Penn Hills wrestlers look to take next step

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Thursday, December 5, 2019 | 11:49 PM


Penn Hills has its largest roster during Jeremy Packer’s time as coach, but the Indians will look for the continued growth from junior Hunter Shields.

Shields, who led the Indians with 26 wins last season, was one of two WPIAL qualifiers last season for the Indians. Shields won one match in the 126-pound weight class at the WPIAL Class AAA/Southwest Regional.

He qualified for the WPIAL tournament by reaching the third-place consolation match in the Section 1-AAA tournament.

Last season, Shields finished third at the Steve DeAugustino Holiday Classic.

“He’s right where we expected him to be. He has wrestled a lot. He has been in some of the wars with the guys that have moved on. He has paid his dues. He’s only a junior but he’s ahead of the curve in some respects,” Packer said. “He wrestled in the freestyle season. He has seen a lot of competition. He has to keep plugging away at it and keep working.”

Shields ran cross country in the fall in an effort to build up his cardio for wrestling.

“Last year, my cardio wasn’t as good as it is right now. It also helps with not giving up at the end of the match,” Shields said. “Last year, I would be a little more sluggish than I am right now. I have more drive.”

The Indians will look to a replacement for Justin Perkins, who is at Notre Dame College. Perkins was the team’s second WPIAL qualifier, where he won two matches.

Perkins qualified for the WPIAL tournament after defeating Hempfield’s Jared Brean, 2-1, in the fifth-place consolation final for the 132-pound weight class. Last season, Perkins captured the 132-pound title at the Steve DeAugustino Holiday Classic and finished fourth at the Allegheny County Tournament

Three other returning starters — senior Mike DeVito (145), sophomore Steve Tucibat (120) and sophomore A.J. Palumbo (195) — will be expected to improve.

Last season, Tucibat and Palumbo finished sixth at the section tournament. The top five advance to the WPIAL tournament.

Tuchibat finished fifth at the county tournament. DeVito, who finished sixth at the Steve DeAugustino tournament, is eager compete in the section tournament after missing two of the past three because of illness.

Packer believes DeVitom Tucibat, Palumbo and Shields can qualify for the WPIAL tournament and make deeper postseason runs this season.

“An average wrestler can make themselves better by outworking their competition. They need to come to practice and put the work in,” Packer said. “They know what the WPIAL is all about. They need to recognize what they need to work on and then doing it.”

Seniors Robert Harris (170, 182) and Ray Jenkins (132, 138) return after not competing last season. Freshmen Raion Strader (120) and Daequan Lewis (285) are expected to make an immediate impact.

Packer hopes his wrestlers, especially the freshman, are at their best at the end of the season.

The Indians opened the season at the Eastern Area Invitational at Gateway. The tournament did not end in time for this edition.

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