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Mitch Rupert on wrestling: Montoursville’s Cael Crebs lived up to all the expectations his senior season

FRANK DIMON/Sun-Gazette Correspondent Montoursville’s Cael Crebs, center, celebrates after he won the PIAA Class AA championship at 189 pounds. Crebs was named the Sun-Gazette Wrestler of the Year.

Cael Crebs wasn’t used to being the favorite when he stepped on the wrestling mat. For the first three years of his Montoursville wrestling career, he was never expected to be the one competing for a state championship.

But in his final season, the winds shifted. With each match he wrestled, Crebs not only established himself as the favorite, he separated from the rest of the field. It was a burden to bear, but one Crebs was happy to carry. It meant he was on the right track.

A state championship has always been the goal and it had always seemed to elude his wrestling-crazed family. His father, Roger, the longtime wrestling coach at Lycoming College, was a state third-place finisher at Lewisburg in 1982. His brother, Gable, was a state seventh-place finisher for Montoursville in 2019.

Crebs broke through the glass ceiling for the entire family. He fulfilled the burden of being the favorite with one official’s slap of the Giant Center mat in Hershey last month. When Crebs pinned Sheffield’s Ethan Finch, he became a state champion.

“I got one over the big man now,” Crebs said. “That’s absolutely the most important thing.”

Crebs lived up to all the expectations in his final season at Montoursville. The one loss on his resume was far more surprising than any of the 34 wins. And for his performance, Crebs has been named the Sun-Gazette’s Wrestler of the Year. He is the seventh consecutive Montoursville wrestler to earn Wrestler of the Year honors, joining Cameron Wood (2020), Gable Crebs (2019), Gavin Hoffman (2018, 2017, 2016) and Garrett Hoffman (2015).

Crebs only loss of the season came at the prestigious Powerade tournament, the only individual tournament held in the state this year. It was a surprising loss in the early rounds of the 189-pound tournament. And it was a loss which stuck with Crebs throughout the season.

It didn’t matter he stormed through the consolation bracket beating returning state placewinner Patrick Cutchember, returning state placewinner Brayden Roscosky, and former state finalist Trent Schultheis. What he remembered most was the 6-0 loss to Malvern Prep’s Caden Rogers, the son of Franklin & Marshall wrestling coach and Lock Haven graduate Mike Rogers.

“Nobody likes to lose, nobody wants to take third,” Crebs said after winning the District 4 title. “I had some things I had to fix on my feet and some bottom stuff. Being able to see where I am on that stage is nice.”

Following the Powerade, Crebs won his final 19 matches of the season. Thirteen of those wins came with bonus points, with 10 of them by fall, including in the state final.

But the win in the state final was more than just a gold-medal winning victory. It secured Montoursville’s second consecutive runner-up finish in the team race. Even with only three wrestlers in the tournament, the Warriors got a title from Crebs, a runner-up finish from Dylan Bennett, and a third-place finish from Branden Wentzel to edge Burrell by one point for second place behind Notre Dame-Green Pond.

But it was Crebs’ win in the final which set off a wild celebration, first as he jumped on and hugged Montoursville coach Matt Yonkin. Then as he raced into the stands to hug Roger and his mom, Tara. A family which has focused so much of its life on wrestling had one dazzling moment to share together as Crebs became the 10th wrestler in school history to win a state title.

“We all know Roger and Tara and the family and they give their life to the sport of wrestling,” Yonkin said. “To see all the hard work pay off, I couldn’t imagine what it means to them. I know what it means to me and it’s probably 100 times more to them. What a way to end a senior year.”

The next step in Crebs’ career will take him to the United States Naval Academy where he’ll continue to compete for former Lock Haven NCAA champion Cary Kolat. It’s something Crebs has been wanting to do his entire life. And after spending a year at the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Rhode Island, he’ll report to Annapolis to help Kolat continue the meteoric rise the Midshipmen have made under his tutelage.

Crebs may begin his career there as an underdog, but don’t expect it to be that way for long.

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.

SUN-GAZETTE WRESTLING ALL-STAR TEAM

WRESTLER OF THE YEAR — CAEL CREBS, MONTOURSVILLE

(189 pounds)

A year ago it took the top-ranked wrestler in the country to keep Cael Crebs out of the state final. But it was evident Crebs had taken a monumental step forward as he finished third at the state tournament in 2020. He dominated former state finalist Trent Schultheis in a pair of meetings. He took the momentum he gained from that junior season and pushed himself to another level. Crebs finished his final season at Montoursville with a 34-1 record. That 34th win came in the state final, pinning Sheffield’s Ethan Finch in the third period to win the state championship and guarantee the Warriors a second-place finish in the team race. His run to a state title pushed him into the top 20 in the national rankings and earned him a spot on Team Pennsylvania for the Pittsburgh Wrestling Classic, joining Gavin Hoffman as the only Montoursville wrestlers to ever be selected for the event.

Runner-up: Dylan Bennett, Montoursville.

