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Mitch Rupert on wrestling: Muncy’s Johnson knows he belongs in districts

Scott Johnson isn’t into moral victories. They don’t help the Muncy sophomore achieve the goals he has laid out for himself.

If there is a ‘but’ to that thought process, though, it came last Saturday in the Central Sectional final at 126 pounds. He walked away from the 6-4 loss to Benton’s Gable Strickland with a little bit more confidence than he had the last time the two met.

Now, Johnson can go into today’s District 4 Class AA tournament at Williamsport High School knowing he belongs in the most star-studded weight class the tournament has to offer.

“Ever since that match happened in the dual, I wanted to get my redemption,” Johnson said last week. I didn’t just want to have that first match on my record because that’s definitely not where I want to be.”

The first matchup between Strickland and Johnson ended with a 14-5 major decision victory for Strickland, a two-time state fifth-place finisher. Johnson looks back on that late January matchup now knowing exactly what went wrong. He also knows he’s a far better wrestler than the nine-point difference in the bout.

After all, Johnson was a state qualifier as a freshman who won 40 consecutive matches to begin his career. He was a win away from standing on the podium at the state tournament last March, losing only to the tournament’s eventual champion and seventh-place finisher by a combined four points.

But in his first matchup with Strickland, he admits he didn’t cut weight the proper way leading into the dual. It left Johnson lacking any energy following a first period where he trailed by just two points.

So as much as moral victories don’t matter, the 6-4 loss in the section final was proof Johnson was right there with the No. 2-ranked 126-pounder in the state. It was affirmation that when right, he’s as good as anybody in the state.

“I feel really good,” Johnson said. “I don’t want to lose there, and I know I can beat (Strickland). I know I can beat these other kids. I just have to have the confidence to do my moves right.”

Johnson knows what he’s up against this week. He’s one of only three sophomores in the nine-man 126-pound bracket this weekend. But he’s also one of five state-ranked wrestlers in the field. Strickland is ranked second by PA Power Wrestling, Mifflinburg’s Gabe Gramly is ranked third, Southern Columbia’s Kole Biscoe is ranked fifth, Johnson is sixth, and Line Mountain’s Lane Schadel is ranked 25th.

District 4 is the only Class AA district to have four wrestlers ranked in the Top 6 of a weight class in PA Power Wrestling’s state rankings. In fact, at only two other weight classes does a district have even three wrestlers ranked in the Top 6 (District 10 at 106 pounds, and District 7 at 189).

The top five finishers this weekend move on to next weekend’s Northeast Regional tournament where only the Top 3 move into the newly-formed East Super Regional the following week at Martz Hall in Pottsville. So for Johnson, wrestling well last week to re-establish himself as a wrestler to watch in the weight was critical even if only for himself.

“It’s the only thing on my mind right now,” Johnson said. “Those kids are all placers and older than me, so I have to focus. I want to show these guys what I have.”

STATE DUALS ANSWERS

The PIAA provided some clarity to the PIAA Team Wrestling Championships at this week’s Board of Directors meeting. The biggest change is the semifinals and finals will be held at Cumberland Valley High School instead of the Giant Center. Because the semifinals and finals are scheduled for March 27, the Giant Center is already set to host the state basketball finals that day.

The other biggest change is that each district champion will be the only qualifier to the state tournament in both AA and AAA. The first two rounds of the tournament will be wrestled at host sites with regional pairings to keep travel to a minimum prior to the semifinals and finals.

In Class AA, the District 4 champion will face District 11 champion Notre Dame-Green Pond in the quarterfinals at a site and time to be determined. Notre Dame-Green Pond is the top-ranked Class AA team in the state.

In Class AAA, the District 4/9 subregional champion will face the District 6 champion in the state quarterfinals at a site and time to be determined.

WRESTLER OF THE WEEK

Kaiden Wagner, Lewisburg

(132 pounds)

The junior, even as the No. 2 seed, was probably the forgotten man in last week’s South Section 132-pound bracket. He entered the tournament ranked 25th in the state despite being a two-time state qualifier. Midd-West’s Conner Heckman was coming off a huge win over Meadowbrook Christian’s Cade Wirnsberger, and Line Mountain’s Mason Leshock had as impressive a season resume as any 132-pounder in the district this year, including a win over Wagner. But Wagner proved quite the point last Saturday.

He defeated 11th-ranked Heckman, 2-0, in the semifinals and followed it up with a 4-2 win over Leshock to capture his second consecutive section title. Wagner vaulted up to No. 10 in the state rankings this week, and is the second-highest ranked 132-pounder in District 4 behind only Wirnsberger. He’ll have to navigate a tough half of the 132-pound bracket – which features Benton’s Dylan Granahan, Muncy’s Bryce Vollman and Jersey Shore’s Liam Goodrich – today to reach his first district final.

Mitch Rupert covers wrestling for the Sun-Gazette. He can be reached at 570-326-1551, ext. 3129, or by email at mrupert@sungazette.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Mitch_Rupert.

MITCH RUPERT’S DISTRICT PREDICTIONS

DISTRICT 4 CLASS AA

(Top 5 qualify for Northeast Regional)

106: 1. Branden Wentzel, Montoursville; 2. Brock Weiss, Jersey Shore; 3. Chase Burke, Benton; 4. Nolan Baumert, Line Mountain; 5. Jace Gessner, Lewisburg; 6. Blake Sassaman, Danville.

113: 1. Gavin Bradley, Athens; 2. Bobby Gardner, South Williamsport; 3. Kaden Milheim, Warrior Run; 4. Brady Feese, Southern Columbia; 5. Blake Snyder, Montgomery; 6. Joseph Schwenk, Troy.

