Knee injury dashes postseason hopes for Penn Hills senior

Sunday, February 28, 2021 | 9:01 AM

Heading into the season, Penn Hills wrestling coach Jeremy Packer was hoping for senior Hunter Shields to be right in the mix for another WPIAL Class AAA individual tournament appearance.

However, Shields’ mission for a third appearance was cut short after suffering a knee injury during a Section 1B-AAA tournament match at Penn-Trafford on Feb. 17.

Shields (10-2) was battling Penn-Trafford’s Owen Ott in his third match of the day at 145 pounds when his knee gave out and he couldn’t compete for the rest of the tournament.

Shields, a Davis and Elkins commit, started the day off with a loss to Franklin Regional’s Mario Sarnic. Shields rebounded in his second match as he pinned Woodland Hills’ Arthur Probola in 34 seconds.

Shields, who needed to finish in the top two of the sub-section and section tournaments, was looking to make his third WPIAL appearance at the Class AAA Championships/PIAA Southwest Regional at Canon-McMillan on Feb. 27.

“It’s a very disappointing end to his season,” Packer said. “We’re going to miss him for his on-the-mat production and the leadership he provided. It was his room since his sophomore year on.”

Last season, Shields (21-10) defeated New Castle’s Jonah Miller at 132 by a 15-2 major decision in his opening match at WPIALs but lost his final two matches.

Shields, who finished tied for seventh in Penn Hills history with 32 career falls, qualified for the WPIAL tournament after finishing third in the WPIAL Section 1-AAA tournament by defeating Greensburg Salem’s Cody Kaufman by a 1-0 decision.

The surprise for the Indians this season was the growth and performance of freshman Aidan Pham at the 189 pound weight class.

Pham (9-3) clinched a spot for the Section 1-AAA tournament after pinning Plum’s Lucas Heath at 1:54 in his third match of the day at the sub-section tournament at Penn-Trafford.

Pham lost both of his matches in the section tournament at Kiski Area on Feb. 20, falling to Kiski Area’s Brayden Roscosky and Franklin Regional’s Juliano Marion.

“Being a freshman in the upper weights is always tough. I think Aidan found that out. His best wrestling is ahead of him,” Packer said. “I know the results don’t look that way, but he improved as the season went on. He dedicated himself to his training, and he got a late start due to a football injury. He really picked it up at the end and peaked at the right time.”

Pham, who has been wrestling with Young Guns, showed improvement with his offense and decision making on the mat. With the prospect of a normal schedule to come, Packer is excited for Pham’s prospects.

“His offense on his feet really improved,” Packer said. “He was taking outside shots with his head down, and by the end of the year, he was taking better chances. He was taking better scoring opportunities and finishing them.”

Penn Hills had a third wrestler participate in the sub-section tournament. Sophomore Owen Templer (3-8) lost both of his matches at 126, falling to Franklin Regional’s Carter Dibert and Plum’s Vincent Citrano.

“His practice habits got better,” Packer said. “He realized halfway through that he needed to get stronger. It’s a big jump from junior high to varsity, probably more physically than anything. He has plans this offseason to build up his body and get stronger.”

Packer hopes to have a full roster back next year as many wrestlers opted out this season because of covid-19. Packer said he is excited to see what wrestlers will come from the junior high program.


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