The optimum number for Bentworth High School’s wrestling team is nine.
That’s the number of wrestlers the Bearcats brought into last week’s WPIAL Section 2 Tournament.
That’s also the number of wrestlers that advanced to the WPIAL Class AA Championships, which gets under way at 5:30 tonight at Chartiers Valley High School.
The Bearcats are optimistic they can have another strong showing in the two-day event. Semifinals are at 11:30 a.m. Saturday, and the finals are at 7 p.m.
Bentworth is a team that spent the regular season under most people’s radar. The Bearcats were not in many preseason rankings but made a steady progression through the season.
That progression continued last week.
“We only brought nine,” said Mike Shrader, the Bearcats’ head coach. “This team has been a surprise, because we didn’t know what we had coming through the middle of the lineup. We knew we were going to be good down below, and we knew we were going to be good at 220 and heavyweight. Just being able to fill the weights really helped us this year because it allowed us to bump people up.”
As in any of these postseason tournaments, the goal for the Bearcats is to advance in as many weight classes as possible. The top seven in each weight class of the WPIAL Championships move on to the Southwest Region Tournament March 1-2 at the War Memorial in Johnstown.
From there, the top five advance to the PIAA Championships at the Giant Center in Hershey.
“I think we can take six, maybe seven (to regionals),” said Shrader. “I like to have lofty goals. I think they all can make it, but the brackets are difficult.”
The Bearcats do not have a top seed in the tournament, but opponents who take that as a sign of weakness do so at their own peril.
The nine Bentworth wrestlers have a combined 217-91 record, and one, junior Jake Rothka (113), is a 31-match winner and just eight wins away from 100 for his career. Three others – freshman Hunter Neely (106), junior Matt Vickless (120) and senior Vince Vahaly (126) – each have 26 wins. Vahaly came within one victory of qualifying for the state tournament last season. He finished at 43-8 and has 133 career victories.
“He’s one of our leaders,” Shrader said. “He’s had a good season.”
Wood tied Rothka in wins last year at 33 and appears headed for another 30-plus win season.
“He comes in, doesn’t complain and works hard,” Shrader said. “He doesn’t get a lot of credit, but he and Vickless go at each other every day. He fills one of our leadership roles.”
Wood and Rothka want to change their 0-2 performance in the regional tournament, and Vickless and Fordyce hope to do better than 1-2.
“Rothka worked out at our open gym before the season,” said Shrader. “He’s been improving all season.”
The top seeds for the WPIAL Championships are Austin Griffiths (106) and Jacob Beistel (Hvy) of Southmoreland at 106, George Phillippi (113) of Derry, Nathan Reckner (120) and Connor Payne (160) of South Side Beaver, Patrick Dewitt (126) of Valley, Jason Nolf (132) of Kittanning, Nick Gavazzi (138) of Charleroi, Tanner Sutton (145) and Garrett Vulcano (195) of Chartiers-Houston, Boe Bonzo (152) of Freedom, Dustin Conti (170) of Jefferson-Morgan, Dakota DesLauriers (182) of Burrell and Jake Temple (220) of Avella.