Wrestlers ready to lay it all on the line at PIAA individual tournament

Tuesday, March 8, 2022 | 6:25 PM

Michael Buffer’s trademark catchphrase, “Let’s get ready to rumble.” would be a perfect way to kick off the PIAA individual wrestling championships Thursday.

It’s time to tighten up the headgear and put it all on the line for 520 young men (260 in each classification) for three days of all-out mayhem as they convene at Giant Center in Hershey.

Saturday, 26 of those young men will be crowned champions.

“The state is a different animal,” Latrobe junior Vinny Kilkeary said. “You put it on the line and throw everything out there and see what happens.”

Kilkeary (42-2) defeated Penn-Trafford senior Troy Hohman, 16-5, in the WPIAL 120-pound final.

“I didn’t try to just win. I tried to open the match up and really not be afraid to lose,” Kilkeary added. “Now I’m confident in that mindset, and I’ll go and do it the rest of the year.”

Kilkeary placed third at 113 in 2021 after winning the title as a freshman.

“WPIALs are such a tough tournament,” Kilkeary said. “It was a confidence builder to win twice and take it to next week. You can’t care what people think. You just go.”

Hohman said if he wants to win his first PIAA title, he has to control the match.

“I’ll put this loss behind me,” Hohman said. “I need to get to my offense in matches.”

Franklin Regional senior Finn Solomon (37-2) earned his first WPIAL title last weekend, but his eye is on winning his second PIAA title. He placed second at 113 in 2019 and won the 138 title in 2021.

He goes in as the top seed at 145 pounds after defeating West Allegheny junior Ty Watters in ultimate tiebreaker in the finals.

“It was a great way to wrestle my final match in this gym (Canon-McMillan),” Solomon said. “It was a great match. I wish I could have watched it. It was the most fun I’ve had in a match this season.

“I want to go out and have fun. Experience has a lot to do with wrestling in Hershey. Its how you prepare at the end of the year and how you get yourself ready is the key to coming out on top.”

Hempfield senior Briar Priest (34-2) is the returning 132-pound state champion, but he is in a bracket (138) that features another returning state champion: Bethlehem Catholic junior Tyler Kasak. State College sophomore Pierson Manville (34-3), who defeated Priest at Powerade, is also in the bracket but on the same side as Kasak.

Priest said his opponents are wrestling him differently this season.

“My mindset is I’m not the state champion anymore,” Priest said. “We’re all equal right now, and I really have to push it this week.”

The other returning state champion is Waynesburg junior Mac Church (34-2) at 132 pounds.

The WPIAL wrestlers to receive top seeds were Church, Solomon, Chartiers Valley junior Dylan Evans (29-4) at 152, Connellsville senior Jared Keslar (34-3) at 160 and Waynesburg junior Rocco Welsh (42-1) at 172.

In Class 2A, Mt. Pleasant senior Dayton Pitzer (215) will be looking for his third PIAA title. It could have been four were it not for an injury that prevented him from competing in 2020.

“This is the week I’ve been training for,” Pitzer said. “It’s time to go out and wrestle my best.”

Frazier sophomore Rune Lawrence (172) and Laurel junior Grant MacKay (160) are also returning PIAA champions looking for their second titles.

MacKay, Lawrence and Pitzer were all top seeds.

Paul Schofield is a TribLive reporter covering high school and college sports and local golf. He joined the Trib in 1995 after spending 15 years at the Daily Courier in Connellsville, where he served as sports editor for 14 years. He can be reached at pschofield@triblive.com.

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