Quaker Valley wrestling ahead of schedule

Monday, January 8, 2018 | 11:00 PM

Last season was the first for Quaker Valley wrestling, and as expected, the team experienced growing pains.

This season, the Quakers have improved considerably, with the team likely headed to the playoffs and individuals aiming for state gold.

“We didn't know what to expect when we first started back in November, and it's been a pleasant surprise,” first-year coach Mike Heinl said.

Quaker Valley won its first three matches in Class AA, Section 3A. The Quakers opened with a victory against Keystone Oaks, and the Quakers have been rolling since. In addition to wins against Avonworth and Carlynton, Quaker Valley had a strong showing at the West Mifflin holiday tournament.

At that event, two Quakers earned first-place finishes, and another took second.

Junior JR Kazalas (132 pounds) and freshman Conner Redinger (106) won their respective weight classes. Junior Geoff Magin placed second at 182. Heinl said the trio are building blocks for the fledgling program.

Additionally, senior Keegan Forsythe had a strong showing at 170, as he pinned the wrestler who finished third. A few miscues by Forsythe, though, resulted in him falling into the losers' bracket and placing lower than he anticipated.

“He's going to bounce back. He's a hard-working kid,” Heinl said of Forsythe, who serves as a captain.

Burrell, Derry, McGuffey and subsection foe South Fayette are among the best teams in the classification, but the Quakers still have their sights set on making it to Hershey for the state team tournament.

“I believe that … as a team, we're probably not quite there yet,” Heinl said of their pursuit of a team championship, in part because the Quakers forfeit the 160-pound class. “(But) we're going to compete as hard as we can. If we win our matches, the forfeits don't matter.

“As far as individuals go, I know a lot of wrestlers are working toward a state championship this year.”

Heinl said four or five Quakers have a realistic shot to make the podium.

Kazalas appears to be the most likely candidate for the Quakers. After finishing third in the WPIAL and sixth in the state last year, he dedicated his offseason toward improving. His regimen included getting on the mat seven days a week, cleaning up his diet and giving up football.

That meant Kazalas could only watch as Quaker Valley captured the first WPIAL and PIAA football titles in school history. While he supported the football team, he's now seeing the improvement on the mat as a result of his choice.

“There was a little bit of ‘what if,' but I knew I made the right decision with wrestling,” he said.

The focus on wrestling paid off for Kazalas at the West Mifflin tournament, as he defeated Penn Hills' Justin Perkins, 3-2, in the finals. Last year, Perkins edged Kazalas twice.

While his individual goal is to reach the state finals this season, Kazalas also has enjoyed the team's improvement. In addition to a better turnout and more dedication, Kazalas pointed to the new coaching staff as a major reason for the success.

“They're incredible coaches,” he said of Heinl and assistant Garrett Frey. “They're probably some of the best coaches I've ever had.

“They kind of expect a little more from us, which I think helps a lot.”

The Quakers also competed in the Midwestern Athletic Conference tournament on Friday and Saturday at Freedom.

Redinger, Kazalas and Magin won titles. Forsythe (170) was third, Bradley Fadeley (220) and Austin Dohl (152) took fourth and Demetrios Perez (138) was eighth. The team finished fifth.

Sean Meyers is a freelance writer.


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