Feb. 18—While winning is fine, scholastic sports ultimately are about having fun. And no one in Mercer County is having more fun at this time of the 2021 winter sports season than Hickory High's wrestling program.
"We've got a young, scrappy group of kids that're workin' their tails off every day, and I think we're havin' some fun doin' it," summarized 6th-year Hornets' headmaster Nick Clepper.
Hickory is headed to the annual District 10 Championships Saturday at Sharon High. Quarterfinal-round action begins at 9:30 a.m., followed by the semifinals/consolation quarterfinals, 11:45 a.m.; consolation semifinals, 2 p.m., Parade of Champions, 3:15 p.m., and championship and consolation finals, 3:30 p.m.
The top 5 place-winners from each weight class advance to next weekend's Northwest Region Championships, also set for Sharon High.
Clepper's contingent includes 7 who advanced out of last week's Region 1 section event. The Hornets' horde is led by returning PIAA Championships place-winner Carter Gill (6th at 132 pounds).
"When Carter came in two years ago we knew this was gonna start to change the culture, (that) the way these kids and the parents are reacting to what's been goin' on, winning was gonna start happening," Clepper confided, continuing, "Carter came in with a different mind-set than we've had in the past. He's had some elementary success, some junior high success. He's a kid that goes off to (fitness) clubs every other night; he goes and does extra work-outs. And by what he started, three or four guys have branched off and are doin' the same thing. Then you bring in a little brother (freshman phenom Louie Gill), he's got two or three guys goin' out and doin' the same thing.
"By that time you're talkin' six, seven guys that are goin' out and doin' the right thing in the classroom, doin' the right thing in practice, and also gettin' in the extra workouts," Clepper continued. "That's where Carter, pretty much, helped that culture change, and Louie definitely helped it, also. There's just core groups of kids. And Connor Saylor's another one, the same way. These kids are putting in a lot of time outside of our (wrestling) room, to get themselves better."
This season has been a family affair for Hickory, as evidenced by Carter Gill's influence on his kid brother. Clepper explained, "Louie, his mind-set when he comes in every day is, 'I wanna tear people apart,' and he doesn't care if he's wrestlin' the 106-pounder that we have or goin' all the way up to 138 to wrestle Cody Miller. This kid just goes at it. But he's surrounded by talent at 113, 120, 126 132.
"But Carter, with the overall program and the direction where this started, it was Carter and Louie helped it, and there's a few others in there that have changed it drastically this year with the addition of West Middlesex," Clepper added.
Hickory and West Middlesex entered into a cooperative agreement this season in the sport of wrestling. Seniors Justin O'Neill (113), Ty Tate (215) and Kaleb Turcotte (285) are starters, according to Clepper, who related,
"It has paid off big-time. Justin O'Neill ... that boy's gifted. And I think with him bein' in our (wrestling) room, he just elevated his game. When he's gotta work out every day with Connor Saylor, Louie Gill, Timmy Krivosh, he's workin' with a core group of guys that ... his game just went up. And he's kind've been the leader that came over from West Middlesex. He's a fun guy, but he also knows when it's time to clip the head gear on and it's time to go. He's, pretty much, sewn it all together for both teams.
"It's a great (cooperative) relationship all the way around," Clepper continued. "At no point did anybody have any hard feelings. From day one it was stressed to (the West Middlesex student-athletes) that we're one team; we've got a goal and a passion that we're tryin' to reach together, not separately."
Clepper regards Reynolds — the reigning D-10 titlist — as the team to beat.
"When you look at it on paper, I'd say Reyolds is still definitely the number one team. They brought in seven guys (and) I think they can still get seven guys out (to Regions). ... Another team like that is Greenville, they can probably get seven guys out ... Fort LeBoeuf, I'm pretty sure brought twelve guys, so they're gonna put up points all over the place.
"It's gonna be a v-e-e-e-ry competitive district tournament," Clepper continued. "I think it's gonna be a little different than from years back, just because of the way it was with the regions. That Section 2 region (won by Reynolds), that was very competitive. There's some very, very good kids sittin' at home this weekend. But I think it's gonna make for a really nice district tournament this weekend."
However Clepper is confident in his Hornets, relating, "This season we've definitely upped the ante on competition. We went out and wrestled some very good teams, wrestled a very good tournament, and I think that's payin' off for us right now. But practice every day is like a 'war zone.' I've got kids that are hungry right now. It's just fun to be around every day.
Earlier this season Hickory competed at the prestigious Powerade tourney. Louie Gill (4th at 106), Carter Gill (5th at 145), O'Neill (6th at 113), and Saylor (8th at 126) placed.
"We're gonna trust in the competition that we wrestled, we're gonna trust in our conditioning, we're gonna trust in our practice time that we've put in, and we're gonna let the chips fall where they may," Clepper continued. "The goal of my kids is (placing) one-through-five, that's all that matters. Get to next week. No matter how you do it, one-through-five gets you to next week, then we've got a whole, 'nother tournament to prepare for."
Concluding, Clepper continued regarding the current campaign, "I don't know if it's the most enjoyable yet, because the most enjoyable time is hopefully gonna be a few weeks from now. I'm havin' fun, I have an awesome group of kids, I have kids that want to work every day, and I don't have to scream to get them to work. I've got an awesome group of parents, and my assistant coaches (Jim Funk, Jim Jones, David Morris and James Gulla) — I've got one of the best staffs in District 10, and I'd put that to anybody.
