At several points throughout the 40th annual Tunkhannock Holiday Classic, Tunkhannock head coach Bob Hegedty was pleasantly surprised to hear that the Tigers were near the top of the team standings.
Of course, that could just be a coach not wanting to jinx his team.
However, what isn’t surprising is Tunkhannock’s knack to perform well as a team on the big stage over the past several years.
That tradition continued last week on Thursday, Dec. 28, as the Tigers won their home wrestling tournament for the second time in three years with 165.5 points.
West Scranton finished in second with 150 points, while Wyalusing, which entered the tournament as the defending champion, placed third with 147 points.
“Actually, this one surprised me a little bit,” Hegedty said. “The guys wrestled well, we had some good matchups early on and were able to build up some points with pins. This was a good win for us. We’re somewhat young and inexperienced, so we’ll take it.”
Tunkhannock finished the opening day of the tournament on Wednesday, Dec. 27, in second place, trailing Cranford by four points and leading West Scranton by five.
When the dust settled after the semifinals, the Tigers jumped into first by 11.5 points over Cranford and never looked back, sending four wrestlers into the finals to all but clinch the title.
Senior Sam Rice was one of the those finalists, and capped off one of the most memorable tournament’s of his career by winning gold at 195 pounds.
Tunkhannock senior Connor Munley (182), junior Tommy Traver (138) and sophomore David Evans (106) all finished runner-up, with all wrestlers losing their championship bouts by one point.
In all, the Tigers finished the tournament with eight medalists, including fourth place finishes from senior David Gavek (120) and sophomore Gavin D’Amato (132), a seventh place finish from sophomore Ethan Munley (126) and an eighth place finish from freshman Matt Rosentel (113).
Lackawanna Trail senior Owen Hivner also finished as the runner-up at 170 pounds in his first tournament with the Lions after transferring from Abington Heights.
Elk Lake senior Chris Kinder put together a solid tournament as well, battling back after an early loss to finish in fifth place.
For Rice, his final home tournament couldn’t have been better.
Back-to-back pins on the opening day sent him to the semifinals, the first of which — a pin over Coughlin’s Aaron Warnagiris in the first period — was the 100th win of his career.
“It felt really good,” Rice said. “It takes a long time to get to 100, so getting there’s a good feeling. I was really happy that it actually worked out and I got it here.”
He couldn’t celebrate for long, however.
The two-time District 2 runner-up then clashed with Hanover Area’s J.J. Hooper, another district runner-up, in the quarterfinals.
Again, though, Rice controlled the action during a pin in 4:22.
Before picking up the fall, he used his 6-foot-4 long frame to grab Hooper and stay in for a pair of takedowns at the boundary for a 7-0 lead.
“I wasn’t really nervous,” Rice said. “I was just doing my stuff and working my offense.”
Rice echoed that mind set while looking ahead to the semifinal bout, and hoped he could follow that game plan against Scranton Prep senior Ivan Balavage, who landed a last-second take down in last year’s finals to defeat Rice, 8-7.
Though Thursday’s rematch would come one round earlier, the atmosphere was certainly at the level of a championship bout.
This time, Rice took control early and made sure to hold it, topping Balavage, who finished seventh in the PIAA last year, by 6-3 decision.
“I made it to the finals last year, but I didn’t like how I wrestled in the finals,” Rice said. “So it felt good to beat him in the semis and go on and win the tournament.”
Rice then led Pocono Mountain West’s Greg Bensley, 2-0, before the title bout was called because of a knee injury to Bensley, who took eighth in the state last season.
After taking second in back-to-back District 2 and Wyoming Valley Conference tournaments to go along with last year’s second place finish in his home tourney, Rice was quite happy to end the drought — which went back to his sophomore season and a win in 2016’s New Oxford Invitational.
“I’ve been second a lot of times. A lot,” Rice emphasized with a laugh. “It’s a huge milestone and it’s kinda like a good reaffirmation that I’m doing a lot of good things and on the right track this year.”
“From two weeks ago, he’s a completely different wrestler,” Hegedty added. “I didn’t think he looked his best down at the Sheetz tournament and was a little sloppy at times. But he came back and worked on some things and he looked like a completely different kid, wrestling smarter and more aggressive. He was able to win some close matches and do well.”
For Traver, losing his first match of the season and his first loss ever at his home tournament wasn’t the ending he would have liked, but was still a solid one overall.
He opened the tournament with pins in 64 and 44 seconds, then defeated Coughlin’s Josh Brown in the semifinals in a rematch of last year’s district semis.
Traver found himself in another rematch in the championship bout against Pocono Mountain East’s Steven Storm, who Traver defeated 7-3 to clinch his PIAA tournament berth at last season’s regionals.
This time, though, Storm won an exciting final, 6-5, with an escape at the boundary in the third.
He then carried Traver out of bounds before Traver could land a go-ahead takedown.
“Storm’s a big, strong kid,” Hegedty said. “(Traver’s) just got to get back to working hard and working on some things because I’m sure we’ll see him again down at regionals.”
