BETHLEHEM — Four Wyoming Valley Conference wrestlers in Class 3A finally reached the summit on Saturday evening at the Northeast Regional Tournament at Liberty High School.
“I didn’t want that same feeling as last year when I lost and came up one point short,” said Hazleton Area’s Carson Kinney, who advanced to the PIAA championships for the first time as a senior after a second-place finish at regionals. “I worked my whole life for this moment. It was there for me to take so I just wrestled my heart out.”
Kinney (195 pounds) is joined by Tunkhannock’s Tommy Traver (132) and Dallas’ Xavier Barber as wrestlers who finally achieved individual goals and qualified for the PIAA Championships at Hershey’s Giant Center beginning Thursday after missing out in previous years.
Kinney’s teammate Jimmy Hoffman is also returning to the state tournament at 132 pounds after his second-place finish.
Kinney, who advanced to the semifinals last year only to lose again after that, won his semifinal bout on Saturday morning to punch his ticket to Hershey. Later in the night in the finals, Kinney faced returning state qualifier from a year ago, Miles Lee from South Philadelphia and dropped an 11-5 decision.
Hoffman, who was state runner-up last year, finished second in the region for the second time in three years. In a thrilling overtime match, Northampton’s KJ Fenstermacher, now a three-time regional champion, was awarded a pin with one second to go in the sudden victory session. This after Hoffman tied up the match at 1-1 with four seconds left in the third period on a penalty point. Fenstermacher was later named Outstanding Wrestler for winning the hyped match between two of the top-ranked wrestlers in the state.
“Obviously he’s upset because he did want to win a regional title. I get that, but in the big picture … Once you get there (to states) all bets are off,” Cougars coach Keith Maurer said. “I don’t think we were Jimmy Hoffman in that match. We didn’t open up on our feet. I think maybe the pressure of both weeks – last week with Traver and this week with KJ – maybe got to him a little. But good. I know Jimmy’s a great kid, and he’ll fight through this and he’ll be a better person for this on Monday.”
Hoffman still had a historic win earlier in the day. When he defeated Bethlehem Catholic’s Jarred Papcsy in the semis, he became just the fifth wrestler ever in the modern era of the Wyoming Valley Conference to be a four-time state qualifier, and the first since Lake-Lehman’s Austin Harry wrapped up his career in 2014.
The others include Meyers’ Joe Rovelli (2001-04), Lake-Lehman’s Jeff Austin (1983-86) and Wyoming Valley West’s John Brennan (1976-79).
Traver, a sophomore, also reached the state-qualifying bout a year ago before coming up short. He dropped his semifinal bout on Saturday morning before bouncing back to get a fall in his next match to secure his first state berth and become the first state-qualifying sophomore for Tunkhannock in school history. Traver’s also the second state qualifier in as many years for the Tigers after breaking a 23-year drought last year.
“After last year, I remember that feeling of losing the blood-round match,” Traver said. “And this year, I was thinking in my mind that feeling I had last year, and it made me wrestle harder to get on top.”
Barber won two matches at the regional tournament in each of his sophomore and junior seasons. But he had problems getting to the next level. But he finally achieved his goal when he defeated Gunner Anglovich from Liberty 4-0 in the semifinals. Barber saw defending state champion Michael Labriola from Bethlehem Catholic in the final and lost by technical fall.
“I know Mikey from wrestling him and I kinda knew what I was getting my hands into. I just went out there and had fun because I’m going to states and it really didn’t matter win or lose, I was just having fun,” said Barber, who has worked out with Labriola on occasion.
Like the devastation of year’s past for this season’s state qualifiers, Barber’s teammate Steven Newell had a heart-breaking performance on Saturday. He lost in the ultimate tiebreaker 2-1 to East Stroudsburg South’s Tyler Delorenzo in the semifinals. The sophomore then dropped the state-qualifying match getting caught and stuck on his back in the second period after holding a lead.
“It’s awful (losing like that) because you have success all year and you get down here where it matters and you just fall short,” Barber said. “But he’s still got two more years and he’s definitely going to be at states the next two years. I have a lot of confidence in that.”
Joining the four WVC standouts in Hershey in Class 3A are a trio of wrestlers from the Lackawanna League in Scranton’s Willie Evanitsky and Jacob Burgette – who were both second-place finishers – and Wallenpaupack’s Tyler Neglia (fourth at 182).
Five other wrestlers from the WVC finished in the top six with Hazleton Area’s Jake Maurer (106, sixth) and Shane Noonan (182, fifth), Coughlin’s Jake Brown (126, sixth) and Newell (160, sixth).