As much as league dual meets are stepping stones to the District 2 duals, early-season wrestling tournaments are building blocks for those league matchups.
So far, a solid foundation is being laid for the remaining season ahead at Tunkhannock.
The Tigers finally open their Division 2 slate Wednesday vs. Wyoming Area after their would-be opener was postponed last week. They’re one of several teams around the Wyoming Valley Conference with plenty of reason to believe good things could be in store as the team postseason picture begins to come together.
“We’re ready,” Tunkhannock senior David Evans said after his team took third at its annual holiday tournament in late December. “Everybody’s confident. After seeing what everybody did at this tournament, I think everybody’s ready.
“I think we just gotta put a little bit more time in the room, work on some stuff, and we’ll be there.”
Multiple teams have a right to be confident this time of year.
Hazleton Area repeated as WVC tournament champions to begin the calendar year, and the Cougars (3-0) have started their Division 1 schedule undefeated along with Valley West and Wilkes-Barre Area (both 2-0). They head to Wilkes-Barre Area tonight.
Tunkhannock and the rest of the four-team Division 2 are just getting started, with one meet held so far, but early results point to the Tigers as the favorites to clinch home-gym advantage for the District 2 dual tournament’s opening night. At their holiday tournament, Evans and Gavin D’Amato won championships to lead the team.
But the two former qualifiers for the PIAA Championships weren’t the only ones getting support from the home crown during the finals. Junior Matt Rosentel, senior Ethan Munley and sophomore Nick Marabell were also wrestling at the very end of the weekend. They all took second in their weight classes after settling for eighth, seventh and seventh the year before.
Then came the WVC tournament, where the Tigers scored more than 200 points to give Hazleton Area its best shot for first place. D’Amato and Evans won gold (for a second time). So did Marabell after taking fifth in 2019; Rosentel and Munley improved from no medal and third to fourth and second, respectively.
Marabell held a one-point lead over Hazleton Area’s Dante Matarella in their final, and he sealed his victory in the final seconds. He knew Matarella had to take a shot and was ready to circle behind him when Matarella lunged in from a long distance.
This year’s key, Marabell noted, was improving his conditioning under new coach Gary Siegel, as well as his wrestling from the neutral position. Both were on display as he put away a title.
“I wouldn’t take shots or anything (last season) because I was so afraid to do it,” he said.
“Their workout partners are helping. Nick being a sophomore and Rosentel coming back, they’re showing growth and maturity, really,” Siegel said. “It’s the maturity part that we’re looking at. Everybody in the room is working hard.”
As Tunkhannock’s younger wrestlers have moved up the ranks, Wilkes-Barre Area’s Matthew Chase has also caught up with the competition.
Chase missed almost the entirety of 2018-19 with what he described as a “shattered elbow.” This season started on schedule but came with some extra rust for the sophomore to shake off.
He looked good as new by the WVC’s championship round. Chase became the Wolfpack’s first ever conference champ in a convincing, 14-4 major decision over Munley. He didn’t relent as he tacked on a few third-period takedowns and opened his lead in the final minute.
“It makes me feel great. I’m working hard in the room and it’s paying off,” Chase said.
Chase was one of 10 medalists for Wilkes-Barre Area, which tied the weekend’s high total. Those top-six finishes included a run from 132-170 by senior Nino Cinti (second), Chase, senior Caleb Burns (fifth), senior Jamie Pahler (third), senior Rafael Olmedo (sixth) and junior Warren Faust (sixth).
That consistency through the lineup could be important when the Wolfpack host Hazleton Area tonight and Valley West on Jan. 24.
“I want to make it to team districts,” Chase said after receiving his WVC championship medal. “I think we can win. If we just keep our head on and just wrestle smart, we got it.”
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