GROVE CITY — There’s no better way to get prepared for the postseason than a trip to Grove City for the annual Fred Bell Tournament.
With 41 teams and countless district, regional and state qualifiers in attendance, area wrestlers emerged from last weekend’s 36th annual event — which is held at Grove City High School — with an idea of where they stand and what they need to improve upon before the individual postseason gets underway in just under 3 weeks.
“We bring in a lot of outside competition,” Grove City coach Wesley Phipps said. “Some of our area’s best representatives aren’t here, but we bring in a lot of great talent. That’s really important for our guys, because you can control who they see instead of beating them over the head with the same guy week-in and week-out.
“Fred Bell is a tournament that we can bring in District 9 guys that we’ll see at regionals if we get that far. There are some District 6 teams that are some really difficult teams that we’d have to face if we get out there. Plus there’s some WPIAL teams here. We try to pull in quality teams from all over.”
With each weight class featuring multiple top-8 ranked wrestlers from District 10 and standouts from District 6, 7 and 9 filling out the brackets, Mercer coach Jerry Gawne knows his grapplers will emerge from Fred Bell better than when they walked in.
“It’s always tough here,” he said. “The quality of kids here was just incredible. The 38-pound bracket supposedly has the 1 and 2 in the state. That’s pretty good. 13 and 20 were loaded. There really wasn’t a weak weight class out there. It’s a real grind. You have to be mentally and physically prepared to get through it.”
Host Grove City had a pair of medalists in Tyler Greer (160, fourth) and Daiveon Say (152, fifth).
“Some of the kids got themselves in holes early and losing in the first round,” Phipps said. “It’s a huge tournament and when upsets happen, you end up getting a stud in loser’s bracket. That’s a tough draw.
“It was a bummer for Tyler not making it to the finals. For Grove City kids, it’s our Super Bowl. It’s your time to come out in front of 100s of people in your home gym in one of the biggest tournaments in the state. For him to not make the finals, it was unfortunate. He did a great job of bouncing back. Daiveon wrestled great and was right there with the (eventual) runner-up. He did a nice job of finishing up the week against a quality kid from Northwestern.”
Slippery Rock also brought home a pair of Fred Bell medals with 182-pounder Kaleb Kamerer capturing a bronze medal and Vito Pilosi (195) a fourth.
“We did OK,” first-year Slippery Rock coach Shamus Carr said. “We had our ups and our downs. My kids worked extremely hard. We grinded pretty hard. My kids have never been exposed to this kind of tournament before and this caliber of kids. It was a great learning experience for them.
“Kaleb wrestled really well. To get third place at Fred Bell, he should be really proud of himself. Same with Vito. Kaleb had at least 5 top-10 ranked guys in his weight class. Vito is just coming back off an injury and has been rehabbing. For him to come back from that in his first tournament and take fourth, I’m pretty happy with his progress.”
Alex Chess (138) was Mercer’s lone representative on the medal stand with a third-place finish.
“Our goal was for everybody to win 2 matches,” Gawne said. “If you can do that, you’ll be close to placing. Once you get into the placing rounds, those kids are really good in any direction. The big thing for us was we got out of here with no injuries. That’s always a big plus.
“Alex wrestled well. He was wrestling Kenny Kiser really well. Kiser just muscled up and threw a cradle on him. It was a good cradle. Alex came off the mat and was like ‘Wow, that came out of nowhere!’ It was 3-3 at the time. The kid’s good.”
After crowning 3 individual champions, Glendale took home the team championship trophy with 130.5 points to outlast Kane (121) and Union City (120.5). Penns Valley (110) and General McLane (105) rounded out the top 5. Grove City (65) and Mercer (64.5) were the lone county schools in the top-20 of the 41-team tourney at 19th and 20th, respectively. Slippery Rock (55), Jamestown (51.5), West Middlesex (35), Sharpsville (20) and Lakeview (6) rounded out the field.
“That is the type of tournament that you want to be in,” Carr said. “You want to go against the good kids. You have to go against those kinds of kids to assess where you’re at and make adjustments in order to grow. That’s a great tournament run by the Grove City booster club.”
Glendale’s Suds Dubler (103), Brock McMillan (126) and Cory Johnston (220), Kane’s Aiden Hullings (152) and Alex English (160), Union City’s Gavin Henry (182) and Matt Long (285), General McLane’s Andrew Brest (113), Titusville’s Hunter Thompson (120), Cambridge Springs Tye Varndell (132), Hopewell Jacob Ealy (138), McDowell’s Jeffrey Boyd (145), McGuffey’s Christian Clutter (170) and Cranberry’s Brayden Crocker (195) were crowned 2019 Fred Bell champions.
“(Tournament director Keith DeGraaf) did a nice job with seedings,” said Phipps, who was a multi-time state medalist during his high school career as an Eagle. “My biggest thing — just because I’ve been up there in that position — the kids up at the top are there for a reason. They’re the kids that are focused and don’t get out of whack. They do the right things all the time. This tournament brings that out in the best kids. There certainly are upsets but generally the kids at the top are able to handle their business and grind through a tournament like this.”
The Eagles, Mustangs and Rockets now must turn their attentions towards the District 10 duals.
Mercer (12-3) and Slippery Rock (6-6) earned the right to host Titusville (6-3) and Greenville (8-2), respectively, tonight by earning the top two spots in Region 1. The winners advance the District 10 Duals quarterfinals Saturday morning.
“We wrestled a couple of kids from Titusville and they got to see us,” Gawne said. “I like the idea of 16 teams in the duals. It gives everybody a shot and you don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s the postseason and anything can happen. We’re excited and the kids are excited. Hopefully, the chips fall the right way and we get to go to Sharon on Saturday to wrestle somebody else.”
“We gave some guys a maintainence (weekend) this weekend. It’s a long and strenuous wrestling season and you can’t overwork your guys. You have to build in some maintainence days. I’m really excited about the opportunity to go against Greenville. They’re a really good team and I’m excited to see where we are as a team. The guys work really hard, but we are really young. It’ll be a great learning experience and great exposure for Slippery Rock.”
Region 1 third seeded Grove City (5-3) traveled north to Conneaut (7-1) last night for the right to advance to Saturday’s tournament at Sharon High School.
“Conneaut handled us pretty well the last time,” Phipps said. “My biggest goal — and the only thing I can judge our kids on — is I don’t expect us to pull off a 30-point swing and get the victory. It’s going to be about improvement. Are we doing better as individuals? Are we winning more matchups than we did previously? Are we scoring better? Are we being aggressive? Those are my measuring sticks as a coach.”
Notes: Jamestown’s Mitchell Headley (103) and West Middlesex’ Anthony Goian (195) finished in fifth place. ... Lakeview and Sharspville did not have a wrestler medal. ... Hopewell’s Ealy was named the Most Outstanding Wrestler and Cranberry’s Crocker was named the Tom Tomeo Most Promising Young Wrestler in voting by the tournament’s coaches.