‘The real deal’: North Allegheny set to host 1st WPIAL girls wrestling championships

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Saturday, February 10, 2024 | 11:01 AM


North Allegheny will play host to a Western Pennsylvania girls wrestling championship once again, but this time the medals will says “WPIAL.”

That’s no small detail, said North Allegheny coach Dan Heckert, adding that there’s increasing excitement since this is the first winter for girls wrestling as a sanctioned high school sport in Pennsylvania.

“With it being ‘real’ with the WPIAL and PIAA, there’s definitely a different aura to it,” Heckert said. “It’s not just this side thing that SanctionPA is doing. This is the real deal, so there’s little more pressure, a little more to it.”

The WPIAL championship is Feb. 17 at North Allegheny.

The school held Western Pennsylvania championships in recent years, similar events that were organized by the sports’ grassroots supporters. Heckert said the biggest change to the tournament is seen on the mats.

“It’s still the same operation but a lot more serious,” Heckert said. “The skill level of these girls is increasing exponentially. They’re getting better and better, and (winning a medal) is getting tougher and tougher. The girls who place at WPIAL, they earn it. It’s not like there are five girls in a bracket and here’s your medal.

“These are full brackets, and you have to work your way through and earn your WPIAL medal.”

Heckert is optimistic that a number of his North Allegheny wrestlers can place, led by Leyna Rumpler, a reigning state champion. The senior is 26-1 this season and ranked No. 1 in the state at 155 pounds by pa-wrestling.com. Rumpler won at the North Allegheny Invitational on Feb. 3 and earned most outstanding wrestler.

“She has only lost once this year and she came back later to beat that girl, so she is a heavy favorite,” Heckert said. “But we have a handful of other girls (who will contend for medals).”

Rumpler is one of three seniors on North Allegheny’s 16-girl roster, joined by Audrey Morrison and Hannah Williams. For them, the idea of winning a WPIAL medal was no more than a wish a few years ago.

“They were the ones that stuck their necks out years ago when it wasn’t an official sport, and here they are,” Heckert said. “They all get to experience being part of this first group, so it’s very special for all of them.”

Morrison is 26-5 this season and ranked fifth in the state at 142 pounds. Junior Kaylee Dean, who won at the NA Invitational, is a contender at 190 pounds with a 17-3 record this winter.

A handful of teammates could also contend for top five finishes, which would qualify them for the upcoming state tournament.

Junior Maya Scott placed sixth at the NA Invitational, which included more than 200 wrestlers from 29 schools. Williams placed seventh in her weight class, and sophomore Ava Frailey was eighth in hers.

The Tigers are competing without one of their state medalists from a year ago. Sophia Folks placed fifth as a freshman but shoulder surgery cut this season short.

The postseason continues March 2 with a PIAA West Regional at Canon-McMillan, and concludes March 7-9 at Giant Center in Hershey with PIAA championships held alongside the boys.

The PIAA board voted last May to officially sanction girls wrestling, making it the first sport to complete PIAA emerging sport process.

“We spoke it into existence,” Heckert said. “We were saying three years was what it was going to take, and that’s what it took. Going through a pandemic and building from nothing, it took a lot of faith. You look back now and say, ‘This is really happening.’

“When we get to the state championship, for all of us who’ve been involved from Day 1, it’s going to be an emotional event, whether we’ve got a girl there or not.”

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at charlan@triblive.com.

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