Mason Kernan caps Bethel Park career as WPIAL champion, PIAA bronze-medalist

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Saturday, March 23, 2024 | 11:01 AM


Mason Kernan ended his four-year reign on the mats at Bethel Park with a 124-18 record.

A 133-pound senior and West Virginia recruit, Kernan captured a WPIAL Class 3A championship and placed third in the state this season.

“Mason competed hard this season and gave everything he had,” Bethel Park coach Tyler Nauman said. “As a staff, we couldn’t ask for more from Mason.

“He is a very well-mannered young man who tries to and wants to succeed at everything he does. He is very hard working, focused and driven to be the best there is.”

Kernan posted season records of 14-4, 38-5, 33-5 and 39-4 for the Black Hawks, winning two section titles and finishing twice as a runner-up.

He joined a distinguished list of Bethel Park wrestlers who won 100 or more career matches: Nick Bonaccorsi (2011, 158), Nino Bonaccorsi (2017, 147), Adam Lazenga (2010, 135), Paul Dunn (2015, 133), Ted Hoag (2005, 126), Mike Ganley (2009, 124), Anthony Bonaccorsi (2009, 122), Phil Kail (2011, 110), Ryan Coyne (2007, 110), Rob Heuler (2011, 109), Dom Bonaccorsi (2006, 105), Rico Borz (2008, 103), Dylan Morgan (2012, 102), Martin Sams (2010, 100) and Mike Toth (1999, 100).

With his 124 victories, Kernan ended his career tied for sixth place with Ganley among Bethel Park’s top grapplers in school history.

Kernan didn’t quite reach his goal of winning a state title this season, losing to Nazareth’s Tahir Parkins, 11-4, in his second PIAA match.

“I’m disappointed I never reached my goal of becoming a state champ,” Kernan said, “but very happy I was able to take a heartbreaking loss and still come back and get the next best thing.

“It was a very good overall team season although we felt short of our goal of qualifying for states. I still felt like we made a lot of improvements. The favorite memory of my career was wrestling in the WPIAL team playoffs.”

Kernan blanked Baldwin’s Ramil Islamov, 4-0, to take third place in his weight class after defeating C.J. Ferree from Central Dauphin, 5-1, and Chris Dennis of Central Bucks West, 5-2.

“I believe Mason wrestled very well en route to his third-place finish,” Nauman said. “Mason has dreamed of being a state champion and worked extremely hard sacrificing a lot to be just that. His draw, even being WPIAL champion, wasn’t an easy road to the title. He prepared to the best of his ability but fell just short.

“Without 2023 state credentials, it placed Mason as the fourth seed with Dennis as his first match. This kid had a unique style and presented a challenging matchup that Mason was able to overcome with an ultimate tiebreaker ride-out.”

Kernan cruised to the victory against Ferree in the quarterfinal round.

“Both of Mason’s first two opponents wrestled the whole way back to place top eight,” Nauman said.

Kernan faced Parkins, the No. 1 seed and a Rutgers recruit, in the semifinals.

“(Perkins) is a very talented wrestler,” Nauman said. “On that day, he was the better wrestler. This left Mason unable to attain a lifelong dream and goal which is a very hard thing to respond to.

“But Mason did just that and more as he dropped down to wrestle Dennis again. Mason used to takedowns to win 5-3 and advance to the third-place match against Islamov, who he had defeated twice this year.

“Mason stayed focused on the next best thing and earned third place.”

Kernan rolled through the WPIAL tournament, defeating Hempfield’s Domick Woods and Central Catholic’s Andrew Price by technical fall scores of 24-9 and 24-7; Butler’s Kase Chopp, 5-0; and Connellsville’s Kai Velma, 7-0.

“I performed well and got to my offense and controlled the matches,” Kernan said. ”I knew my skills were better; I just needed to create enough opportunities in the matches to show it.”

Kernan started out 8-0 and 13-1 in 2023-24 and later won 23 consecutive matches. He won 20 bouts this season via technical falls and registered three pins.

For his career, Kernan placed three times at the WPIAL tournament, and finished with 44 technical falls, 25 pins and seven major decisions.

Kernan had plenty of support with three other 30-plus winners and four 20-plus winners on the Bethel Park team.

He was joined in the 30-win plateau by junior Ethan Higgins, 34-10 at 145,; senior Cordon McDonnell, 32-14 at 160; and junior Seth Miller, 32-17 at 127.

Higgins zeroed in on a section title and has an 83-41 career record with 43 falls. McDonnell secured a berth in the state tournament. All three placed at regionals.

Higgins and Miller finished fifth at the WPIAL finals to miss a PIAA berth by one spot.

Other leading contributors this year included junior Aiden Stout, 26-11 at 139; senior A.J. Tomaino, 23-18 at 172; junior Jaden Palombine, 22-11 at 107; senior Landon Hartman, 22-12 at 215; and freshman Colton Fisher, 20-13 at 121. Hartman was a section runner-up.

Four other Black Hawks who reached double figures in wins were junior Hunter Goelz and Michael Gibson, sophomore Aiden Bench and freshmen Ian Bucheli and Pierce Reinhart.

Bethel Park won the Section 6-3A championship with a 5-0 record, defeating Peters Township (47-16), Upper St. Clair (62-6), Mt. Lebanon (56-9), Canon-McMillan (33-28) and Baldwin (42-22), and finished 19-3 overall.

Bethel Park ended up in fourth place in the final WPIAL 3A team standings behind Connellsville, Franklin Regional and Trinity.

“As a staff, knew we had a chance to have a great team both individually and as dual team,” Nauman said. “And this team proved just that. They jelled as a team and a family and competed for one another. By doing so, they earned many team and individual awards.

“We weren’t mentioned by many to be in the top 10 in the WPIAL to start the season and we finished fourth. This was due to their hard work, dedication and willingness to succeed. When they didn’t succeed, they returned to the wrestling room to figure out why and to get better. We as a staff are beyond proud of our team. The Black Hawks will continue to work hard and try to be a force in the tough WPIAL.”

Bethel Park lost heartbreakers to Trinity, 27-26, in the WPIAL semifinal round and Franklin Regional, 28-27, in the consolation round.

Kernan, Higgins, junior Ryan Walsh and Palombine were victorious twice in those playoff matches. Walsh posted two first-period pins at 189 pounds.

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