This year's trip to the PIAA Class AAA Northwest Regional Tournament at Altoona High School is a totally different ballgame for Warren's sophomore standout D.J. Fehlman.
Sure, he's a District 10 Class AAA champion for the second straight season, but that's about where the similarities end.
He's another year older and another year wiser. And this time, unlike the 2012 version of Friday and Saturday's event, Fehlman (30-1) won't be the lone Dragon making the trip. Joining him in the NW Regional field will be 195-pound senior Chris McNeal (22-7) and 220-pound sophomore Alex Streich (26-7). Both McNeal and Streich finished second two weeks ago at the D-10 Class AAA Wrestling Championships at Central Tech High School in Erie.
Times Observer file photo by Allen Seybert
Warren 126-pound sophomore D.J. Fehlman, right, wrestles General McLane’s Keller Watkins in the 126-pound finals of the District 10 Class AAA Wrestling Championships Saturday, February 16, at Central Tech High School in Erie. Fehlman won his second straight D-10 title with a 6-4 overtime victory. Fehlman and teammates senior Chris McNeal (195 pounds), junior Dan Henry (182) and sophomore Alex Streich (220) will compete at the PIAA Class AAA Northwest Regional Championships this Friday and Saturday at Altoona High School.
According to Warren wrestling coach Glenn Baldensperger, 182-pound junior Dan Henry (10-8) will also make the trip. Henry finished fifth at the D-10 Tournament, but was moved into the bracket when D-10 second seed Andrew Bradley of McDowell was forced to withdraw with an injury.
"That's great news for Dan," said Baldensperger. "This will give him a great shot to see what the regional level is all about. We're very happy for him."
Fehlman's goals for this weekend have also changed. Last year, he was happy to just be in the NW Regional field with a chance to make it to the PIAA Class AAA Championships in Hershey. He came within an eyelash of advancing to states as a 120-pound freshman last year, losing to Clearfield's Christian Stone, 6-4, in overtime of the third-place match. The top three in each weight class advance to next weekend's PIAA Class AAA Championships.
This year, only a ticket to Hershey will do.
"I've been battling hard all year and think I've put in the work necessary in practice to take that next step," said Fehlman. "I feel like Ive prepared to make it to states. If it doesn't work out, I'm not going to be sad. It's been a great year. But a trip to Hershey would be an ideal way to end this season."
The sophomore - whose career record stands at 63-7 - has also said that having teammates making the trip with him adds to the motivation and a certain kind of comfort level. Wrestling with a clear mind could help push Fehlman over the top.
"I'm just more relaxed because I get to share this experience with a great coach and great teammates," said Fehlman. "I feel like I'm going to wrestle more relaxed. This time around, the spotlight's not all on me and I think it's going to be a very fun experience."
Last season, Fehlman entered the NW Regional Tournament ranked fourth, according to districttenwrestling.com's Rob Coleman's weekly Class AAA rankings. This year, wrestling at 126 pounds, Fehlman is the top ranked wrestler entering the tournament.
"D.J. has been ranked in the top two in region all year and he's picked to move on to states for sure," said Baldensperger. "He's only lost one match all year and has been able to avenge that loss twice. It's hard to see him losing two times this weekend. That being said, we can't look past the first match. The bracket is full of quality kids and he has to be at his best. D.J.'s a tough kid and when the going gets tough, he gets going. But it's never a sure thing at this level."
Fehlman's journey to states begins with a bye into the quarterfinal round. He will wrestler the winner of Obama Academy sophomore DeShon Hill (8-7) and Jersey Shore junior Colton Killion (18-13) in his opening match of the tournament. A win in the quarterfinals would likely place Fehlman in a semifinal bout against Clearfield senior Dylan Graham (28-4). Graham is ranked third in Coleman's rankings.
On the other side of the bracket, heavy hitters such as second-seeded Kaleb Young of Punxsutawney and fourth-seeded Keller Watkins of General McLane are listed. While Fehlman has only one loss in 31 matches this season, that lone defeat came at the hands of Watkins in January.
While Watkins is a formidable foe, Fehlman is dead set on taking things one match at a time.
"At this point, records don't count," said Baldensperger. "It's a new start and I've got to battle through. Every match will be a battle. I need to look at it as their are only two guys on the mat - why can't I be the one to come out on top."
At 195 pounds, McNeal - the second seed out of District 10, opens with the third seed out of District 6 in Central Mountain senior Loc Long. If McNeal is able to win his preliminary bout, he would face perhaps the stiffest test of his career in the quarterfinals where top seed senior Landon Hanna of DuBois (32-1) awaits.
Streich's first trip to the NW Regional Tournament begins in the 220-pound preliminaries with Mifflin County junior Kyle Kahley (23-11) - Region 6's fourth seed. Much like McNeal, a preliminary round win would place Streich against his weight classes' top seed in the quarterfinals. In this case, the top seed is Region 4 junior Dwayne Pepper of Shikellamy (19-7).
