Someday, Hunter Neely might have a future in politics, because he is just as effective on the left as he is on the right.
The 106-pound sophomore from Bentworth High School has carved out a strong wrestling season in part because he can work his moves on either side of an opponent. That’s difficult for a wrestler, but an essential part of Neely’s success.
“He is very talented,” said Bentworth head coach Mike Shrader. “He can do his moves from both sides, and not many wrestlers can do that. He can hit a high-crotch, a duck under, a lot of things from both sides. He’s really fast, and wrestlers can’t stop him.”
They will get their chance Saturday in the Section 2 Tournament at Charleroi, one of three in Class AA and the starting point of the individual postseason for the WPIAL.
The other sites are Chartiers-Houston for Section 1 and Avonworth for Section 3. Action begins at 11 a.m. and finals are at 6 p.m. for the one-day event. The top five wrestlers in each weight class advance to the WPIAL Championships at Chartiers Valley High School Feb. 21-22.
Class AAA begins its section tournaments next week at four separate sites.
Neely opens this event as the top seed at 106 and brings a 25-3 record into the tournament. He credits his style for much of that success.
“I can work both sides of the body,” said Neely. “I change it up a little.”
Neely will wrestle the winner of the preliminary-round bout between Joey Chapman, a freshman from West Greene with a 7-13 record, and Carter Riskey, a freshman from Charleroi who is 6-8.
“I’m just glad we finally start to amp things up (for the postseason),” Neely said.
If the seedings are accurate, Neely will wrestle sophomore Cole Lambie of Southmoreland, the No. 2 seed at 27-6, in the finals. The two met in a consolation round of the Southmoreland Tournament and Neely won a wild 15-11 decision in overtime.
“(Hunter) had a little bit of a lead, but Lambie made a comeback,” said Shrader. “He caught Hunter for a couple backpoints. Give Lambie credit. He doesn’t quit.”
Neely hit a hip toss in overtime to put the win away.
“I figured I would run into him again,” said Neely.
Neely is inspired this year, hoping to make up for a disappointing end to last season. His seventh-place finish in the WPIAL put him against Jonathan Gabriel of Northern Bedford in the first round of the PIAA Southwest Region Tournament. He lost a 6-0 decision, then was eliminated with a 6-2 loss to David Wiles of Marion Center in the consolations.
“I had a tough kid in the first round,” Neely said, “but I should have won the second match.”
To that end, Neely has worked on some of the weaker parts of his wrestling to avoid those disappointments.
“My conditioning has improved,” he said. “I’ve been working on that in practice a lot. I’ve been doing a lot of running and a lot of live wrestling.”
Neely is one of five Bearcats seeded high. Three of the others – Jake Rothka (2nd at 120), Matt Vickless (3rd at 126) and Ty Mitchell (2nd at 132) – are workout partners.
“That helps,” Shrader said. “Rothka was eighth in the state last year, and Vickless is a four-year starter. They help each other. … We’re as prepared as we could be.”