Norwin wrestling impresses at WCCA tournament

Monday, January 8, 2018 | 11:00 PM

It wasn't too long ago that Norwin wrestler Kurtis Phipps was in pursuit of the top wrestlers in the WPIAL and PIAA. Things have changed.

After finishing third at last year's Westmoreland County Coaches Association's wrestling tourney, Phipps returned to the WCCA this year wearing a big bulls-eye on the front of his Vegas gold and Navy blue Norwin singlet. This time around, when Phipps made the “Parade of Champions” walk through the gym, he did so as the No. 1-ranked 106-pound wrestler in the state, and he was determined to show everybody why.

“I always had those few kids last year that I was chasing,” said Phipps is 21-0 this season. “I like having that target (on me). People keep coming after me, and I think I deserve it. Hopefully I can keep it up all year until the end.”

Phipps had to work his way through some of the WPIAL's top wrestling talent and many Section 1-3A rivals before wrapping up the day with an 8-2 decision over No. 2-seeded Brady Sherback of Latrobe.

“He came out and dominated all of Friday,” second-year Norwin coach Brandon Miller said. “We go out there, and our expectations are to dominate on our feet and on top. It was just a dominating performance in the finals for him.”

Dominating is a word Miller uses over and over again when describing his standout sophomore's performance this season. Two weeks ago, Phipps led Norwin into the Powerade tourney and showed he was the real deal and was prepared to defend his top ranking against some of the most talented wrestlers in the tri-state area. Phipps was more than up for the challenge, and he needed to be. He pulled out a 3-2 decision over Wil Guida (St. Paul's, Md.) to come away as the 106-pound champion.

Ask Phipps, who holds a 4.1 GPA and has Ivy League aspirations, what's been the biggest change in his game since his freshman season, and he'll say it's his mental approach to each match, staying in control and being patient.

“I've gotten a lot more emotional control this year and keeping my head in it and know that I'm eventually gonna get the points that I need,” Phipps said. “I think I've really gotten better with that this year.”

Miller said winning is infectious, and it's beginning to spread like a mid-January flu bug through the team. The Knights finished seventh at WCCAs. The fact Norwin finished in the top half of the 16-team field shows the Knights are more than just a few good wrestlers. That was the case in years past, but this year's team has a lineup no opponent can look past.

”These kids battle each other every day,” Miller said. “I like to tell them to showcase their talent, and that's what the kids did this (past) weekend.”

Norwin had six wrestlers place last weekend. Freshman John Alteri made his first “Parade of Champions” walk in the 126-pound class. Alteri arrived at WCCAs as the No. 7 seed and came away as runner-up when he lost a 7-2 decision to Belle Vernon's Logan Seliga.

“I think this was his breakout tournament, and it put him a little bit on the radar,” Miller said. “I think he's gonna have the confidence for the next couple of tourneys and get him ready for the postseason.”

Senior Jason Miller was seeded third in the 138-pound class, and that's exactly where he ended up. After losing to Franklin Regional's Nate Smith on Friday, Miller battled back through the losers' bracket for a rematch with Smith and got the better of his rival with a 3-1 decision.

“It showed some grit from Jason,” said Miller. “Jason came back the next day to win three matches for that rematch.”

Fourth-seeded AJ Detore came up short in a tight match against Belle Vernon's Mason Nickelson with a 1-0 decision at 182 pounds. Junior Bryce Long came into the two-day tourney unseeded and left with a fifth-place finish. He fell to Greensburg Salem's Joseph Williams at the 3-minute, 24-second mark to end his darkhorse run through the 152-pound bracket. Ryan Weizen ended the tourney with an injury default to Kiski Area's Colin Murray. Miller said Weizen banged heads with Murray and felt it was in Weizen's best interest to end the match because of concussion concerns.

“I think everything went extremely well,” Miller said. “We brought home a first, second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth-place finishes and placed seventh overall, which was right where we expected and maybe a little better than we expected to do overall.”

William Whalen is a freelance writer.


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