At 182 pounds, Munley had a coming out party of sorts, at least at Tunkhannock’s home tournament.
After missing last year’s tournament with a back injury and having to recover from a broken collarbone suffered at the start of football season in the fall, Munley entered this year’s tourney with something to prove, and did just that.
He pinned his first opponent on Wednesday and followed with a 10-1 major decision to reach the semis, then battled into overtime with Mahanoy’s Matt Lewandowski, who won gold in District 11 and finished sixth in the state last year.
Munley was able pick up the 8-6 win to advance to the finals, where he was edged 1-0 by West Scranton’s Jeremy Seymour, who finished third in last year’s districts.
The two were scoreless in the second period, when Seymour did just enough through various restarts to keep Munley from a go-ahead escape.
In the third period, Munley let the junior up for a free point, but failed to find a winning takedown.
“He’s wrestling extremely well right now,” Hegedty said. “He’s confident and I think that’s the biggest thing than in year’s past. He’s just going out and wrestling hard.”
Evans also wrestled hard at 106 pounds, finishing Day 1 with two pins before winning a 17-1 technical fall to advance in the championship.
Though he would fall short in a 3-2 decision to Troy’s Sheldon Seymour, the three one-point losses in the championship bouts are certainly a positive that Tunkhannock can take with them the rest of the way.
“Sometimes losses are good,” Hegedty said. “I think the overall goal is getting to Hershey and it doesn’t matter win or lose — they still have that mind set that there’s a lot of work to do until the end of the year. It can be a motivation, because the guys will know there’s some things that they still have to work on and still have to keep pushing.”
For Hivner, the Tunkhannock tournament proved a great gauge for any improvements that need to be made heading into the league portion of the schedule.
A pin in the opening round and 10-1 major decision set up the senior in the semifinals against Wyalusing’s Ed Mapes, who finished sixth in District 4 last year.
Hivner kept on the offensive and won with a 5-0 decision to advance to his first tourney finals against Mahanoy’s Colin Fegley, who took fifth at regionals.
Both battled in the early going, with Hivner making a nice move to jump over Fegley’s leg to avoid a takedown.
However, Fegley scored a 5-point move moments later to put the match away.
Though Elk Lake’s Kinder would suffer a pin in the opening match of the tournament, he was able to battle back with two pins of his own to close out Day 1, then won an 8-4 decision before getting pinned by Bradford’s Derek Sunafrank.
However, Kinder responded in the fifth place bout at 160 pounds, picking up some momentum over West Scranton’s Cameron Butka before pinning him in 2:11.
Times-Shamrock sports writer Eric Shultz also contributed to this story.
1. Tunkhannock (TUN), 165.5; 2. West Scranton (WS), 150; 3. Wyalusing (WYA), 148; 4. Cranford (CRA), 145; 5. Wyoming Seminary B (SEM), 143.5; Coughlin (COU), 136.5; Montrose (MON), 122; St. Joseph’s Prep (SJP), 106; Bradford (BRA), 100; Northeast Bradford (NEB), 98; Mahanoy Area (MA), 91.5; Western Wayne (WW), 85; Pocono Mt. East (PME), 81; Hanover Area (HAN), 76; Scranton Prep (SP), 71; Wyoming Area (WA), 69.5; Abington Heights (AH), 61; Canton (CAN), 60.5; Troy (TRO), 58.5; Valley View (VV), 55; Pocono Mt. West (PMW), 48.5; Blue Ridge (BR), 34; Nanticoke (NAN), 25; Lackawanna Trail (LT), 23; Elk Lake (EL), 19; Sayre (SAY), 7.
106: Sheldon Seymour (TRO) dec. David Evans (TUN), 3-2.
138: Steven Storm (PME) dec. Tommy Traver (TUN), 6-5.
170: Colin Fegley (MA) dec. Owen Hivner (LT), 11-5.
182: Jeremy Seymour (WS) dec. Connor Munley (TUN), 1-0.
195: Sam Rice (TUN) inj. def. Greg Bensley (PMW).
120: Darren Clarke (COU) dec. David Gavek (TUN), 2-1 (OT).
132: Jake Brown (COU) dec. Gavin D’Amato (TUN), 3-0.
160: Chris Kinder (EL) pinned Cameron Butka (WS), 2:11.
113: Connor Cherneski (SP) pinned Matt Rosentel (TUN), 2:42.
126: Ethan Munley (TUN) dec. Jamie Pahler (COU), 1-0, RO.
120: Gavek pinned Pat Kalnins (CRA), 0:58.
132: D’Amato maj. dec. Garrett Walsh (WS), 13-1.
160: Derek Sunafrank (BRA) pinned Kinder (EL), 4:30.
113: Andrew Rosevear (MON) pinned Rosentel (TUN), 0:56.
126: Elijah Hernandez (PME) dec. E. Munley (TUN), 6-2.
160: Kinder (EL) dec. Sam Northup (AH), 8-4.
106: Evans (TUN) tech. fall Brandon Grogan (AH), 17-1.
