Plum seniors cap careers at PIAA wrestling tournament

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Saturday, March 16, 2024 | 11:01 AM


Mike Tongel wrestled at the PIAA Class AAA tournament as a senior in 1984.

He went 4-1 at 155 pounds and took third place overall.

Forty years to the week, his son, Jack, a senior at Plum and a Pitt commit, took his first steps onto a wrestling mat at the state championships.

The younger Tongel, competing along with fellow Mustangs senior Nino Walker on March 7-9 in Hershey, suffered losses in both of his PIAA matches at 172.

“I think I did pretty well,” Togel said.

“Going into the tournament, I knew my seed wasn’t going to be that great based on my place from WPIALs and how the PIAA pre-seeds their tournaments.”

But Tongel said the overall experience was something he will never forget.

“I qualified in eighth grade when states were in Johnstown and run by the PJW program,” said Tongel, who placed fourth at the WPIAL/Southwest Regional and finished 26-14 for the season and 87-53 for his high school career.

“To make it as a high schooler, it was one of the best experiences, not just in wrestling but overall in high school. The group that rode up, three of my coaches, Nino, and some of my teammates, we just had the best time, from being at the hotel to the actual tournament. It was just great to be there with those guys.”

In the first round, Togel faced the seventh-ranked wrestler in the state, Sun Valley junior Brandon Carr, the No. 3 seed from the Southeast Region.

Carr won 3-1 to advance and send Tongel to the consolations.

“I knew it was going to be tough,” Tongel said. “I wrestled him well. He got a takedown in the second period, and we both got an escape when we chose down in the second and third periods. It really just came down to that one takedown, so it really could’ve gone either way.”

Tongel then battled Mifflin County junior Avery Aurand with hopes of keeping his season alive.

But Aurand, the Northwest Region runner-up, got the better of Tongel, eliminating him by a 4-1 score.

“He reversed me in the second period,” Tongel said. “It was 2-0, and I chose neutral going into the third. I was going out there to win it, and I felt I had all the time I needed on my feet to get that takedown. It just didn’t go my way.

“But there were a lot of learning opportunities from it. It kind of made me realize the kind of progress I’ve made in the past year and a half. If I just continue putting in that same amount of work and more and dedicate myself to perfecting my craft, I know I can make some huge jumps the next few years at Pitt.”

Tongel’s immediate future has him heading down to the 35th NHSCA individual high school nationals in Virginia Beach on April 5-7.

“I did pretty well there last year, so I am looking forward to getting back there to see what I can do,” he said.

“There will be a lot of training and working to get better, but I love to be able to look forward to tournaments and not just repetitive practicing. I just love to compete.”

Walker won his 39th match of the season at states, his first trip to Hershey since his freshman year in 2021.

“I had an exciting feeling and an anxiousness to get out there and compete,” Walker said.

“I love this sport. It was my last high school event I was wrestling with Plum, and I wanted to go out with my best stuff and make my coaches proud and just have fun.”

The three-time section champion, who was coming off a third-place finish at the WPIAL/Southwest Regional, lost his first match in the 152 bracket, a tough 4-3 decision to Pottsville senior Parrish McFarland, the fourth-place finisher from the Northeast Region.

He rebounded in the consolation bracket with a 3-1 sudden victory over Mifflin County senior Parker Kearns for his first PIAA win.

“It was a great feeling to get that win,” Walker said. “I wrestled that kid (Kearns) last summer and lost to him 4-3, so it was nice to wrestle him again and beat him in overtime. He is a really good competitor. It was a good match for me.”

Walker, who finished with more than 100 wins at Plum, then saw that career come to a close with a 4-0 loss to Central York senior Wyatt Dillon.

“It was just a fun experience out in Hershey with the coaches and a lot of my teammates,” Walker said. “I am going to miss them next year.”

Walker, who plans to also compete at the NHSCA individual high school nationals in a couple of weeks, said he is still searching for the right collegiate situation to continue his educational and wrestling pursuits.

Walker finished his Plum career among a select group in program history. He defeated Norwin’s Nicholas Puskar, 13-8, during the Mustangs’ WPIAL first-round match to reach 100 career wins.

His 109 victories over his four years puts him 13th on the all-time list.

Walker would’ve had more wins had the covid pandemic not shortened his freshman season and had injuries not taken him off the mat a couple of times over the remainder of his career.

“It was exciting to think that I made it through the season without getting injured,” said Walker, who claimed the 152-pound title at this year’s Allegheny County tournament.

“Since seventh grade, I hadn’t made it through a year. It would’ve been nice to have wrestled more matches if I had stayed healthy, but it’s great to be included on that list.”

Michael Love is a TribLive reporter covering sports in the Alle-Kiski Valley and the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. A Clearfield native and a graduate of Westminster (Pa.), he joined the Trib in 2002 after spending five years at the Clearfield Progress. He can be reached at mlove@triblive.com.

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