"All I gotta say is we're havin' a lot of fun right now. I know my assistant coaches are havin' fun. This year has been a grind ... with the COVID stoppage, then comin' back in and wrestling ... havin' a shortened season ... adding another week to the postseason (Super Regions) ... it's different. And I know we're not the only ones feelin' it — all of District 10's feelin' it right now — but we're just lookin' forward to havin' some more fun this weekend and hopefully these guys can just keep the ball rollin.'"
Notes: Steve Hoover will serve as tournament director, assisted by Eric Mausser, while Jeremy Whalen will serve as technology coordinator. ... Weigh-ins and the coaches' meeting are slated for 8:30 and 9:15 a.m., respectively. ... The PIAA Board of Directors met Wednesday and clarified wrestling dates. Regionals are Feb. 27, Super Regionals March 6 and the Class 2A championships are March 12. The team tourney starts March 22 and the quarterfinals are March 24. The semifinals and championships are set for March 27 at Cumberland Valley High School in Mechanicsburg, rather than Giant Center in Hershey.
DISTRICT 10 CLASS 2A CHAMPIONSHIPS
— 106 — Hunter Robison (Saegertown) vs. Braydon Porter (Greenville); Alex Moore (Mercer) vs. Andie Przybycien (Fort LeBoeuf); Hunter Gould (Conneaut Area) vs. Lucas Munsee (Corry); Tyler Randall (Seneca) vs. Louie Gill (Hickory).
— 113 — Justin O'Neill (Hickory) vs. Elizabeth Adcock (North East); Ian Mancuso (Youngsville) vs. Kyle Lantz (Conneaut Area); Jacob Bennett (Fort LeBoeuf) vs. Ryan Double (Slippery Rock); Chase Bell (Reynolds) vs. Brody Beck (Cambridge Springs).
— 120 — Gary Steen (Reynolds) vs. Kolton Sutter (Northwestern); Cole Kellogg (Eisenhower) vs. Timmy Krivosh (Hickory); JoJo Przybycien (Fort LeBoeuf) vs. Blayke Knauf (Greenville); Nick Ayres (Slippery Rock) vs. Ethan Shoup (Cochranton).
— 126 — Jack Martinec (Cochranton) vs. Wyatt Lazzar (Commodore Perry); Alex Rueberger (Sharpsville) vs. Logan Platz (Seneca); Chase McLaughlin (Greenville) vs. Gunnar Gage (Cambridge Springs); Alex Cottrell (Northwestern) vs. Connor Saylor (Hickory).
— 132 — Kane Kettering (Reynolds) vs. Stephen Martinec (Cochranton); Jackson Bowers (Fort LeBoeuf) vs. Cody Miller (Hickory); Jacob Williams (Eisenhower) vs. Zane Grinnell (Commodore Perry); Caullin Summers (Sharpsville) vs. Connor Pierce (Harbor Creek).
— 138 — Easton Hedman (Eisenhower) vs. Luke Gentile (Greenville); Hunter Hohman (Grove City) vs. Dominic Stearns (Fort LeBoeuf); Ashten Armagost (Commodore Perry) vs. Willis Morrell (Cochranton); Story Buchanan (Girard) vs. Carson Filer (Mercer).
— 145 — Kaeden Berger (Reynolds) vs. Collin Clough (Youngsville); Harrison Murray (Mercer) vs. Conner McChesney (Fort LeBoeuf); Jaden Reagle (Saegertown) vs. Hayden Robertson (Greenville); Jordan Colon (Girard) vs. Carter Gill (Hickory).
— 152 — Michael Berger (Mercer) vs. Clay Thomas (Union City); Dylan West (Girard) vs. Collin Hearn (Conneaut Area); Gannon Jaquay (Eisenhower) vs. Seth Evans (Sharon); Brock Covell (Titusville) vs. Jack Rimpa (Fort LeBoeuf).
— 160 — Ryan Miller (Seneca) vs. Stetson Boozer (Cochranton); Clayton Smith (Commodore Perry) vs. Mason Hesselgesser (Mercer); Colton Smith (Cambridge Springs) vs. Ryan Welka (Fort LeBoeuf); Justin Pearce (Slippery Rock) vs. Jaden Wagner (Reynolds).
— 172 — Gage Musser (Commodore Perry) vs. Timmy Church (Fort LeBoeuf); Dylan Gourley (Corry) vs. Ty Holland (Hickory); Abe Keep (Girard) vs. Josh Anderson (Conneaut Area); Nick Dignall (Sharon) vs. Landon Caldwell (Saegertown).
— 189 — Cole Karpinski (Greenville) vs. Caden Herman (Harbor Creek); Nick Kaday (Union City) vs. Jake Ebaz (Mercer); Danny Church (Fort LeBoeuf) vs. Cole Toy (Reynolds); Aidan Buck (Sharon) vs. Shawn Proctor (Corry).
— 215 — Tony Pilosi (Slippery Rock) vs. Isaac DeVault (Lakeview); Cael Black (Eisenhower) vs. Greg Gruda (Northwestern); Trevor Tursky (Conneaut Area) vs. Dylan Ahern (Grove City); Jack Sangl (Fort LeBoeuf) vs. Hayden Linkerhof (Corry).
— 285 — Jordan Schell (Girard) vs. Kaleb Turcotte (Hickory); Zach Nesevich (Greenville) vs. Xavier Revda (Corry); Mike Mazurek (Sharon) vs. Jesse Phelps (North East); Porter Brooks (Saegertown) vs. Rocco John-Daniello (Reynolds).