Plum’s Antonino Walker keeps moving forward after runner-up WPIAL finish

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Thursday, March 4, 2021 | 5:39 PM


Plum freshman Antonino Walker has made a name for himself this season.

The 106-pound Mustang who goes by “Nino” has gone 22-2 this season with his only losses coming against Seneca Valley’s Tyler Chappell.

The two faced off earlier this season and Chappell, who is the No. 1 wrestler in Trib HSSN’s 106-pound rankings, topped Walker, who is ranked second, with a 2-1 decision.

This past weekend, Walker and Chappell faced off again, and this time, there was a WPIAL title on the line.

Chappell recorded a takedown in the first period and an escape in the second and took a 3-1 lead into the final frame. Walker earned his second point with an escape 15 seconds into the period, but couldn’t gain the upper hand. Chappell recorded a takedown with 22 seconds left to secure the win.

Although he came away with a loss, Walker said the win gave him confidence heading into the PIAA West Class AAA Super Regional this weekend at Altoona.

“I’m feeling pretty good heading into the weekend,” Walker said. “The win gave me a little confidence.”

While Chappell is the No. 2 seed, Walker earned the No. 4 seed. He’ll face off with Solanco’s Dom Flatt in the first round Saturday. The senior has a record of 18-4 this season with eight pins. He placed second at regionals last year.

Walker proved himself as a prime competitor heading into the super regional. During the WPIAL tournament, and for a majority of this season, Walker said that both his top and bottom games have been strong.

In his first match at WPIALs, he earned an 8-0 major decision over Latrobe’s Jacob Braun with three takedowns and two escapes. In the semifinals, he earned a second-period escape and a third-period takedown to pick up a 3-0 win. Heading into this weekend, he said he feels like he needs to be a little more aggressive.

“I just learned that I need to get on my attacks and move my feet more,” Walker said. “So, I’ve been working on my hand fighting this week in practice and working on my shots as well.”

Those are areas Walker has been working on all season. Throughout this week, he’s been leaning on other individuals for advice and help. Teammates Sam Snyder and Vince Citrano have put him through the paces in practice, and he’s outsourced as well.

At times this week, Walker has trained with wrestlers from Penn-Trafford and even worked out with Burrell’s Cooper Hornack, who won the PIAA Class AA Southwest Regional this past weekend at IUP.

Walker has had a successful freshman season so far, perhaps even more successful than he expected. Still, he said he just needs to focus on what’s in front of him.

“I just need to keep moving forward,” Walker said.

The Plum freshman won’t be the only A-K Valley wrestler heading to Altoona this weekend as Kiski Area’s Sammy Starr and Brayden Roscosky will both be looking to avenge their runner-up finishes from WPIALs.

Starr lost to Waynesburg’s Luca Augustine by a 2-1 decision in the 172-pound final. Roscosky lost to Hampton’s Justin Hart, 3-2, in the 189-pound final. Given those close calls, Kiski Area coach Chris Heater said his wrestlers aren’t trying to change too much. They’re just focusing on the little things.

“They have a pretty good mindset, and they’ve been working hard this week,” Heater said. “We’re just working on little things and cleaning up some stuff. It’s not the time of year to be doing anything new or changing stuff. We’re just trying to clean up the little things and become a little more efficient. These guys have lost only by a point the last couple weeks, so we’re right there. It’s not like we have to fix something major.”

In a regular year, Class AAA wrestlers advance straight from WPIALs to the PIAA tournament, but this year, due to covid-19 restrictions, the PIAA added another tournament to limit the number of contestants heading to Hershey.

Although it’s an extra step, Heater said it doesn’t change much other than giving everyone more practice time.

“It’s just a lot of practice time, and at this time of year, with these levels of guys, you need this much practice time,” Heater said. “So, just trying to be smart with our practice time during the week is pretty much where my focus is.”

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at gmacafee@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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