THE NEXT STEP — Bermudian Springs’ Brennan Schisler turns his opponent from Northern Lebanon during a match earlier this season. Schisler, a returning regional qualifier, is one of several state tournament hopefuls for the Eagles.

Saturday marks the start of the 2021 PIAA wrestling individual postseason as local teams compete in sectionals at both Susquenita (2A) and South Western (3A).

After a wildly successful year in 2020 that saw a number of state qualifiers from area teams and four state placewinners, there are once again high hopes in 2021.

We’ll start out in 2A at 132 pounds with Bermudian’s Springs’ Brennan Schisler. Schisler, a junior, qualified for the district tournament as a freshman and the regional tournament as a sophomore. This year, he’s looking to make his first Giant Center appearance.

After starting the year on fire, Schisler has dropped a pair of matches recently, but still holds an 11-2 record and sits at No. 18 in the state according to PA Power Wrestling. He’ll have a tough path to the regional tournament this year, as Susquenita’s Dominic Caldwell sits at No. 15 and Bishop McDevitt’s Gabe Bertoldi comes in at No. 19. Newport’s Danny Capozzoli and West Perry’s Nolen Zeigler are Nos. 21 and 22. With only four wrestlers coming out of the district, at least one of those four will leave Central Dauphin East High School disappointed on Sunday.

Up at 138 pounds, Littlestown’s Connor Brown has handled the jump from 113 to 138 seamlessly and currently sits at 16-0 on the season. That’s good enough to land him the No. 6 spot in the state according to PA Power.

Brown took eighth in the state tournament a year ago and is the favorite to win both the district and the region this time around. Locally, ninth-ranked Kyle Vernon of Hamburg, 15th-ranked Kobin Karper of Boiling Springs and 16th-ranked Justice Hockenberry-Folk of West Perry are likely to be his toughest foes. Meanwhile, seventh-ranked David Kreidler of Allentown Central Catholic will also be gunning for the region crown should they both qualify as will No. 13 Josh Bauman of Notre Dame.

Could this be the year for Biglerville’s Levi Haines? Haines has twice finished as a state runner-up but has dominated this year up at 145 from 126. He sits at 15-0 with all pins or technical falls and is the top-ranked wrestler in the state. Seventh-ranked Noah Frack of Brandywine Heights will look to top Haines in the district and the region, though Haines was 2-0 against Frack a year ago and 4-0 in his career, including a major decision, a pin and a technical fall.

A pair of familiar names will likely join them in an absolutely stacked bracket in the district. The first in No. 11 Andrew Christie, formerly of New Oxford and now of Bishop McDevitt. The second is Littlestown’s Ayden Dillon, who sits right behind him at No. 12 in the rankings. Both were state qualifiers a year ago. With only four leaving the district, could Newport’s Ganon Smith (No. 19) play spoiler?

What can Tate Neiderer do for Delone Catholic after making the state tournament a year ago? The senior is 10-1 on the year in matches at both 172 and 189 pounds, but looks headed for the former in the postseason. PA Power has him ranked No. 18 in the state at 172 and as the fourth-ranked wrestler in the district behind Camp Hill’s Sean Getty (No. 8) and Hamburg’s Brant Mason (No. 16) and West Perry’s Tyler Wonders (No. 17). Could Neiderer upset the apple cart and grab a district crown? Or will he be left out if someone pulls above their weight?

After narrowly missing out on placing at the state tournament a year ago, can Bermudian Springs’ Savauri Shelton get on the podium in Hershey in his final go? Shelton won the district and took second in the region a year ago and after starting 13-0 this season with all pins or tech falls, he sits at No. 8 in the state. Shelton is the only ranked wrestler from District 3-AA and is second only to Nate Wickersham (No. 7) of Tamaqua Area in the southeast region. For state qualifying purposes, Shelton would also be the third-ranked wrestler in the east super region.

Finally we have the heavyweights.

At No. 15 comes Bermudian Springs’ Hogan Swenski, who makes the jump up from 182 pounds where he was a regional qualifier a year ago. This year, Swenski is 13-0 with pins in all but one of his matches. That match was a 6-3 win over No. 16 Jake Moyer of Fairfield, who was a state qualifier a year ago. Swenski gave Moyer his only loss of the year.

Both will have a tough road to both the regional and state tournaments. Sitting at No. 6 in the state is Bishop McDevitt sophomore Riley Robell, who bested Swenski 1-0 in the district tournament a year ago. Then there’s Pequea Valley’s Nate Miller. The 10th-ranked Miller returned to Pequea after two years at Wyoming Seminary and is currently 9-1 on the year. Lastly, No. 21 Adam Dandridge of Eastern York will be vying for one of the four coveted regional qualifier spots.

Other names to watch from the area in the upcoming AA tournaments are Littlestown’s Cameron Mingee (113) and Jeremy Gebhart (215), Biglerville’s Josh Fulton (215) and Hanover’s Malcolm Gerlach.

Up in Class 3A, the focus is largely on Gettysburg.

With Christie transferring out of New Oxford, Max Gourley is the only returning state qualifier from the area in the big-school class.

Gourley stands at 22-1 and No. 8 in the state, but he recently picked up a victory over former No. 8 Timmy Smith of Central Dauphin and has also downed No. 12 Brooks Gable of Dallastown. His only loss of the year came to 10th-ranked Colton Zimmerman of Carlisle. Gable will be in the same sectional as Gourley and only two wrestlers will advance to the regional, which could leave No. 20 Dylan Forbes, who was pinned by Gable earlier in the year, on the outside looking in.

Each of the aforementioned wrestlers compete in the South Central region and with only three able to advance from that tournament on Feb. 27 to the following week’s super regional, multiple big names will be out early. Cade Clancy of Manheim Township and Isaiah Auman of Cedar Cliff are also in the top-25 in the state and reside in District 3.

While Gourley is the only area wrestler who is ranked in 3A, he’s not the only Warrior who could make noise.

Nathan Ridgley took second in the section and fifth in the region a year ago. He’s up at 172 pounds from 160 last year. Meanwhile, Sam Rodriguez was a regional qualifier in 2020 and is coming off a commanding victory over ninth-ranked Nathaniel Mosey of Central Dauphin in the District 3 dual championship.

Other names to watch are Connor Herring (145) of New Oxford, who seems to have hit his stride recently, winning six in a row including a 7-6 win over Dillon, and South Western’s Robert Utz, who adds to the fray at 189 after qualifying for the regional tournament a season ago.

While it’s difficult to predict who may make a run or who’s on the outside looking in, if one thing is certain, it’s that nothing in this COVID-modified postseason will be as expected.

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