120: 1. Mason Barvitskie, Southern Columbia; 2. Ethan Kolb, Benton; 3. Caden Finck, Montgomery; 4. Kaden Majcher, Warrior Run; 5. Andrew Johnson, Danville; 6. Aidan Kritzer, Line Mountain.

126: 1. Gabe Gramly, Mifflinburg; 2. Gable Strickland, Benton; 3. Kole Biscoe, Southern Columbia; 4. Scott Johnson, Muncy; 5. Lane Schadel, Line Mountian; 6. Seth Seymour, Troy.

132: 1. Cade Wirnsberger, Meadowbrook Christian; 2. Kaiden Wagner, Lewisburg; 3. Mason Leshock, Line Mountain; 4. Conner Heckman, Midd-West; 5. Bryce Vollman, Muncy; 6. Liam Goodrich, Jersey Shore.

138: 1. Conner Harer, Montgomery; 2. Hayden Ward, Canton; 3. Ian Yoder, Southern Columbia; 4. Logan Bartlett, Lewisburg; 5. Isaac Kester, Central Columbia; 6. Kaden Setzer, Athens.

145: 1. Nate Higley, Sullivan County; 2. Patrick Edmondson, Southern Columbia; 3. Kyler Crawford, Milton; 4. Troy Bingaman, Mifflinburg; 5. Gabe Andrus, Jersey Shore; 6. Hudson Ward, Canton.

152: 1. Isaac Cory, Montoursville; 2. Devon Deem, Montgomery; 3. Bryce Carl, Line Mountain; 4. Troy Johnson, Central Columbia; 5. Brandon Gedman, Southern Columbia; 6. Christopher Bathgate, Athens.

160: 1. Avery Bassett, Midd-West; 2. Nolan Lear, Benton; 3. Ty Nixon, Muncy; 4. Garrett Garcia, Southern Columbia; 5. Riley Parker, Canton; 6. Tyler Bauder, Jersey Shore.

172: 1. Gavin Garcia, Southern Columbia; 2. Ethan Gush, Muncy; 3. Stephen Roeder, Bloomsburg; 4. Colby Springman, Montgomery; 5. Kohen Lehman, North Penn-Liberty; 6. Caden Hagerman, Danville.

189: 1. Cael Crebs, Montoursville; 2. Wes Barnes, Southern Columbia; 3. Jacob Feese, Line Mountain; 4. Hayden Packer, Jersey Shore; 5. Derek Atherton-Ely, Canton; 6. Ben Marino, Montgomery.

215: 1. Dylan Bennett, Montoursville; 2. Zach Poust, Benton; 3. Damon Backes, Mount Carmel; 4. Clay Watkins, Towanda; 5. Mikey Sipps, Williamson; 6. Nathan Rauch, Milton.

285: 1. Emmanuel Ulrich, Mifflinburg; 2. Caleb Burkhart, Hughesville; 3. Kade Sottolano, Williamson; 4. Lee Springman, Jersey Shore; 5. Gunner Treibley, Meadowbrook Christian; 6. Ryan Weidner, Mount Carmel.

DISTRICT 4/9 CLASS AAA

(Top 2 qualify for Northwest Regional)

106: 1. Cael Nasdeo, Williamsport; 2. Dysen Goudl, Punxsutawney; 3. Evan Davis, Clearfield; 4. Isaac Beter, St. Mary’s.

113: 1. Kam Stevenson, DuBois; 2. Luke Segraves, Williamsport; 3. Ryan Gavason, Selinsgrove; 4. Devon Poe, Bradford.

120: 1. Davey Aughenbaugh, DuBois; 2. Devin Harris, Williamsport; 3. James Prosser, Bradford; 4. Leo Martinez, Selinsgrove.

126: 1. Carter Weaver, Williamsport; 2. Nolan Barr, Clearfield; 3. Brendan Orr, DuBois; 4. Trent Turner, Selinsgrove.

132: 1. Braden Bower, Williamsport; 2. Aiden Gaugler, Selinsgrove; 3. Justin Hand, Clearfield; 4. Brett Thompson, Bradford.

138: 1. Chandler Ho, DuBois; 2. Brice Rowan, Punxsutawney; 3. Sylvan Martin, Selinsgrove; 4. Luke Freeland, Clearfield.

145: 1. Riley Bower, Williamsport; 2. Austin Mitchell, DuBois; 3. Karson Kline, Clearfield; 4. Garrett Paradis, Selinsgrove.

152: Roman Morrone, Williamsport; 2. Brady Smith, Punxsutawney; 3. Coltyn Sempko, Shikellamy; 4. Josiah Foss, Selinsgrove.

160: 1. Coy Bastian, Selinsgrove; 2. Drew Balestrini, Shikellamy; 3. Ryan Gildersleeve, DuBois; 4. Kaden Snelick, St. Mary’s.

172: 1. Nick Crisp, St. Mary’s; 2. Sebastian Robinson, Williamsport; 3. Cale Bastian, Selinsgrove; 4. Cartr Chamberlain, Clearfield.

189: 1. Steven Miller, Selinsgrove; 2. Hayden Kovalick, Clearfield; 3. Waylon Wehler, St. Mary’s; 4. Joshua Miller, Punxsutawney.

215: 1. Mark McGonigal, Clearfield; 2. Adam Young, Shikellamy; 3. Ryan Aument, Selinsgrove; 4. Jeremy Garthwaite, St. Mary’s.

285: 1. Nate Schon, Selinsgrove; 2. Oliver Billotte, Clearfield; 3. Charles Crews, Williamsport; 4. Blake VanKirk, Shikellamy.

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