Wrestling Notebook: Mercer County's contingent overcomes COVID concerns; Hickory's Clepper Coach of Year

Ed Farrell, The Herald, Sharon, Pa.
·7 min read

Feb. 23—The District 10 Wrestling Championships were a reminder that putting the pandemic behind us remains a work in progress. While the situation — globally, nationally and locally — is improving, COVID-19 concerns continue.

Reynolds Head Coach Casey Taylor summarized it as a "glass half-full," considering that the current campaign could have been curtailed at any time.

"Many times I went to bed worried about how would we all handle that? How do you talk to kids about (health/safety precautions relating to the coronavirus), so we just keep on takin' the glass-half-full approach to it and hopin' that they take every opportunity they get and keep on wrestling hard."

Perhaps no program in District 10 was adversely affected more than Greenville, which was going to be represented by 7 wrestlers at the recent championships. However, veteran Trojans' taskmaster John Reynolds related,

"It was a crazy finish to the week, because our 138-pounder (Luke Gentile) lost taste and smell (senses) on Thursday evening. After testing positive for COVID-19 on Friday, that effectively eliminated Hayden Robertson's opportunity to compete, due to contract tracing. In addition, our 106-pounder (Brayden Porter) was forced to withdraw because he had flu/COVID symptoms come on after practice on Friday.

"As you know," Reynolds reminded, "all student-athletes must pass a health screening before they get on the bus.

"This season has taught us not to take anything for granted," Reynolds related, "It was a great day for the kids that wrestled at Sharon High (last) Saturday, but I feel terrible for the three sophomores that missed out on the opportunity to qualify for regionals."

The 2019-20 wrestling season concluded before COVID consumed our lives, beginning last mid-March.

Taylor recalled, "Last year our state tournament ended and we finished our season, and a week later COVID came into play. Ohio (scholastic state championships) got canceled ... NCAA's got canceled ... a lot of things got canceled.So we were very fortunate as a state.

"This year it's been up-and-down. Kids have really handled the adversity well. Wrestling teaches you adversity, and this past year as a whole has taught them a lot about adversity, about how to get through it, and I think that goes to show good family dynamics — raising them the right way — and a good school structure, in terms of the administration to support the kids. And we, as a coaching staff, like to consider ourselves as an extension of their families, and just offer our assistance or lend an ear whenever we can for them.

"But I think they've handled it well," Taylor reiterated, before admitting, "I'm missin' the 'roars,' the fun of it, the crowd. I feel bad for the parents and families of the kids not to get to enjoy this with them. But the kids are enjoying getting to wrestle. So it's kind've a glass half-full. But I'm enjoying it. Bein' around the kids and spending a lot of time together is good."

— While Reynolds rolled to the proud program's 9th consecutive District 10 crown (27th overall), several other Mercer County contingents enjoyed a banner weekend.

— Garnering gold for Greenville were Cole Karpinski (189) and Chase McLaughlin (126), and Reynolds assessed,

"In short, I was very pleased with the remaining four wrestlers. Cole and Chase had dominant performances in the finals and looked good in the quarters and semis, as well. Chase avenged a loss to a strong competitor (Hickory's Connor Saylor) in the semifinals, too. Chase showed a lot of grit during that match, earning the takedown in OT.

"We just want to keep the momentum going during the post-season tournament trail and control the 'controllables,'" continued Reynolds regarding this weekend's Northwest Regionals.

— Hickory's Nick Clepper was chosen as District 10 Coach of the Year, while the Hornets' Jim Funk earned D-10 Assistant Coach of the Year laurels.

"That award is not just for me; there's a lot of people that went into makin' that award," Clepper confided, admitting, "I'm honored, but that's a program-type award. ... I'm super-excited, I don't want to come off like I'm not. But there's so much that goes into that award. I've got great parents, I've got awesome kids.

"But my feeder club — my elementary coaches (Drew Perman, James Phillips, Adam Darby) and my junior high coaches (Dave Morris, Justin Walter, Dustin Winkle) — get that award just as much as I do,' Clepper emphasized. "I'm only gonna be as good as our feeder program, and I'm really blessed that my elementary and my junior high coaches are really puttin' in the time and the effort that is makin' this happen at the high school level.

"That award definitely gets shared with a lot of people," Clepper continued. "I'm so excited! But, man, if these guys don't put in that work ... it doesn't translate. You're gonna get a few good kids, but when you get a good group like this group, (the feeder program coaches) have some involvement in this, for sure."

Clepper's confidence continues to climb for his contingent. His Hornets placed 3rd behind Reynolds and Fort LeBoeuf in last weekend's team standings.

"We wrestled really well. I left there happy, but I felt there was a few matches where we kind've left it out there," Clepper confided.

"Right now, we're still havin' a lot of fun, I'm confident with these guys because of the way that they train every day — that's the biggest thing; the way that they come in, focused and ready to go. It's a 'war zone' in our (wrestling) room every day, and that's what every coach dreams of havin', and we're just havin' fun.

"We're just excited!" Clepper continued, citing Timmy Krivosh, Justin O'Neill, Louie and Carter Gill, Saylor and Cody Miller. "The guys wrestled really well (last) weekend, but we've definitely gotta come out and look to be a little more offensive ... that's gonna be the biggest thing goin' into (this) weekend. We think we've gotta be more aggressive, we've gotta really go after the points and put up the points.

"We wrestled great, but we definitely left a few matches out there. We could've gotten ourselves higher on the podium and could've set ourselves up a little bit better comin' into this weekend," Clepper continued.

"But overall, takin' third place, I was really happy, really pleased with the boys (last) weekend. We're gonna put our nose to the grindstone and get back to work, because we're lookin' to get everybody out to that Super Regional."

Entering the Northwest Regionals Saturday at Sharon High, Clepper regards Reynolds as " ... the number one team, I'd say — they're right at the top. They're takin' seven guys out (from the D-10 Championships), and they had, what, six guys in the Finals? So they're wrestling well, too. I think we could wrestle well and put up a lot of points ... Fort LeBoeuf, also; they should be able to do the same thing. They've got a pile of kids goin' to the regional tournament, and they've got some really, really tough young kids on that team. It really showed (last) weekend. ... they're just like us — young, scrappy and tough.

"I'm confident because these (Hickory) kids are puttin' in the work and they're doin' the right things every day," Clepper continued. "It is a wrestling match, and anything could happen. But nothing's changed since we were at sections. This weekend it's one-through-three (places that advance to the Super Regions). It doesn't matter if you're first or you're third, but we've gotta get to next weekend.

"Sometimes as a coach you don't know if you've got the accomplished kid, but this year, man, I feel good about these kids, the way that they practice, the mind-set goin' in. My biggest thing with them this week is we've gotta open it up a little bit more. We've just gotta wrestle to put up the points whenever we can, and don't hold back nothin'." Clepper concluded.

ED FARRELL is assistant sports editor for The Herald. E-mail him at efarrell@sharonherald.com.