Mike Lesko sees it, so does Brendan Howard, though it might have taken him a little longer to recognize it.
Howard, the talented 113-pound wrestler for Jefferson-Morgan High School, has taken a major step forward this season, and it does not have that much to do with moves, technique or strategy.
“He’s maturing,” said Lesko, the Rockets’ head coach who was in the corner when Howard won his weight class in the Southmoreland Tournament with a 4-2 decision over Austin Griffiths of Southmoreland.
“You can see the confidence is there. He thinks he’s the best. That’s just maturity.”
Howard has not exactly been struggling through his freshman and sophomore seasons. He is coming off a 40-win season that got him to the state tournament. Many see potential for even better results, including Howard.
“I wasn’t happy going 0-2 at states,” he said. “I’m trying to push the action more this year. I’m trying to score more points.”
Howard will be part of a talented Jefferson-Morgan team that is one of the favorites to win the Tri-CADA Wrestling Tournament, which gets under way Friday at Ringgold High School. The first round begins at 4:30 p.m. Semifinals are at 10:30 a.m. Saturday and the finals are 2:30 p.m.
Howard has a 14-1 record, the only blemish a 3-0 loss to Gage Curry of North Hills. He will be competing in a strong weight class in the tournament, which could include Brendan Price of Canon-McMillan, Doug Gudenburr of Ringgold, Gage Nicolella of McGuffey and Tristan Buxton of Trinity.
“I was second there the last two seasons,” he said. “I know I’ll wrestle some tough kids. I’m just hoping this is my year.”
Howard is closing in on his 100th career victory. He has 92 and could leave the Tri-CADA tournament at 96. With a year and a half remaining, Howard has a chance to challenge Dustin Conti’s school record of 140 career wins.
“There is no defense in this kid,” Lesko said. “It’s all offense. I think that has turned the tide for Brendan. Names (of opponents) don’t matter to him. He knows he has to pick it up for us, and he has. We need (pins) from him.”
One of the names Howard has to be thinking about is Griffiths. Last season, the two were in the same weight class with Burgettstown’s Austin McDermitt, making it one of the best in WPIAL Class AA.
Howard lost a 4-0 decision in the Section 2 finals in the only meeting last season. Howard kept running into McDermitt, which he failed to beat the final three times they wrestled. Stopping Griffiths in this year’s Southmoreland Tournament was a boost.
“He always keeps it close,” Howard said. “He’s a smart wrestler.”
But it was Howard who got the first takedown, and the second to take a 4-1 lead after one period. Griffiths could manage only an escape the rest of the way.
“He mat awareness is so much better,” Lesko said. “He’s making them wrestle his match. That makes him harder to beat.”
Match For A Marine
The second Match For A Marine will be held Wednesday when Peters Township hosts Bethel Park Wednesday in Section 2-B.
All proceeds from the event, including admissions and concession sales, will be donated to a charitable organization that has been set up by the local VFW to directly benefit Marine Sgt. Doug Vitale.
Vitale, who wrestled for Kiski, was seriously injured while on patrol in Afghanistan, losing both legs and suffering multiple strokes. He is going through rehabilitation in Peters Township. Tunnel to Towers Foundation and The Gary Sinese Foundation are helping to build a home for the young couple that will accommodate his needs.
The Peters Township Dance Team, PT School District, VFW Post 764 and the Pittsburgh Leather Neck Detachment have supported the event. The goal is to have 1,000 people attend the match and raise $5,000 for the Vitale family. Last year, the event raised $29,000.
The Observer-Reporter Wrestling Rankings appear in the Scoreboard section on Page B2.
Franklin Regional remains the top team in Class AAA but Jefferson-Morgan replaces Burrell as the No. 1 Class AA team.
The rankings will be updated each week until the individual tournaments. Get even more information at www.joesmatmatters.blogspot.com.
The sites for the Feb. 15 section tournaments in Class AA are Chartiers-Houston (Section 1), Charleroi (Section 2) and Avonworth (Section 3). Start times for Avonworth is 11 a.m. and the other two are 10 a.m.
The sites for the Feb. 22 section tournaments in Class AAA are Gateway (Section 1), Baldwin (Section 2), Fox Chapel (Section 3) and Moon (Section 4). Start times are 9:30 a.m. for each site.
The WPIAL Class AA Championships will be held Feb. 21-22 at Chartiers Valley. The Class AAA event will be held Feb. 27-28 and March 1 at Canon-McMillan.
The PIAA Class AA Southwest Region Tournament is scheduled for the War Memorial in Johnstown Feb. 28 and March 1. The state championships are March 6-8 at the Giant Center in Hershey.