Norwin’s Kurtis Phipps finally wins state title

Saturday, March 7, 2020 | 10:20 PM

HERSHEY — It wasn’t a perfect match, but Norwin senior Kurtis Phipps will take it.

After finishing second the past two seasons at the PIAA Class AAA wrestling championships, Phipps finally won his state title.

Phipps (41-1, 153-10) used a five-point move in the first period and held off a rally to defeat Waynesburg freshman Rocco Welsh, 7-6, to win the 126-pound title at Giant Center.

In doing so, he becomes the first wrestler in school history (84 years) to win a state title. His brother, Drew, was a state runner-up.

Phipps said he was disappointed he allowed Welsh to rally, allowing six points in the final period.

“I got a little nervous,” Phipps said. “It’s tough out there, and he has a lot of gas in his tank. I was trying to stay in it. I’m not happy that I shut down, but I did what I needed to win. It’s a win.

“I felt I should have won the past two. I was ready. I told my parents I was ready. I was going to battle, and I got it done.”

While Phipps held his finger up to the crowd, coach Vince DeAugustine and assistant Joe Quealy were hugging each other.

Phipps said he felt like he wrestled a great tournament.

“This is an unbelievable feeling,” Phipps said. “It’s such an honor, and I’m glad to do it for anyone back home. I hope the young guys watching me feel they can do it. It’s possible at Norwin.”

Phipps said he hasn’t had a soda or chocolate all season. That’s changing.

“I’m getting a Reese’s Cup and a big Mountain Dew, and I’m going to town,” Phipps said.

He wasn’t the only Westmoreland County wrestler to win a state title.

Joining him on the podium were two wrestlers not on anyone’s radar when the tournament began.

Latrobe freshman Vinny Kilkeary, the 5-foot ball of thunder, and Hempfield junior Ethan Berginc were standing atop the podium after the first two bouts of the finals.

Kilkeary (30-7) used a headlock and turned it into a pin to defeat Erie Cathedral Prep sophomore in overtime at 6 minutes, 31 seconds. The score was tied 1-1 after Kilkeary just missed a takedown attempt at the end of the third period.

“This feels good,” Kilkeary said. “I just kept working hard every day. I felt it would be a close match. I pulled him to one side, his head popped up and I hit it. It felt good when the official slapped the mat.”

Latrobe coach Mike Ciotti said Kilkeary started turning it on when he finally defeated Hempfield sophomore Briar Priest in the WPIAL quarterfinals.

“I was getting close every time with Briar,” Kilkeary said. “That win gave me a boost. I was confident I would do well here.”

Berginc, a junior at Jeannette, which co-ops with Hempfield, gets to see his name on the wall in his high school with five other state champions: Matt Lebe (2001), A.J. Graves (2005), Derrick Hall (1985), Greg Hall (1974) and Randy Brasco (1977). Officially, however, he is Hempfield’s 12th state champion.

“I’m Jeannette’s first AAA state champion,” Berginc said after his thrilling 3-2 win against Cedar Cliff junior Aiden Lewis at 113. “I’m still a little bit surprised. I came in clear headed, got to my attack and got the first takedown, and that’s all I needed to win the match.”

Late in the match, Lewis countered a Berginc shot and almost got a takedown. But Berginc fought it off as time ran out.

“I was able to catch his legs before he was able to get them in for two,” Berginc said. “I knew the official didn’t give him the takedown, and I held on for dear life. “When the clock went off I said, ‘Wow. I did it.’ ”

Hempfield junior heavyweight Isaiah Vance dropped his finals match to Sun Valley senior Hunter Catka, 11-4.

“It’s not what I wanted,” Vance said. “But he was a lot quicker than me. If I want to win a state title, I have to get stronger and quicker.”

The WPIAL had six champions. The other winners were Waynesburg junior Wyatt Henson (138), Canon-McMillan senior Gerrit Nijenhuis (182) and Mt. Lebanon senior Luke Stout (195).

Franklin Regional junior Carter Dibert wasn’t able to defend his title, but battled back to place third at 113, defeating West Allegheny freshman Nico Taddy, 3-0.

Latrobe senior Gabe Willochell was hoping to meet Seneca Valley junior and two-time state champion Alejandro Herrera-Rondon in the 132 finals, but both lost in the semifinals. Willochell defeated Herrera-Rondon, 6-2, in the third-place match.

Norwin junior John Altieri placed fourth at 138, Hempfield junior Ty Linsenbigler placed fifth at 145, Franklin Regional senior Mason Spears was sixth at 145, Kiski Area senior Jack Blumer was fourth at 160, Kiski Area junior Brayden Roscosky was sixth at 195, Greensburg Salem senior John Meyers placed third at 220, Belle Vernon sophomore Cole Weightman was sixth at 220 and Greensburg Salem sophomore Billy McChesney was seventh at heavyweight.

In Class AA, Derry junior Ty Cymmerman placed sixth at 126.

While it wasn’t the place he wanted, the 126-pound weight class was extremely tough. Derry coach Mike Weinell said placing was an achievement.

“I didn’t wrestle my best tournament,” Cymmerman said. “I believe I have to be more aggressive and take more gambles. Every wrestler here has a different style, and you have to prepare for anything.”

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

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