HERSHEY — The WPIAL is proving itself a heavyweight in the state’s lighter weights.
Led by some dominant performances in the early weight classes, the WPIAL advanced 17 wrestlers to the PIAA Class AAA semifinals thanks to wins in Friday afternoon’s quarterfinal round at Giant Center.
The WPIAL claimed three of four semifinal spots in the 106-, 113- and 126-pound weight classes, plus two at 132. Not to be outdone, two heavyweights — Upper St. Clair’s Jake Slinger and Hempfield’s Isaiah Vance — also advanced.
Semifinalists included a pair of defending state champions in Seneca Valley sophomore Alejandro Herrera-Rondon at 113 pounds and North Hills junior Sam Hillegas, a two-time champ, at 132. Norwin junior Kurtis Phipps, and Franklin Regional senior Colton Camacho, both runners-up last season, made it to the semifinals at 120 and 126, respectively.
“It’s just like any other tournament,” Hillegas said after a 6-0 win over Tyler Dilley in the quarterfinals. “You’re wrestling in front of fans. Even though the venue’s different, you’ve just got to stick to the same game plan.”
By advancing to the semifinals, the 17 WPIAL wrestlers automatically earned a PIAA medal.
The afternoon started out with a bang as a trio of 106-pounders — Seneca Valley’s Dylan Chappell, Franklin Regional’s Carter Dibert and Connellsville’s Mason Prinkey — all won. Chappell and Prinkey advanced on pins, with Prinkey’s coming in sudden-victory overtime, and Dibert beat top-seeded Aiden Lewis of Cedar Cliff.
The 113-pounders continued the run, with Herrera-Rondon, Hempfield’s Kyle Burkholder and Franklin Regional’s Finn Solomon winning by decision.
“I can tell now that some kids are trying to rough me up a little bit, trying to show me that I’m not the top dog right now,” said Herrera-Rondon, who needed injury time in the second period of his match with Nazareth’s Andrew Smith but eventually won by 4-1 decision. “It’s taking it one match. This isn’t the finals, this is just the early rounds, and people are going to be rough, be tough and dirty. You’ve just got to accept that.
“You’ve got to be prepared for everything.”
Phipps trailed 5-2 in the second period after being taken down for the second time by Stroudsburg’s Carter Enriquez, but after he narrowed the gap with two escapes, he scored the winning takedown with 26 seconds remaining in the third period.
“He’s good,” Phipps said. “This time, I was just missing little things and giving him little angles. He got a couple takedowns, but that’s when it’s big for those escapes and reversals. It came back to help me in the end.”
Camacho, Canon-McMillan’s Kenny Hayman and Kiski Area’s Darren Miller made it through at 126, followed by Hillegas and Latrobe’s Gabe Willochell at 132.
“Not being here last year, just being able to medal is great,” Miller said after a 10-0 major decision over Altoona’s Matt Sarbo. “But I’m still going to be aiming for higher goals.”
Kiski Area’s Cam Connor (152 pounds), Canon-McMillan’s Gerrit Nijenhuis (170 pounds) and Mt. Lebanon’s Luke Stout (182) also advanced to the semifinals, as did the heavyweights Slinger and Vance.
The semifinals, which begin at 9 a.m. Saturday, will feature three all-WPIAL matchups: Dibert vs. Prinkey at 106, Burkholder vs. Solomon at 113 and Camacho vs. Hayman at 126. The championship and consolation finals will take place at 7 p.m.
Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Doug at 412-388-5830, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .