Phipps, Norwin wrestling ready to take next step

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Saturday, December 7, 2019 | 10:25 AM


Kurtis Phipps showed his toughness by battling through a foot injury in last year’s PIAA Class AAA championship match. He suffered the injury a day earlier in his semifinal win.

Phipps lost a 9-5 decision to Nazareth’s Sean Pierson in the championship match, but he experienced the atmosphere of a state final and will look to get back in his senior season.

A three-time WPIAL champion and a Bucknell recruit, Phipps highlights a Norwin team that had a school-record 10 wrestlers advance to the WPIAL tournament last season. Many of them returned this season.

“Last year was good for (Phipps) to get a taste of the (PIAA) finals,” Norwin coach Vince DeAugstine said. “He was obviously fighting through some adversity with his injury. Just getting through that environment and getting close is really good. His work ethic shows that he definitely wants to get that gold medal.”

Phipps had surgery on his left foot in March and spent most of the summer rehabbing. In October, he participated in the Super 32 tournament in Greensboro, N.C., at 126 pounds and dropped a 7-5 decision to Nebraska native Carter Knopick in the first round.

Phipps, who has 111 wins in his high school career, wrestled at 120 last season and will start this year at 132.

“He got on the mat in early August, and we’ve been pretty much going nonstop since then,” DeAugustine said. “He maybe didn’t get the results he wanted to (at the Super 32 tournament), but we’re going to keep working hard until he gets on top of the podium.”

Ryan Weizen is another returning PIAA qualifier for Norwin.

Weizen won the WPIAL title and made the state quarterfinals last year at 220, but he has cut weight over the summer and will start at 182.

“He’s changed his diet around and feels faster and a little bit stronger at 182,” DeAugustine said. “It’s a different weight class, so we’re going to give it a try and see how things go.”

John Altieri, a junior, was 32-8 last season and narrowly missed making states, losing in the WPIAL semifinals and in the loser’s bracket to finish sixth. Altieri will bump up from 132 to 145 to start the season.

“He was a match away from the state tournament, and there were guys that made the state tournament that he beat,” DeAugustine said. “His weight class was pretty good at the WPIAL tournament but no excuses. He has all the talent in the world, and it’s my job to get him over the hump and get him to Hershey this year.”

Seniors Frankie Gill (138), Clayton Morris (182) and sophomore Josh Page (195) qualified for the WPIAL tournament last year. Luke Merkovsky (152), Bryce Long (160), John Ireland (170) and Zach Cypher (285) are graduates who qualified for WPIALs.

Along with the returning WPIAL qualifiers, sophomores Connor Henning (106), Luke Passerelli (113), Andrew Yushinski (145) and junior Kris Oddo (126) are back along with sophomore Chase Kranitz, who missed the postseason because of a knee injury.

In addition to a school-record number of WPIAL qualifiers, the Knights won 17 dual meets last season, another program best.

They are looking for more this winter.

“We did some good things, but we have to continue to grow from that,” DeAugustine said. “As far as individuals go, we left four (weight classes) at home last year, so we want to get all 14 to qualify for the WPIAL tournament. Hopefully, we can continue to progress in a positive direction.”

Norwin qualified for the WPIAL team tournament last season and again will compete in difficult Section 1(A)-AAA with Central Catholic, Franklin Regional, Kiski Area, Penn-Trafford and Plum.

Section 1 (B) has Hempfield, Gateway, Latrobe, Woodland Hills and Penn Hills, making it an even tougher road at individual sectionals.

DeAugustine likes his wrestlers facing tough competition to prepare for individuals, and if they get dual-meet wins in the process, that’s a bonus.

“If you were trying to build a tough schedule these are the teams you would want to schedule and we’re automatically defaulted to them,” DeAugustine said. “I’m not one to focus on the team record. I’m more focused on the individual wins and losses that we have throughout that team portion of the season.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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