This year’s Powerade Christmas Wrestling Tournament has taken some hits.
Blair Academy, one of the powerhouse programs in the country, will not return to defend its title.
Solomon Chishko, a defending state champion from host Canon-McMillan High School, had arthroscopic knee surgery last week and is expected to miss about a month. That means an expected 145-pound final that pits Chishko against Kittanning’s two-time state champion Jason Nolf won’t happen.
Those losses don’t mean the tournament, which gets under way Friday in the C-M gymnasium, won’t have star power or great matches.
Fans can expect to see arguably the best wrestling program in the state in Franklin Regional and arguably the best high school wrestler since Cary Kolat when Chance Marsteller of Kennard Dale goes for his fourth straight title. Burell, which has won the past seven WPIAL Class AA Team Tournament titles and is one of the most prolific programs in the state, will go up against its strongest competition to date.
C-M’s Dalton Macri, a state runner-up last season, and Brendan Price, a state qualifier last year; and Waynesburg’s A.C. Headlee, fresh from a third-place finish in the Beast of the East Tournament, will add local flavor.
First-round action begins 8:30 a.m., Friday with quarterfinals at 7:30 p.m. Semifinals are at 11:30 a.m. Saturday, followed by consolation finals at 5 p.m. and finals at 7:30 p.m.
“There are a lot of good teams (in this tournament),” said Frank Vulcano, tournament director. “Blair decided to go somewhere else, but we have three teams from Georgia (Buford, Collins Hill and Pope) that were the top teams in their region.”
Chishko had the meniscus in his right knee removed after reaggravating it in the semifinals of the Ironman tournament two weeks ago. He should return mid-January. Chishko missed the regular season last year with a fractured elbow sustained in the preseason Super 32 tournament. He went on to win 11 straight matches, including the 145-pound title in Hershey.
Macri helped the Big Macs win the PIAA Team Tournament title at the individual championships in Hershey by finishing second to Sam Krivus of Hempfield, which also is in the Powerade event. Krivus has been wrestling at 132, a weight higher than Macri.
“Dalton is going to be a top contender,” said C-M head coach Jason Cardillo. “Price was a state qualifier, and he wants to finish higher (than seventh last year). We’re looking for three, four, five placewinners.”
There also will be some interesting developments with other programs. Franklin Regional recently got Devin Brown eligible to wrestle after transferring from Saegertown. Brown and Spencer Lee, considered the top freshman wrestler in the country, transferred from Saegertown to Franklin Regional. Saegertown did not challenge Lee’s transfer – his father got a job at Carnegie Mellon – but it did challenge Brown’s transfer. The WPIAL ruled Brown ineligible for transferring in part for athletic reasons, but the PIAA reversed the WPIAL decision. Both teams are in Powerade.
Lee won the 113-pound weight class in Ironman and joins a lineup the includes Brown, a 106-pounder; Tyler Smith, a defending PIAA champion; Michael Kemerer, who lost to Connor Schram in the 126-pound state finals last season; and Josh Maruca and Josh Shields, who were fifth and third, respectively, in Hershey last season.
Returning to defend their titles are Luke Pletcher (106) and Zach Zavatsky (160) of Latrobe, Ethan Lizak (113) of Parkland, Nolf (132), Shields (145) and Marsteller (170).
Other local teams are Chartiers-Houston, Peters Township and Waynesburg.
Follow the action on Twitter: @JosephGTuscano