Teams converge on Panther Classic for final tune-up before state


Panther Classic Wrestling Invite

With the sectional wrestling tournaments a week away many teams
will try to get in one last set of tough matches this weekend in
preparation for the long journey to the state tournament in Columbus. Schools in southeast and eastern Ohio will get their final fix Saturday at the Panther Classic wrestling invite
at Rayland Buckeye Local High School. Eighteen teams will compete in
the final tune-up, which starts at 9 a.m.

With the sectional wrestling tournaments a week away many teams
will try to get in one last set of tough matches this weekend in
preparation for the long journey to the state tournament in Columbus.

Schools in southeast and eastern Ohio will get their final fix Saturday
at the Panther Classic wrestling invite
at Rayland Buckeye Local High School. Eighteen teams will compete in
the final tune-up, which starts at 9 a.m.

“We try to get some different competition in this tournament,” said Buckeye Local assistant principal and former wrestling coach Gus Hanson. “You don't want to wrestle the same schools you'll see in the sectionals and you've seen all year.”

Hanson's idea is to help each team that has entered stay away from the competition they'll be seeing in the future. To do this, Hanson has attempted to pull in schools from Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

“The teams we pull in offer a lot of competition and lets kids see a different style of wrestling before the states come around,” Hanson said.

The Buckeye State is traditionally known for wrestling well on their feet while Pennsylvania is more known for its hard-nosed wrestling on the mat. West Virginia, on the other hand, is a combination of both states.

The field will be fueled by 16 state qualifiers scattered throughout the pools in the one-day tournament.

“We don't necessarily go out looking for teams with state qualifiers or placers when we plan this tournament,” Hanson said. “We have most of the teams a year in advance and try to fill the tournament with strong teams not great individual guys. This year we are fortunate to have those 16 high caliber guys wrestling.”

The 18-teams competing — Buckeye Local, Avella (Pa.), Beaver Local, St. John Central, Bethlehem Center (Pa.), Bridgeport, Canal Winchester, Edison Local, Harrison Central,Martins Ferry, Plum (Pa.), Steubenville, Steubenville Catholic, Steel Valley (Pa.),Wellsville, Weirton Madonna (W.Va.), West Mifflin (Pa) and Wheeling Central (W.Va.)– will use the Panther Classic to springboard into their respected sectional and regional tournament.

In depth breakdowns of each weight class:

At 103-pounds, Wheeling Central's Kyle Bauer (22-2) has set the pace for the majority of the season for the Knights' mat program. The freshman grapplers reigns as No. 1 seed after picking up a silver finish at the Ron Mauck OVAC tournament. The No. 2 seed will be Harrison Central's Darin Heavin, a fellow freshman. Bauer will have the upper hand in the tournament as he already handed Heavin a tech fall in the second period of their OVAC semifinals match.

At 112-pounds, the top three seeds have all made themselves known on the 2008 Brakeman report in Ohio and will give a show this weekend. Arizona Miller (25-2) of Beaver Local, Taylor Yoder (27-1) of Martins Ferry and Cody Wiltshire (25-10) of Buckeye Local will enter the tournaments as the top seeds in their respected weight class. Miller and Yoder's potential collision would make an OVAC championship rematch as Miller snuck away with the initial victory 2-1.

At 119-pounds, Beaver Local's Mitch Thompson took the top seed over Dom Boyle-Pietropoal of Plum (Pa.). Thompson, currently ninth in Division II on the Brakeman, enters the tournament with a 18-7 ledger while the No. 2 seed Boyle-Pietropoal brings in a 20-4 marking. Taking the No. 3 seed is Buckeye Local's Mike Kendjorski.

At 125-pounds, West Mifflin's Sam Sherlock and Harrison Central's Nick Risdon have claimed the top seeds. Sherlock, currently ranked No. 1 in the February WPIAL Class AAA rankings, enter the weekend with 21-1 marking while Risdon, ranked 22 in the recent Brakeman Report, has posted a 29-4 ledger for the season.

At 130-pounds, a pair of Pennsylvania grapplers are on top of the brackets with Plum's Zach Zummo and Avella's Mitch Spencer. Zummo, top ranked in the WPIAL, has accumulated 25 wins on the season with only one black mark on his record. Zummo was a state qualifiers in 2007 at 119-pounds and took seventh in 2006 at 103-pounds. Spencer enters the Panther Classic with a 21-1 ledger.

