Thomas Jefferson’s Finnerty off to strong start with tournament titles

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Sunday, January 24, 2021 | 8:01 AM


Months of painstaking preparation and grueling practice proved beneficial for Thomas Jefferson junior Brian Finnerty.

The 172-pound grappler took first place in his weight division Jan. 9 at the season-opening North Allegheny Invitational.

“Brian had a great start, winning the tournament and really opening up his offense,” TJ coach Michael Ladick said. “We had a nice showing at North Allegheny’s invitational. Gabe Galioto, Ben Eckenrod and Michael Zacur wrestled tough to take second, and Kale Buckiso fought back and took third.”

He also took first at the Mid-Winter Mayhem 1 held Jan. 16 at the Monroeville Convention Center, defeating Malvern Prep’s Andrew Connolly, 3-0, in the championship round.

Finnerty is a third-year team member for the Jaguars. His older brother, Brendan, is a former TJ standout and now is a 174-pound freshman in the Seton Hill wrestling program.

Brian Finnerty compiled a 47-21 record in his first two varsity seasons, including a 31-12 mark last year.

“My coaches and I prepared for my competition (at NA) with the intent to take first,” he said. ” I would like to work towards a more dominant style and continue to improve my skills. Focus, hard work and continuous movement are what my coaches and I have been working on.

“I’ve had many good mentors who have given me guidance and support. I am thankful to all my coaches, my dad (Brian) and my older brother. I have received a lot of encouragement and support from my brother. He has helped me work on my technique and improve my skills to be a better wrestler.”

Finnerty’s forte on the mats?

Simply put, “I remain calm and work to stay consistent,” he said.

Ladick is anticipating big things for Finnerty in 2020-21.

“Brian has worked on technique and has learned how to wrestle through awkward positions,” Ladick said. “He committed himself to lifting and offseason wrestling and he’s looking forward to reaping what he’s sown.”

The focus for the athletes in the TJ wrestling program — in this pandemic-wrapped season particularly — is to compete in a safe environment.

“At this point, the highest expectation we have is to compete and stay safe,” Ladick said. “The month of January will be a blur. We had the long layoff, came back for five days and will wrestle matches at a clip we’ve never seen before. We might have a total of seven practices scheduled after Jan. 9.”

It’s been a whirlwind of a season so far for all WPIAL squads.

“It’s a crisis of consciousness every day,” Ladick said. “First, I am continually concerned about safety. I feel horrible for our seniors who have this as their last season, and am helpless to make any real significant changes on a macro level. The postseason tournaments are downright unbelievable, especially considering how much talent is in the WPIAL, and the decision making becomes that much more important as the end draws near.

“Our wrestlers breaking into the lineup for the first time are limited in their ability to grow because of a lack of practices. Our junior varsity wrestlers will struggle to get many matches. I had to cease our junior high program and put them remote so they could safely practice and attempt to find competitions.

“And finally, I made the decision to tell my father (assistant Bob Ladick), who understood but was upset, that he’d have to sit out the month of January due to my concerns for his, and my mother’s, safety.”

In dual meet action, the Jaguars chalked up an impressive early season win Jan. 11 at Baldwin, rolling to a 60-15 victory.

Naythan Krutules (126), Eckenrod (138), Buckiso (145), Zacur (152) and Alby Breisinger (285) all recorded falls for the visitors, who are a senior-laden group this year.

Thanks to the likes of Krutules, Eckenrod, Buckiso, Zacur, Connor Falce (160), Terry Newbegin (160), Trystan Alava (172) and Breisinger, the Jaguars’ solid senior leadership has proven to be a team strength.

Zacur (89-37) and Buckiso (86-30) figure to crack the century mark in career wins, while Alava brought a 66-42 career mark into the new year.

After posting 27 and 28 victories as a freshman and sophomore, Zacur logged a 34-15 record in 2019-20. Buckiso won 27 and 26 bouts in his first two years, then went 33-9 and won a section title in 2019-20.

Alava ended up 24-12 and 28-17 the past two seasons while Eckenrod finished 21-12 last year.

The four juniors in the program this season are Madison Hill (106), a female, Mclaine Stanek (132), Matthew Herron (138) and Finnerty.

“The pandemic has brought about many challenges and affected all of us in different ways,” Finnerty said. “I believe wrestling has helped to keep me focused on my goals. My focus has been on staying healthy, getting stronger and improving myself.

“I would like to see our team continue to grow as a group and work toward bigger goals.”

Galioto (113) and Aidan Stella (120), both varsity competitors a year ago as freshmen, are joined by sophomores Michael Inks (145), Dominic Donatelli (189), Jake Bertini (215), Dayne Sypolt (215) and Logan Timko (285) in 2020-21.

Brady Fitz, at 132 pounds, is the Jaguars’ top freshman prospect.

“The wrestlers, not just ours but all of them, have been so resilient and deserve so much credit for how they have responded and handled this entire situation,” Ladick said.

Hill, Fitz, Inks, Donatelli, Bertini, Sypolt, Timko and Breisinger are newcomers to the varsity program.

TJ finished with seven medalists — including Buckiso, Finnerty, Alava and Krutules — at last year’s county championships at Fox Chapel.

Other place winners for TJ at the Mid-Winter Mayhem tournament were Buckiso, who placed second at 145; Zacur, fourth at 152; Alava, fifth at 189; Krutules and Bertini, sixth at 126 and 215; and Fitz, eighth at 132.

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