Henry unexpected trip into the 182-pound bracket starts in the preliminaries with District 6 second seed Blaze Buckwalter of Central Mountain. If Henry can upset Buckwalter, he would face the region's second seed in District 8 champion Jaylen Wilkins of Allderdice.
"In Alex's weight class, the number one seed from DuBois was injured at the district meet so that likely leaves a spot open for states," said Baldensperger. "If he goes down and puts in a good showing, he could sneak out. Chris is wrestling up a class and he's been hampered by injuries in other years of his career. He definitely has some tricks in his bag and can put anybody away at anytime. You can't count him out.
"All these kids were taking are very merit and honor rolls kids," said Baldensperger. "They are smart kids who absorb things in the classroom as well as they absorb what a coach is trying to teach. They are all special guys."
Wrestling gets underway at 5 p.m. Friday with preliminary bouts. The quarterfinals are scheduled for 7:15 p.m. with the first round of consolations beginning at 9:30 p.m. Consolation round 2 begins at 9:30 a.m. Saturday with the semifinals and consolation round 3 set for 12:30 p.m. The fourth round of consys begins at 3 p.m., the consolation finals are at 6 p.m. and the championship finals begin at 7 p.m.
Here are the wrestling pairings that include Warren participants for Friday's Northwest Region Class AAA tournament at the Altoona Fieldhouse. Wrestlers are listed by name, grade, school, and overall record. The top three in each division will advance to the PIAA AAA tournament, scheduled March 8-10 at the Giant Center in Hershey. For complete brackets, visit www.districttenwrestling.com.
Preliminary round: D.J. Fehlman, 10, Warren, 30-1 BYE; DeShon Hill, 10, Obama Academy 8-7 vs. Colton Killion, 11, Jersey Shore, 18-13; Dylan Graham, 12, Clearfield, 28-4 vs. Anthony Myers, 9, State College, 15-5; Coleman Cousins, 11, McDowell, 19-16 vs. Noah Stewart, 9, Mifflin County, 28-5; Kaleb Young, 9, Punxsutawney, 22-1 vs. Cole Hanley, 12, Central Mountain, 20-12; Alex Root, 11, Cathedral Prep, 18-8 vs. Brian Evans, 12, Phillips-Osceola, 21-9; Keller Watkins, 10, General McLane, 26-7 vs. Marcus Winn, 12, Selinsgrove, 5-22; Josh Zinkovsky, 10, Allderdice, 11-5 BYE
Preliminary round: Jesse Shambach, 12, Shikellamy, 21-6 BYE; Trenton Kephart, 10, Altoona, 14-10 vs. Phil Selker, 9, Cathedral Prep, 14-9; Stephen Granzeier, 12, Brashear, 11-5 vs. Ben Bish, 9, Meadville, 19-10; Andrew Boob, 9, Selinsgrove, 17-11 vs. jacob Taylor, 12, Bald Eagle, 30-0; Chris Laird, 11, General McLane, 30-3 vs. Joey McLaughlin, 12, Saint Marys, 24-10; Shane Marshall, 12, DuBois, 29-7 vs. Dennis Lumadue, 11, Phillipsburg-Osceola, 26-5; Blaze Buckwalter, 12, Central Mountain, 27-7 vs. Dan Henry, 11, Warren, 10-8; Jaylen Wilkins, 12, Allderdice, 21-8 BYE
Preliminary round: Landon Hanna, 12, DuBois, 32-1 BYE; Loc Long, 10, Central Mountain, 9-8 vs. Chris McNeal, 12, Warren, 22-7; Mante Barnes, 12, Altoona, 25-6 vs. Tyler Nicole, 10, Titusville, 5-7; Nate Lose, 9, Jersey Shore, 10-12 vs. Jamir Guinn, 12, Brashear, 12-3; Alex Thayer, 12, General McLane, 17-4 vs. Kyle Langdon, 10, Bradford, 13-3; Austin Lewis, 11, Selinsgrove, 19-10 vs. Drew Hannon, 11, Mifflin County, 2-5; Mike Betz, 11, Carrick, 10-7 vs. Seth Brown, 11, Central Tech, 12-16; Aaron Varner, 12, Bald Eagle, 26-3 BYE
Preliminary round: Dwayne Pepper, 11, Shikellamy, 19-7 BYE; Kyle Kahney, 11, Mifflin County, 23-11 vs. Alex Streich, 10, Warren, 26-7; Jesse Reid, 11, Carrick, 11-8 vs. Jake Baker, 12, General McLane, 29-7; Zach Zawatski, 12, Bradford, 10-18 vs. Nathan Sharkey, 12, Bald Eagle, 24-5; Rodjecko Christian, 12, Westinghouse, 20-4 vs. Billy Kennedy, 12, Williamsport, 22-8; Cameron Porter, 11, Central Mountain, 21-9 vs. Luke Carr, 10, Meadville, 15-6; Nick Gray, 11, Phillipsburg-Osceola, 24-9 vs. Gary Fledderman, 12, Saint Marys, 28-7; Pat Williamson, 12, East, 17-2 BYE