BREAKOUT PERFORMER OF THE YEAR — CAEL NASDEO, WILLIAMSPORT

(106 pounds)

How do you really break on to the state scene? Try reaching the finals in your first year in the state tournament. After a freshman season in which he was still a little undersized for 106 pounds, Nasdeo grew into the weight as a sophomore and established himself as one of the best in the state. The sophomore went through the regular season undefeated being held to a decision just one time, a 9-5 win over Jersey Shore state qualifier Brock Weiss. He followed it up with district and regional titles before finishing fourth at the West Super Region. But he found something which worked for him once he got to Hershey. He upset top-ranked Carson Wagner of Northampton in the quarterfinals before putting on a clinic on top in a 12-0 major decision in the semifinals. His eventual second-place finish was the highest finish for a Williamsport wrestler in 26 years. And just for good measure, he went 4-0 in the district and state duals tournaments with four bonus-point wins.

Runner-up: Devon Deem, Montgomery.

FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR — LUKE SIMCOX, CENTRAL MOUNTAIN

(126 pounds)

Maybe the most telling trait of Luke Simcox is that he wasn’t satisfied with finishing fifth in the state despite being the first Central Mountain freshman to place at the state tournament since 2007. No wrestler in the state caught the attention of fans quite like Simcox did at the West Super Region tournament. The freshman opened the tournament by upsetting former state champ Ethan Berginc and followed it by beating state fourth Matt Repos to reach the final. He was about five seconds away from beating state champ Carter Dibert in the final before falling by a couple points. Six of his first 16 career wins came against former state qualifiers, including two on the first day of the season. He also defeated former state runner-up Kole Biscoe in a dual just before the postseason. He added four more wins in the postseason against former state qualifiers, winning district and regional championships.

Runner-up: Conner Harer, Montgomery.

COACH OF THE YEAR — BRIAN NASDEO, WILLIAMSPORT

The climb for the Williamsport program has been meticulous in the seven years Nasdeo has been at the helm. But this was the year the Millionaires burst through like the Kool-Aid Man. Four wrestlers qualified for super regionals. Two of them ended up on the state podium. It was the first time in 26 years Williamsport had multiple state placewinners. His own son, Cael, ended up in the state final, marking the first Millionaire state finalist since the year after Nasdeo graduated from Williamsport. On top of all that, he helped guide the Millionaires to their second consecutive District 4/9 Duals championship after most of the lineup went a month without competing. Williamsport then became the first District 4 Class AAA team to medal at the PIAA Team Wrestling Championships when it finished fourth. But it wasn’t just a successful year for Williamsport, it seemed to also set up the Millionaires for perhaps an even better run in 2021-2022.

Runner-up: Denny Harer, Montgomery.

FIRST TEAM

(Wrestler, school, grade, season record, career record)

106 pounds

Cael Nasdeo, Williamsport, So., 25-3, 51-10

PIAA Class AAA runner-up … West Super Regional fourth place … Northwest Region champion … District 4/9 champion … Became Williamsport’s first state finalist since Matt Mapes in 1995. … Upset top-ranked Carson Wagner of Northampton in the first round of state tournament … Opened season with an 18-match winning streak … Posted bonus points in 20 of 25 wins … Went 15-0 in duals with 14 bonus-point wins … First-time selection.

113 pounds

Bobby Gardner, South Williamsport, Jr., 38-6, 98-19

PIAA Class AA sixth place … East Super Regional third place … Northeast Region third place … District 4 runner-up … Central Section champion … All-Mid-Penn selection … Became South Williamsport’s first state medalist since 2015 … Mounties’ first state semifinalist since Larry Britton in 1965 … Opened the season with 31 consecutive victories … Four of six losses came to state finalists … His 78.9% bonus percentage was highest of his career … First-time selection.

120 pounds

Kaden Majcher, Warrior Run, Sr., 18-4, 78-43

Northeast Region third place … District 4 third place … Central Section runner-up … Lycoming College commit won more than 80% of his matches for the first time in his career … 12 of his 18 victories earned bonus points … Came within one win of reaching the state tournament for the first time in his career … Upset state seventh-place finisher Ethan Kolb of Benton in a dual meet, 7-4 … Three of his four losses came to eventual state placewinners … His 18 wins were a team-high … First-time selection.

126 pounds

Scott Johnson, Muncy, So., 28-5, 69-9

PIAA Class AA runner-up … East Super Region champion … Northeast Region champion … District 4 runner-up … Central Section runner-up … All-Mid-Penn selection … First sophomore state placewinner for Muncy since Troy Hembury in 2011 … Had seven wins against returning state qualifiers … Went 16-2 in dual meets for the Indians … Led Muncy in major decisions and technical falls … Earned bonus points in 20 of his 28 wins … Led Muncy in wins … Two-time selection.

132 pounds

Braden Bower, Williamsport, Jr., 26-5, 62-10

West Super Region fifth place … Northwest Region runner-up … District 4/9 champion … Won 26 matches after missing last year with a shoulder injury … Went 4-0 in district and state duals to help Millionaires finish fourth in state … Defeated state fifth-place finisher Colton Stoneking at state duals … Four of five losses came to eventual state placewinners … His 11 falls were tied for second on the team … His 26 wins were second-most on the team … Two-time selection.

