Hempfield’s Briar Priest could join elite club with 3rd WCCA title

Tuesday, January 4, 2022 | 7:53 PM

Since the Westmoreland County Coaches’ Association wrestling tournament began in 1954, only 57 wrestlers have won three titles. Eleven of those were four-time champions.

Hempfield senior Briar Priest has a chance join that list this weekend at Kiski Area, the host school of the 69th annual tournament.

Priest was a 106-pound champion in 2020 and won the title at 132 in 2021. Priest, a Pitt signee, is a returning PIAA Class 3A champion and is coming off a third-place finish at the prestigious Powerade tournament.

This season, Priest is ranked No. 1 at 138 pounds in the TribHSSN Live rankings. His path might not be easy as Latrobe junior Nate Roth, a 120-pound champion in 2020, is expected to return to the Wildcats’ lineup this week.

Priest defeated Roth, 2-0, in the 2021 tournament.

Hempfield coach Vince DeAugustine said he was excited to get back in the room to work out the kinks before another grueling county tournament.

“We have to focus on the basics,” DeAugustine said. “That’s where we lacked at the Powerade. We knew what we were getting into and we wanted to see where we’re at.

“It proved that we need to get back in the practice room and work on some things. Hopefully that we carry over to some section matches and the county tournament.”

Priest and Roth are among the seven past champions in the field. The others are Burrell sophomore Cooper Hornack, Latrobe junior Vinny Kilkeary, Kiski Area junior Ryan Klingensmith, Franklin Regional senior Finn Solomon and Mt. Pleasant senior Dayton Pitzer.

Latrobe coach Mark Mears said he’s excited for the return of Roth to the lineup. He feels his team will be tough to beat now that the talented but hard-luck junior is back. Roth was injured in the WPIAL semifinals as a freshman and then lost on a controversial slam his sophomore season.

“He’s ready to go,” Mears said. “The Powerade tournament showed us where we needed to improve.”

Burrell coach Josh Shields said he’s liked how his team has progressed in December. The Bucs had a tough schedule, and Shields was able to get his younger wrestlers work in junior varsity tournaments.

Burrell competed in the Kings of the Mountain and Powerade tournaments.

“We got in some good work,” Shields said. “We’re getting better. I’m eager to see how things go in the county tournament.”

Franklin Regional was the 2021 team champion, stopping Kiski Area’s four-year reign. Mt. Pleasant placed second and Kiski Area was third.

Action begins at 4 p.m. Friday with the semifinals slated for 10:30 a.m. Saturday. The Parade of Champions is scheduled for 4 p.m. Saturday.

WCCA 69th Annual Wrestling Tournament

Where: Kiski Area High School, Vandergrift

When: Friday and Saturday

Times: Friday, 4 p.m.; Saturday, 10:30 a.m. semifinals; 4 p.m. Parade of Champions.

Teams: Belle Vernon, Derry, Burrell, Franklin Regional, Greensburg Salem, Hempfield, Kiski Area, Kiski School, Latrobe, Ligonier Valley, Mt. Pleasant, Norwin, Penn-Trafford, Southmoreland, Valley, Yough

2021 champion: Franklin Regional, 189.5 points. 2. Mt. Pleasant 163. 3. Kiski Area 154.5. 4. Hempfield 151.5. 5. Burrell 149.

Returning champions: 2020: Briar Priest, Hempfield (106) and Nate Roth, Latrobe (113). 2021: Cooper Hornack, Burrell (106); Vinny Kilkeary, Latrobe (113); Ryan Klingensmith, Kiski Area (120); Priest (132); Finn Solomon, Franklin Regional (138); and Dayton Pitzer, Mt. Pleasant (215).

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

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