Norwin senior Kurtis Phipps at the Westmoreland County Coaches’ Association tournament.

The Panthers had four finalists at the county tournament. Thompson and Spears placed second. Both also placed at the King of the Mountain tournament — Spears fourth and Thompson seventh. Gavyn Beck placed sixth at the tournament.

“We have five freshmen and a first-year sophomore in the lineup,” Lebe said. “We’re young, and we’re getting better overall. We had a chance against Norwin.

“We wrestle a tough schedule, and we have a lot of guys who know how to wrestle. We’re looking forward to the future. I feel we don’t have a weak spot in the lineup other than inexperience. Everyone competes to the best of their ability.”

As the younger wrestlers gain experience, the Panthers could again have a chance at competing for team titles.

Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Paul by email at pschofield@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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