120: Duncan Waite (SJP) maj. dec. Gavek (TUN), 11-2.
132: Brandon Judge (VV) dec. D’Amato (TUN), 4-3.
138: Traver (TUN) dec. Josh Brown (COU), 11-5.
170: Hivner (LT) dec. Ed Mapes (WYA), 5-0.
182: Munley (TUN) dec. Matt Lewandowski (MA), 8-6 (OT).
195: Rice (TUN) dec. Ivan Balavage (SP), 6-3.
Consolation Round 3
113: Rosentel (TUN) by forfeit over Nathan Koch (WW).
126: E. Munley dec. Trevor Williams (TRO), 11-8.
132: Chuck Rohan (MON) dec. Dalton Klinges (LT), 5-2.
160: Kinder (EL) pinned Declan Donaher (SJP), 2:02.
220: Shane Repasky (NAN) pinned Dustin Henry (TUN), 2:18.
285: John Shnipes (VV) pinned Jerry Fassett (EL), 2:32.
Consolation Round 2
113: Rosentel (TUN) pinned Jake Quinn (CRA), 2:52.
126: E. Munley (TUN) maj. dec. Charlie Palomino (PMW), 11-0.
132: Klinges (LT) maj. dec. Jared Banesh (HAN), 15-3.
145: Charlie Banashefski (WA) pinned Luke Carpenter (TUN), 3:28.
160: Silas Miller (NEB) pinned Carl Anthony (TUN), 1:35; Sam Northup (AH) tech. fall Jeffrey Resto-Medina (LT), 16-0; Kinder (EL) pinned Danny Swanson (CRA), 4:03.
285: Fassett (EL) pinned Jared Spalti (MA), 3:18.
106: Evans (TUN) pinned Jimmy Gluck (CRA), 4:11.
120: Gavek (TUN) pinned Sammy Segers (SP), 5:10.
132: D’Amato (TUN) tech. fall Chuck Rohan (MON), 18-3.
138: Traver (TUN) pinned Robin Wrobleski (WA), 0:44.
170: Hivner (LT) maj. dec. Cole Aukema (MON), 10-1.
182: Munley (TUN) maj. dec. Noah Forbes (NEB), 10-1.
195: Rice (TUN) pinned JJ Hooper (HAN), 4:22.
220: Jackson Chilson (WYA) pinned Henry (TUN), 1:49.
Consolation Round 1
145: Carpenter (TUN) pinned Richard Loggins (TRO), 1:45; M.J. Stivala (SP) dec. Trent Ashley (LT), 3-1 SV; Charlie Banashefski (WA) pinned Noah Atkins (EL), 4:11.
152: Mikyle Fabrizio (MON) dec. Brian Christ (TUN), 7-0.
160: Anthony (TUN) pinned Geoffrey Pizzto (SP), 1:36; Resto-Medina (LT) pinned Connor Hess (CAN0, 0:46.
170: Adam Staples (SJP) pinned Shane Sherwood (TUN), 2:38; Kyle Hartman (BRA) pinned Cliff Steele (EL), 2:59.
285: Brandon Prados (PME) pinned Logan Hegedty (TUN), 0:56.
106: Evans (TUN) pinned Cobi Combs (VV), 1:27.
113: Connor Chernesky (SP) pinned Rosentel (TUN), 3:41.
120: Gavek (TUN) pinned Nathaniel McArthur (BR), 3:06.
126: Luke DiGiovanni (CRA) pinned E. Munley (TUN), 1:42.
132: D’Amato (TUN) tech. fall Cesear Rivera (MA), 17-2; Oliver Egan (SP) pinned Klinges (LT), 5:05.
138: Traver (TUN) pinned Alejandro Garcia (SJP), 1:04.
145: Adam Roe (BR) pinned Carpenter (TUN), 1:00.
160: Cameron Butka (WS) pinned Kinder (EL), 3:00.
170: Hivner (LT) pinned Mat Doran (CRA), 3:33.
182: C. Munley (TUN) pinned Connor Barberi (SJP), 2:44.
195: Rice (TUN) pinned Aaron Warnagiris (COU), 1:42.
220: Henry (TUN) pinned Logan Burns (VV), 5:22.
285: John Shnipes (VV) pinned Hegedty (TUN), 0:16; Nate Gehm (BRA), dec. Fassett (EL), 7-5.
145: Carpenter (TUN) pinned Jacob Hartranft (MAH), 3:51; Jared Fulginiti (HAN) dec. Ashley (LT), 5-2; Dylan Whipple (WYA) pinned Atkins (EL), 1:52.
152: Tyler Connor (WS) pinned Christ (TUN), 0:50.
160: Cameron Butka (WS) pinned Anthony (TUN), 1:05; Charlie Maloy (PMW) maj. dec. Resto-Medina (LT), 15-6.
170: Mat Doran (CRA) pinned Sherwood (TUN), 1:50; Joel Tricoche (WS) pinned Steele (EL), 2:39.
285: Hegedty (TUN) pinned Mark Williams (PMW), 0:49.