138 pounds

Conner Harer, Montgomery, Fr., 37-4, 37-4

PIAA Class AA fifth place … East Super Region third place … Northeast Region champion … District 4 champion … Central Section champion … First freshman state placewinner in school history … Second in the state with 15 wins by technical fall … Posted 33 bonus-point victories … Opened career with 18 consecutive victories … Had nine falls in under a minute including one in 8 seonds … First-time selection.

145 pounds

Nate Higley, Sullivan County, Sr., 27-2, 138-16

Class AA runner-up … East Super Region runner-up … Northeast Region champion … District 4 champion … North Section champion … George Mason University commit … Mid-Penn Outstanding Wrestler … Sullivan County’s career wins leader with 138 … Only state placewinner and state finalist in school history … Of his 27 wins, 22 earned bonus points … Only losses came to state champion Levi Haines … Had nine wins over state qualifiers … Finished his career 85-2 in the regular season … Had 107 career bonus-point victories … Four-time selection.

152 pounds

Devon Deem, Montgomery, Jr., 36-4, 99-28

PIAA Class AA fourth place … East Super Region champion … Northeast Region runner-up … District 4 champion … Central Section second place … Finished with a career-high 36 wins, 29 for bonus points … Went 24-0 in dual meets to help the Red Raiders finish 23-1 and ranked 12th in the state … His 29 bonus-point wins were second-most on the team … Ranked fifth in District 4 with 36 wins … Three-time selection.

160 pounds

Roman Morrone, Williamsport, Jr., 23-6, 69-36

West Super Region fifth place … Northwest Region runner-up … District 4/9 champion … Wrestled the entire regular season at 160 pounds, going 16-1 before dropping to 152 for postseason … Opened the season with a win over state-ranked Gabriel Belga of Cumberland Valley … His fall against Bellefonte clinched the first state duals win in program history for the Millionaires … Picked up 10 falls … Scored a 6-4 win over Southern Columbia’s Garrett Garcia in a dual … Two-time selection.

172 pounds

Ethan Gush, Muncy, Sr., 21-8, 110-53

PIAA Class AA seventh place … East Super Region fourth place … Northeast Region runner-up … District 4 runner-up … Central Section champion … All-Mid-Penn selection … Twelve of his 21 wins came with bonus points … Defeated two state-ranked wrestlers to win his first section championship … One of nine wrestlers from 2018 state duals medalist team to win 100 career matches … Two-time selection.

189 pounds

Cael Crebs, Montoursville, Sr., 34-1, 137-18

PIAA Class AA champion … East Super Region champion … Northeast Region champion … District 4 champion … Central Sectional champion … Navy commit … Selected for Team Pennsylvania at the Pittsburgh Wrestling Classic … Finished third at Powerade … Twenty-seven of his 34 wins earned bonus points … Earned 16 wins over returning state qualifiers, nine of which were against returning state placewinners … Finished eighth in school history in wins with an 81% bonus rate … Three-time selection.

215 pounds

Dylan Bennett, Montoursville, Sr., 31-2, 141-23

PIAA Class AA runner-up … East Super Region champion … Northeast Region champion … District 4 champion … Central Section champion … Committed to play football at Pitt … Became Montoursville’s second four-time district champion … Seventh in career wins at Montoursville, with 107 bonus-point wins … His 24 falls this year were tied for fourth-most in the state … Finished third at Powerade … Only wrestler in Class AA state tournament to record multiple falls … Had eight wins over returning state qualifiers … Four-time selection.

285 pounds

Caleb Burkhart, Hughesville, Sr., 27-10, 74-29

PIAA Class AA eighth-place … East Super Region fourth place … Northeast Region runner-up … District 4 runner-up … Central Section champion … Hughesville’s first state placewinner since 2015 and heaviest placewinner since 2003 … Earned bonus points in 23 of 27 wins, including 16 falls … Went 18-3 in the regular season with all three losses to state placewinners and two to state finalists … Won at least 23 matches in all three varsity seasons … First-time selection.

Second team

(Wrestler, school, grade, season record, career record)

106: Branden Wentzel, Montoursville, So., 30-4, 76-11

113: Kaden Milheim, Warrior Run, So., 17-4, 35-13

120: Caden Finck, Montgomery, Fr., 27-8, 27-8

126: Luke Simcox, Central Mountain, Fr., 26-5, 26-5

132: Kaiden Wagner, Lewisburg, Jr., 23-5, 90-22

138: Taylor Weaver, Central Mountain, Jr., 20-7, 76-26

145: Riley Bower, Williamsport, Jr., 27-5, 95-21

152: Isaac Cory, Montoursville, Jr., 26-6, 95-30

160: Ty Nixon, Muncy, Jr., 23-6, 55-22

172: Kohen Lehman, North Penn-Liberty, So., 17-8, 34-19

189: Hayden Packer, Jersey Shore, So., 28-8, 63-23

215: Nik Miller, Central Mountain, Sr., 20-9, 61-34

285: Charles Crews, Williamsport, Jr., 15-8, 59-41

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