Pair of WPIAL qualifiers return to lead Penn Hills wrestling

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Sunday, December 6, 2020 | 10:16 AM


In a normal year, turnout for Penn Hills wrestling is low. This season is no different, but the pandemic has caused a couple of more wrestlers to sit out the year.

The Indians return only two lettermen from last year, and they couldn’t be more important for a young and inexperienced roster of 10 wrestlers.

Penn Hills will be led by a pair of wrestlers who qualified for the WPIAL tournament a season ago. Senior Hunter Shields (132 pounds) and junior A.J. Palumbo (195) were part of a trio that qualified for the tournament.

“I expect both of them to go real far as the season allows us to go,” coach Jeremy Packer said. “I think Hunter can be in the mix in the top five in the WPIAL. For A.J., there have been a lot of upper weights that have graduated and moved on. I think he could stand out this year.”

The Indians will look to make up for the loss of Mike DeVito (152) to graduation. The trio of wrestlers were the most Penn Hills sent the WPIAL tournament since 2014 when TeShan Campbell, Mike Ames and Zach Crankshaw qualified.

Last season, Shields (21-10) defeated New Castle’s Jonah Miller, 15-2, in a major decision in his opening match at WPIALs but lost his final two matches.

Shields qualified for the WPIAL tournament after finishing third in the Section 1-AAA tournament by defeating Greensburg Salem’s Cody Kaufman, 1-0.

Earlier in the season, Shields finished fourth at the Eastern Area Invitational and Steve DeAugustino Holiday Classic.

Shields, who was seeded eighth at the WPIAL tournament, will look to make his third straight appearance at WPIALs. He will move up a weight class and wrestle at 138.

“Most of the stuff I’ve been drilling has been reinforcing minor things. I’ve been focusing more on head positioning when hand fighting, creating more openings in neutral and on bottom creating more space,” Shields said.

“It’s more of a basic stuff rather than new moves. I noticed the top kids are really good at the basics. In previous years, when I would go against harder kids, that’s what kind of would win the match. If I reinforce and improve on that front, I would be able to win matches against better people.”

Palumbo, who will wrestle at 215 this season, finished 14-15 last season after recording only one win during his freshman year. He lost his only match at WPIALs when he was pinned by Hampton’s Jayden Resch.

Palumbo qualified for the WPIAL tournament after finishing fourth at the section tournament.

Packer is excited to see how a pair of sophomores — Owen Templer (126) and Dominic Frollo (145) — will fare at the varsity level. Freshman Aiden Pham is expected to make an immediate impact, as well.

Packer was impressed with the trio’s worth ethic when he watched their matches last season.

However, with the pandemic and an inexperienced team, it has been tough getting quality work in the wrestling room.

“We’ve had to do a lot of coaching and teaching this year,” Packer said. “You show up every day not knowing what kids you’re going to have. It has been hard to get good workout partners and simulate that live wrestling experience.”

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