Franklin Regional wrestling team looking to finish WPIAL deal

Friday, February 2, 2024 | 8:00 PM

Franklin Regional wrestling coach Matt Lebe said at the beginning of the season he was excited to see his team grow.

And was confident they’d be a different team at the end of the season.

Now that the second-seeded Panthers are in the WPIAL Class 3A team semifinals against No. 3 seed Connellsville, Lebe wants to see if his team can complete the journey.

The semis begin at 1:30 p.m. at Peters Township’s AHN Arena. No. 1 seed Trinity faces No. 4 Bethel Park in the other semifinal.

The winner will wrestle at 3 p.m. for the title, whereas the losers face off for third and a berth in the PIAA team tournament, which begins Monday with first-round action. The finalists automatically earn a trip to the second round Thursday at Giant Center in Hershey.

There will be a new champion in Class 3A. Last year’s winner (Canon-McMillan) and runner-up (Waynesburg) did not qualify for the tournament.

The four finalists all have won team titles. Connellsville has won seven titles, Franklin Regional and Trinity two each and Bethel Park one.

“We love this team,” Lebe said. “Our coaching staff has done a great job. We moved our guys around, and they truly embraced the motto of our team.

“We expected to move on to Saturday if we wrestled well, and we did against Pine-Richland and Latrobe. We’re looking forward to Saturday and winning another team title.”

It won’t be easy for the unbeaten Panthers (18-0) against the Falcons (12-2), who defeated the Panthers, 43-18, in the quarterfinals last season.

“We have great senior leadership and really good freshmen,” Lebe said. “That’s a great combination with our senior leaders showing the way. All the young guys know is to work hard. They embrace these kinds of moments.”

The seniors leading the way are Tyler Kapusta (121) and Juliano Marion (215). The freshmen who are shining include Titus Colangelo (107), Mike Ruane (114), Chase Smith (127), Cohen Buccicone (139) and Ethan Cartwright (145).

Lebe said he feels his team wrestled a great schedule (beating Plum, Fox Chapel, Norwin twice, Mt. Pleasant, Seneca Valley and scrimmaging Trinity).

“There is no secret: Connellsville is one of the favorites,” Lebe said. “We’re going into the match by looking forward to wrestling them. It won’t change our approach either way. I will guarantee that they will wrestle hard and put themselves in position to do the best they can.”

Connellsville’s top guns have been freshman Nolan Rice (107), freshman Kai Vielma (133), junior Julian Ruggieri (139), junior Evan Petrovich (145) and junior Lonzy Vielma (160).

The Class 2A teams kick off the day at 10 a.m.

Returning champion and top seed Burgettstown (14-0) faces fifth-seeded Mt. Pleasant (12-2), and second-seeded Burrell (12-2) battles third seeded Quaker Valley (12-1) in a rematch in the semifinals.

Burgettstown defeated Burrell, which has won 17 Class 2A titles, in last season’s finals.

The championship and third-place matches are at 11:30 a.m.

The four Class 2A semifinalists have qualified for the PIAA team tournament. The finalists advance directly to Hershey, whereas the other two must wrestle Monday.

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

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