Penn Hills wrestling program’s rebuilding project taking root

Sunday, March 10, 2024 | 11:01 AM

Jeremy Packer believes his two-year project has yielded strong results for the Penn Hills wrestling program.

The Indians decided not to compete in a dual meet schedule during the last enrollment cycle to help build the program. Numbers were low because of the pandemic, and Packer felt the Indians needed some time to get the program back on stable footing.

Following a season where Penn Hills finished with five wrestlers who hit the 20-win mark, the Indians will compete in a WPIAL dual schedule again next season.

“We saw tremendous progress,” Packer said. “We have two wrestlers returning next year who had over 20 wins this year. We also had another wrestler, Darnell Jackson, who likely would have hit 20 wins had he not injured his hand and missed a month.”

The Indians had two wrestlers, Julian Lavender (127 pounds) and Jacen Wright (189 pounds), who reached the WPIAL Class 3A championships. Lavender lost his first match to North Allegheny’s Casey Walker by pin.

During Lavender’s second match against Kiski’s John Deluca, he took an inadvertent headbutt and had to injury default after his consolation match. Lavender finished his senior year with a 20-16 record.

Wright had stepped away from the wrestling team for a few years before coming back this season. He won his first match at WPIALs, 7-2 over Moon’s Bekzod Sharitov.

Wright dropped his next two matches to finish the year 20-14.

“Jacen hit the top seed,” Packer said. “That’s the hard thing about the pigtails. You either run into the top seed or the second seed.”

Sophomore Daemon Phipps (103 pounds) led Penn Hills with 25 wins. Levi Smith finished 20-13 and was second on the team in wins.

Packer also said that Penn Hills had several wrestlers show toughness during the postseason. Sophomore Bradley Repovich won a match in the consolation bracket at the section tournament to stay alive after a difficult regular season.

Penn Hills junior heavyweight Rayair Shakir lost a 1-0 decision in the fifth-place match at the section tournament. A win would have sent Shakir to WPIALs.

With 11 wrestlers returning next season, Packer is excited to see how his team will handle returning to team competition.

“My goal was to take two years and build it back up,” Packer said. “I’ve got six returning lettermen and two freshmen who wrestled in junior high. That’s not including what we could recruit off the football team. We have plenty of time.”


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