CLARION-Sheffield's wrestling team liked the underdog status.
Two Wolverines will join Eisenhower's Louie Head at this weekend's Northwest Region Class AA Tournament, and both had to come a long way to do it.
Last year, Ricky Prosen won four matches in the consolation rounds to advance to regions. Prosen fell a little short this year, and the senior finishes his career with 90 wins.
This year, seniors Brian Fries and Doug Grubbs are moving on for the first time, after each finished fourth at the District 9 Class AA Championships Saturday at Clarion University.
"Both beat kids they have lost to," said Sheffield coach Jack Rice.
Fries, a senior from Abraxas, has improved all season, entering the tournament at 24-8 overall. His biggest win at 138 pounds was a 9-8 decision over Redbank Valley's Luke Gallo, who defeated Fries earlier this season. Rice said Gallo took down Fries to take an 8-7 lead with 17 seconds remaining in the match, only to have Fries reverse Gallo with 10 seconds left.
"This is what we preach, wrestling whistle to whistle," said Rice.
Rice said Fries "was real close to being in the final."
In the semifinal against, Fries, the No. 6 seed in a tournament that sees only the top four advance to regions, faced No. 2-seeded Adam Shunk of Smethport. Rice said Fries, due to inexperience, relaxed with five seconds left in a tie score and lost a 3-1 decision. He went on to win a 15-8 decision over Brockway's Dustin Jamison before a shoulder injury forced him out of the third-fourth-place match. But Rice said he advances as the fourth-place finisher.
"He has the potential to go far (at regions)," said Rice, "as long as inexperience doesn't beat him."
Rice said Grubbs also had to overcome his demons to advance. Grubbs had never been to regions and met the top seed, Brockway's Zach Vroman (26-4), in the semifinals, getting pinned in 3:23.
Grubbs, the four seed, had to beat Johnsonburg's Alex Zimmerman in the consolation round to get to the third-fourth-place match. He had lost to Zimmerman twice this season.
"He's always been in a tough weight class, but talk about someone who wrestles to the whistle," said Rice of Grubbs.
Grubbs went up 5-3 on Zimmerman and led 10-3 when he pinned him in 2:55. He lost 3-0 in the third-place match to Redbank Valley's Mitch Blose, but also advances as the fourth-place finisher.
District 10 sends six placewinners and District 9 four to the Northwest Region Class AA Tournament Friday and Saturday in Sharon.
"I'm very happy," said Rice. "(As a team), we started out 0-6 and ended up with nine wins."
Sheffield doesn't have the largest group, so some weight classes are tough to fill, and Rice is faced with teaching or re-teaching Abraxas kids to wrestle through a co-op agreement with Sheffield High School.
"I'm very pleased," said Rice. With several younger wrestlers gaining valuable experience this weekend, including a freshman and three sophomores, "I really expect three, four or five at regionals next year.
Complete brackets for District 10 Class AA and District 9 Class AA are online at piaa.escapesports.com/2014PIAAResults.htm