At this point last season, Washington’s wrestling team was preparing for the section tournaments while the whispers of the program’s demise circulated through the high school hallways.
After the season, the Washington School Board attempted to cut wrestling, tennis and boys soccer to save money. The programs were saved when an outpouring of emotion from supporters at the meetings, especially for tradition-rich wrestling, swayed the school board to keep all three sports for at least another season.
Washington will enter the Section 2-AA Tournament at Charleroi Saturday without the possible termination of the program hanging over the heads of the wrestlers. All that matters is the wrestling, and head coach Josh Barrette is looking forward to this part of the postseason.
“As the season has gone on, the kids are coming into their own,” Barrette said. “I think the future of the program is pretty bright. People are paying attention to us. We’re drawing more people to our matches, and there is definitely excitement that wasn’t there before.”
The Section 1 tournament will be held at Chartiers-Houston and Section 3 at Avonworth. Action gets under way at 10 a.m. with the finals at 6 p.m. at all three sites.
The Prexies will enter 10 wrestlers, including George Rogers, a 145-pound junior who is 17-8; Kurt Adkins, a 120-pound freshman who is 14-10; Shawn Hughes, a 160-pound junior who is 11-8; Elijah Ellerman, one of just two seniors who is 9-10 at 170 pounds; and Elijah Jones, the other senior who has a 5-1 record at heavyweight in his first season of wrestling.
“Kurt Adkins is doing a nice job,” Barrette said. “He’s been wrestling for a long time, and he has a feel for the competition. And we have kids like George and Shawn and Elijah Ellerman, who are pushing themselves.”
That doesn’t mean all the hurdles are cleared. The Prexies won one more dual meet than last season and have a 3-6 record. They are still forfeiting between four and six bouts a match, and the junior high program is still club status.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” Barrette said, “but we are on the right track.”
The numbers are nearly double from last year’s junior high team, and Barrette feels the chances are good he can field most, if not all, the weights next season because he loses only two starters.
His focus now is on the section tournament.
“Records are records,” said Barrette. “Once you get into the section, there is not much finagling. George has to wrestle hard, Kurt has to wrestle hard. They all have to wrestle hard (to advance).”
Rogers advanced to the Southwest Region Tournament last season and went 1-2. He has a 65-29 career record and is probably the best shot to advance.
“He’s run into tougher competition,” said Barrette. “He’s had good practices of late.”
The top seeds in the tournament are spread out among seven teams. West Greene, Beth-Center and Mt. Pleasant each have three; Southmoreland two and Bentworth, Charleroi and Jefferson-Morgan one apiece.
Local top-seeded wrestlers include Zach Swarrow (113), Matt Riggle (152) and Nico Brown (160) for Beth-Center; Wade Blackmon (132), Matt Johnston (145) and Cody Jacobs (220) of West Greene; Vince Vahaly (126) of Bentworth; Nick Gavazzi (138) of Charleroi and Dustin Conti (170) of Jefferson-Morgan.
In Section 1, South Fayette has three top seeds in Seth Carr (113), Jared Walker (160) and Mike Fetchet (170) as does Chartiers-Houston in Tanner Sutton (145), Jimmy Saieva (182) and Garrett Vulcano (195). Burgettstown’s Austin McDermitt (106) and Avella’s Jake Temple (220) are the other local No. 1 seeds.