December 3, 2014 12:00 AM
By Ken Wunderley / Tri-State Sports & News Service
District high school wrestling has gained much respect nationally.
Various amateur wrestling magazines and websites compile national high school rankings before and during the scholastic season.
The rankings of teams and individuals vary from month to month, but one thing is clear with the preseason rankings: The WPIAL is as strong as it has ever been.
Flowrestling.org has nine WPIAL wrestlers ranked among the top five in the country in their weight classes, including three ranked No. 1 and two ranked No. 2. The top-ranked trio comprises Franklin Regional sophomore Spencer Lee at 113 pounds, Latrobe junior Luke Pletcher at 132 and Central Catholic senior Vincenzo Joseph at 145.
Lee posted a 49-0 record as a 113-pound freshman and claimed a PIAA Class AAA title. He also won a FILA Cadet World title this summer.
Lee has been touted as one of, if not the top sophomore in the country.
Pletcher (84-2 career) has won back-to-back PIAA Class AAA titles, the most recent coming at 120 pounds. Joseph (105-20), a Penn State recruit, won a PIAA Class AAA title at 145 last season.
“The WPIAL had eight wrestlers win PIAA titles and four silver medalists [in Class AAA] last season at Hershey,” Latrobe coach Tad Harbert said. “Five of the champs and three of the runners-up are back.”
The No. 2-ranked wrestlers from the WPIAL are Waynesburg senior A.C. Headlee at 132 and Hempfield senior Sam Krivus at 138.
Headlee (122-15), a University of North Carolina recruit, is a two-time PIAA place-winner.
Krivus (126-12), a Virginia recruit, is a three-time PIAA place-winner and one-time champ.
The No. 3-ranked wrestlers from the WPIAL are Jefferson-Morgan freshman Gavin Teasdale at 106, Franklin Regional senior Devin Brown at 113 and Franklin Regional senior Michael Kemerer at 145.
Teasdale is making his varsity debut after winning a FILA Cadet National title this summer. Brown (127-10), a West Virginia recruit, is a two-time PIAA champion, one in each class. Kemerer (120-10), an Iowa recruit, is a three-time PIAA Class AAA runner-up.
Lee and Brown are ranked at 113, but one will compete at 120 in the postseason tournaments. Lee, Brown and Kemerer are among five Franklin Regional wrestlers ranked among the top 10 nationally. The others are senior Josh Shields (122-18), fifth at 160, and senior Josh Maruca (120-21), eighth at 152. Shields and Maruca are Arizona State recruits.
Others ranked among the top 10 in their weight classes are Belle Vernon sophomore Jarod Verkleeren (21-6), sixth at 138; Penn-Trafford sophomore Cameron Coy (39-5), seventh at 138; and South Fayette senior Jared Walker (113-26), ninth at 170. Walker, a Kent State recruit, is a three-time WPIAL Class AA champion.
Franklin Regional at No. 1
With five wrestlers ranked in the top 10, it’s no surprise Franklin Regional is the preseason favorite in the WPIAL and the PIAA. The Panthers (23-1) won WPIAL and PIAA team tournament titles, then captured the team title at the PIAA individual tournament and finished the 2013-2014 season ranked No. 8 in the country by Flowrestling.org.
Franklin Regional is ranked No. 1 in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s WPIAL Class AAA preseason rankings and No. 9 in the national rankings. The Panthers are favored to repeat in all three tournaments, but hitting the trifecta a second time will be even tougher as four-time PIAA Class AA champion Bethlehem Catholic has moved up in classification.
“Our goal is to defend all three titles, but it will not be easy,” Franklin Regional coach Eric Mausser said. “We’re looking forward to the challenge.”
Franklin Regional must replace four starters who graduated, but seven starters who had 20 or more wins return. Belle Vernon and Latrobe are No. 2 and No. 3 in the WPIAL preseason rankings.