Once ‘overrated’ and ‘out of shape,’ Hempfield wrestlers march into WPIAL semifinals

Friday, January 31, 2020 | 9:27 PM

When the Hempfield wrestling team was rated No. 1 early in the season, coach Tommy Dolde felt his team didn’t earn such a high praise.

The Spartans then dropped a pair of matches late in December to Seneca Valley and Canon-McMillan and fell to No. 4.

“Coach was right,” senior Ty Linsenbigler said. “We were overrated. We were out of shape and weren’t practicing hard.”

But No. 4 Hempfield (19-2) has been wrestling at a different level the past month. The Spartans defeated No. 5 Kiski Area, 34-31, and, 48-23, in the past week.

Now they find themselves in the WPIAL Class AAA Team Tournament semifinals against No. 1 Waynesburg at 4 p.m. Saturday at Norwin.

It’s the first time since 2009 the Spartans have reached the semifinals and some will argue they should have been in the semifinals the past two seasons except for a couple of unfortunate situations.

In 2017 after defeating Seneca Valley, Hempfield officials informed the WPIAL that an ineligible wrestler was used in the match after coach Vince DeAugustine was told it was OK to use the wrestler.

In 2018, a misapplication of the attendance rule forced to Dolde pull a wrestler from the match against Waynesburg and that cost the team a near-certain win because the Spartans wrestler would have been heavily favored. The WPIAL and PIAA later ruled the wrestler was eligible to compete and did in the individual tournament.

“I’m pretty sure we’re OK this year,” Dolde said after his team’s victory over Kiski Area. Hempfield used pins by Ethan Berginc (120 pounds), Lucas Kapusta (132), Nolan Daerr (138), Trevor Verkleeren (152), Dillon Ferretti (220) and Isaiah Vance (285) and a default to Ethan Lebin (113) for the easy victory.

“When we wrestled in December, we weren’t ready,” Verkleeren said. “Now we have something to prove on Saturday.”

The match will come down to matchups and bonus points.

Waynesburg is led by freshmen Mac Church (106), Nate Jones (113), Rocco Welsh (126), sophomore Cole Homet (132), and juniors Wyatt Henson (138) and Luca Augustine (160).

Waynesburg (11-0) advanced to the semifinals by defeating Pine-Richland and Latrobe. Hempfield also defeated Chartiers Valley.

“Everyone wrestled well and did their job against Kiski,” Dolde said. “Winning the toss allowed us to make moves and they all worked out.”

When Hempfield edged Kiski in the Section 1 finals, the Cavaliers outscored the Spartans, 7-6, in the matches from 126 to 138. With Hempfield winning the toss, Dolde was able to bump his lineup up and the result was a 12-6 Hempfield advantage.

Verkleeren’s pin of Sammy Starr reversed a decision from the first match, and while Julian Chillinsky didn’t win his match at 182 against Jared Curcio, losing by a decision was better than the pin the Spartans gave up in the first meeting.

No. 2 Seneca Valley (14-1) and No. 3 Canon-McMillan (13-3) did not meet in the meet at Kiski in December.

Both teams have returning state champions — Seneca Valley’s Alejandro Herrera-Rondon (132) and Canon-McMillan’s Gerrit Nijenhuis (182).

The finals and third-place match are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. The top three teams advance to the PIAA tournament, which begins Monday at various locations and concludes Feb. 8 at Giant Center in Hershey.

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

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