‘Undermanned’ Thomas Jefferson wrestling team finds ways to win

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Sunday, February 20, 2022 | 11:01 AM


Heavy graduation losses deemed it a rebuilding year for the Thomas Jefferson wrestling team.

The Jaguars scraped together a 4-1 section record and were 10-9 overall Feb. 9 following their 39-30 loss to Bethel Park.

“Losing seven seniors has hurt us. The team has been undermanned all year,” TJ coach Michael Ladick said. “That being said, the wrestlers have met the challenge in stride. We are forfeiting at least five weights a match, and they have fought their way to a successful team season.

“Our staff was incredibly proud to be at the team sections and WPIALs because it was an experience that will, hopefully, rebuild confidence over the next few years.”

Three TJ wrestlers won at least 29 matches.

Senior Brian Finnerty was 31-1 with 21 pins and was ranked No. 2 in his weight class in the Trib HSSN Class 3A individual rankings.

Finnerty stood at 110-29 in his brilliant four-year varsity career with 54 falls and five technical falls. He eclipsed 30 wins in each of the last three seasons and joined an elite list of TJ grapplers who have attained 100 career victories.

Finnerty joined the following in the century club: Michael Goslicky (2003), the all-time wins leader with 117, Mark Generalovich (2006), Patrick Graham (2006), Braeden Flinn (2015), Dom Devine (2016), Alex Weber (2019), his brother Brendan Finnerty (2020) and Michael Zacur (2021).

“Brian has had a great season and is continually working towards the next phase week after week,” Ladick said. “He’s an intelligent athlete and manages matches incredibly well.

“Brian has truly embraced being a captain and has mentored a lot of the younger guys. He drives them to and from practice, is willing to work with anyone in the room and is honestly a funny kid. He will be missed for sure, and, hopefully, the next crop can fill his role.”

Finnerty, a Kent State recruit, secured his 100th career win Jan. 12 with a fall in 42 seconds against Albert Gallatin’s James Standish. The 18-year-old Finnerty wrestles at either 189 or 215.

“It was a goal,” he said about winning 100, “but it was also a reminder of what I have accomplished throughout the years.

“I am pretty happy with my performance this season, but I’m not satisfied yet. I still have a lot to improve on. My goals are to continue to improve and be more dominant in my matches.”

Two of those in the Jaguars’ “next crop” expected to fill Finnerty’s role and, hopefully, his career win totals are freshman standouts Maddox Shaw and Bode Marlow. They already have made a considerable impact on the Jaguars varsity program.

Shaw was 31-4 with a team-best 25 pins and was ranked No. 1 at 126 pounds by Trib HSSN. Marlow was 29-8 with 15 pins and was ranked No. 5 at 138. He also competes at 132.

“Maddox and Bode both have had a great season,” Ladick said. “They have both weathered the highs and lows very well and have consistently matured throughout the entire season. They’re like sponges that never saturate. They just keep absorbing information.

“For two freshmen to get over 30 wins is quite an accomplishment, and they’ll surely be leading the charge in the years to come.”

Three others with double-digit wins are sophomore Brady Fitz (145), who was 19-11 with 14 pins, senior Logan Timko (285), at 17-9 with 14 falls, and junior Aidan Stella (120), who was 10-6 with five pins. It is Timko’s second year on the team.

Timko, Leske and Turk were linemen on TJ’s football team in the fall. Marlow was one of five quarterbacks listed on the roster.

Two additional wrestlers with .500-or-above records include versatile 138-pound junior Gabe Galioto (8-3) and 285-pound freshman Shepard Turk (8-8). Seven of Turk’s eight wins were by falls.

Justin Leske (215) and Gavin Pollock (138), both sophomores, won three of their first five decisions in their first year on the team. All three of Leske’s wins were falls.

Senior Madison Hill also was listed on the team roster at 106 pounds.

“Madison was one of our statisticians for the past three years with Charleigh Haynes,” Ladick said. “For the past two years, we’ve been so gutted by covid and a lack of participation that we’ve had her weigh in at 106 pounds (she’s under 100 pounds) to help balance out some of the forfeits we’ve had from match to match.

“She’s never wrestled a match, but that was never the intent. She’s always on time, on weight and was totally appreciated by her teammates. I’m going to miss both of them as they were hard workers and dedicated to our team.”

With some up-and-coming underclassmen and just a small group of seniors on this year’s squad, the immediate future looks bright for the Jaguars.

“I honestly can’t even think about next year,” Ladick said. “I’m so focused and excited on having a normal postseason. I just want to enjoy it for the first time in two years.”

Baldwin

Baldwin was one of the youngest teams in the WPIAL this season. The Highlanders, with only two seniors on their roster, ended the regular season with a 3-2 section record with wins against West Mifflin, Albert Gallatin and Belle Vernon.

Three of the team’s top wrestlers were sophomores Keith Mincin and Owen Klodowski and freshman Rhamil Islamov.

Mincin posted a 25-8 record that included 17 falls and two technical falls.

Islamov (24-4) and Klodowski (23-8) were next in line with 47 victories between them. Klodowski accounted for 14 pins.

Baldwin junior John Starusko (160 or 172) compiled a 18-10 regular-season record, and 189-pound junior Dillon Digiannurio was 11-9 with 10 falls.

Cody Randal (160 or 172) and Luke Kielshus (215) provided senior leadership for the Highlanders.

Connellsville took first place in Section 2-A in Class 3A with a 5-1 record, followed by TJ (4-1), Baldwin (3-2), Albert Gallatin (2-3), Belle Vernon (1-4) and West Mifflin (0-5).

Baldwin ended up 7-4 overall.

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