Norwin wrestler Phipps chasing PIAA gold this weekend

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Tuesday, March 5, 2019 | 8:00 PM


Kurtis Phipps and his brother Drew having something in common — both suffered heart-breaking, 1-0 losses in the PIAA Class AAA wrestling finals.

Drew Phipps, now at Bucknell, fell to Stroudsburg Jake Jakobsen in the 195-pound final in 2016.

Kurtis Phipps, a Norwin junior, lost to Seneca Valley sophomore Alejandro Herrera-Rondon, in the ultimate rideout in the 106-pound final in 2018.

Kurtis won his third WPIAL title last weekend at Canon-McMillan, but he said his focus now is match to match and working with his coaches to win his first state title.

The tournament begins at 9 a.m. Thursday for Class AA and 4 p.m. for Class AAA at the Giant Center in Hershey. The tournament concludes Saturday night.

Norwin has never had a state champion in wrestling, but the Knights’ history features three runners-up — the Phipps brother and Tim Morgan in 1965.

“It would be a big thing for our school, but I’m not trying to focus on that or thinking about that right now,” Kurtis said. “I’m trying to do the best I can every match and score as many points as possible. When that time comes, it will be awesome afterwards.”

This is the third time Kurtis is headed to the state tournament. He placed seventh in 2017 at 106 pounds.

This season he bumped up to 120 pounds. His coach, Vince DeAugustine, said Phipps battled his weight early in the season. Now he has it under control, and DeAugustine sees a difference on the mat.

“He’s comfortable at the weight now,” DeAugustine said. “He knows what he can and cannot eat and how to get down to the required weight easier.”

Phipps (24-2) has lost twice this season, falling to Burrell sophomore Ian Oswalt in the Westmoreland County Coaches’ Association final and to Herrera-Rondon in the WPIAL team tournament.

DeAugustine said both losses will be helpful in his preparation. In both losses he had trouble scoring, losing 2-1 to Oswalt, the WPIAL Class AA champion, and 6-0 to Herrera-Rondon.

“The key for me is getting my offense going early,” Phipps said. “If I do that, I can set the pace.

“You have to cut weight the right way so you don’t feel tired. I did that well this past few weeks.”

The defending PIAA champion at 113 pounds, Shaler senior Ryan Sullivan, suffered a hand injury during sectionals, which eliminated one of the top contenders in state.

“I really wanted to face him,” Phipps said. “I feel badly. Hopefully, we’ll meet down the road.”

But Phipps, seeded No. 1 at 120, knows there are other big battles looming this weekend. Belle Vernon senior Logan Seliga, who Phipps defeated 4-1 in the WPIAL final, is one of the wrestlers capable of winning state gold.

The others include Nazareth senior Sean Pierson (36-3), who is seeded No. 2; Manheim Central junior Will Betancourt (36-3), third; and Council Rock South senior Shane Hanson-Ashworth (39-8), who is seeded fourth.

Phipps’ quarterfinal-round match Friday could have him face Stroudsburg senior Cameron Enriguez, who he defeated 6-5 in the Powerade final.

While Phipps is seeking his first title, North Hills junior Sam Hillegas is hunting for his third.

“It’s hunting season in Hershey,” Hillegas said after winning his third WPIAL Class AAA title Saturday.

Hillegas (38-0) said wrestling in the state tournament is fun. While there are a couple good wrestlers in the 132-pound weight class, Hillegas’ biggest challenge could come in the semifinals Saturday morning where he could meet Northampton senior Julian Chlebove (40-3).

The other returning state champion from the WPIAL is Frazier junior Thayne Lawrence (25-3), the returning 152-pound champion in Class AA. Lawrence (160 pounds) is one of nine WPIAL wrestlers seeded No. 1.

The top seeds include Herrera-Rondon (44-1) at 113, Phipps at 120, Franklin Regional senior Colton Camacho (37-3) at 126, Hillegas and Kiski Area senior Cam Connor (46-2) at 152 in Class AAA.

In Class AA, top seeds are Oswalt (45-2) at 120 pounds, Hopewell senior Jacob Ealy (38-2) at 138, Lawrence (25-3) at 160 and Derry senior Dom DeLuca (36-1) at 220.

Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Paul by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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