At 135-pounds, all eyes will be on undefeated Andy Stine of Edison. The OVAC Champion took the top seed over St. John Central's Shane Foster (25-1) while Wellsville's Matt Flannigan (25-8) and Steubenville's Angelo Iachini (25-8) were close behind in the seeding process.

At 140-pounds, Buckeye Local's Mike Slaga (29-3) is looking take a hold of a great opportunity as No. 1 seed as he will have no state qualifiers to compete with in his weight class. But the competition will still won't be easy as No. 2 seed Chris Brancker of Edison will be prepared to battle for a title.

In separate parts of the bracket in the Ron Mauck OVAC Tournament, Slaga faced an early exit being knocked out of the tournament by a non-seeded wrestler as Brancker went on to take fourth place. However, at the No. 4 seed Brancker could toe the line with Harrison Central's Rob Eddy who beat him in that last match at the WesBanco Arena.

At 145-pounds, three high caliber wrestlers from three states will set the tone on the mat as James Fleming (21-0) of West Mifflin (Pa.), Max Nogay of Weirton Madonna and Nick Stine of Edison all are all packaged together in pool competition.

Fleming, a top ranked WPIAL grappler, placed third at 140-pounds and sixth at 135-pounds in the past two Pennsylvania state tournaments and has not lost a match yet this season. Nogay (26-6) placed fourth in the West Virginia state tournament last season while Stine (33-2) picked up his first individual OVAC title this season.

At 152-pounds, St. John Central's Zach Kosky takes the top seed over Chris Stay of Beth-Center (Pa.). Kosky, a returning Ohio Division III state place winner, enter the tournament with a 23-3 marking while Stay, a returning state qualifier, as accumulated a 15-3 record on the season.

At 160-pounds, this weight class may showcase the best two wrestlers in the tournament as Bridgeport's Bryan Skoff and Beaver Local's Jon Bittinger will likely collide in the finals. Skoff, who beat Bittinger 8-4 in the OVAC finals a few weeks ago, continues to rack up the accolades on the season as he enters the tournament undefeated and third on the Division III Brakeman Report.

Bittinger's success has been similar to Skoff's winning every tournament except the OVAC where Skoff gave him his only loss of the season. Bittinger also currently sits at third on the Brakeman Report, but his ranking is in Division II standings.

At 171-pounds, Ian Howell (28-3) of Harrison Central, Nathan Tope (28-7) of Canal Winchester and Chase Tucker (19-6) of Martins Ferry all are battling for gold.

Neither of the three are returning state qualifiers, but all are capable of winning this weekend's one-day battle. Tucker finished second in the recent OVAC tournament while Howell was knocked off semis and had to settle for a bronze finish.

At 189-pounds, Steubenville's Mark Markakis, who was an unknown grappler to start the season, has stolen the No. 1 seed entering the tournament, but has already proven that seeds don't always mean you are the better wrestler. Markakis (25-2), the top seed in this year's OVAC tournament, fell short against Martins Ferry's Matt Shreve 4-3 and went on to drop his next match to not place.

Other ranked OVAC grapplers showcased in this weight are Beaver Local's Devon Ludwig (25-3), 5th place OVAC finisher; Ryan Crabtree (29-6) of Wellsville, 8th place OVAC finisher; Jake Mallernee (20-7) of Harrison Central and Shreve (16-6) of Martins Ferry, 2nd place OVAC finisher.

At 215-pounds, Steubenville's Branko Busick (23-1) takes top seed over city rival Zac Costlow (23-2) of Catholic Central. Busick picked up his first OVAC title this season and currently sits at seventh on the Brakeman Report while Costlow was sixth at the OVAC.

At 285-pounds, Beaver Local's Derek Wolfe's dominance in his senior campaign has landed him the No. 1 seed this weekend. The Cincinnati football recruit enters the weekend with a 20-1 ledger and an individual OVAC title.

The No. 2 and No. 3 seeds are Steubenvill'e Ryan Dugan (23-5) and Bridgeport's Sean West (30-8).

Cook can be reached at

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