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'Chip on our shoulder': Bishop McCort, Chestnut Ridge ready for PIAA duals in Hershey

Feb. 8—The Chestnut Ridge wrestling team has turned Giant Center in Hershey into its second home over the past 12 seasons due to its dominance in District 5.

On Thursday, many Bishop McCort Catholic wrestlers will compete inside the home of the PIAA championships for the first time.

Despite the disparity in experience inside Giant Center, both teams begin their PIAA duals journey on Thursday afternoon.

Bishop McCort (16-0) will face District 3 third seed West Perry (18-4), which defeated Saucon Valley 37-30 on Monday, at 2 p.m. Thursday. The victor will meet either District 7 champion Burrell or District 2 champ Honesdale in Friday's quarterfinals.

Chestnut Ridge (12-2) meets District 3 runner-up Berks Catholic (14-2) at 2 p.m. Thursday. The victor will face either District 4 champion Warrior Run or District 10 runner-up Fort LeBoeuf in Friday's quarterfinals.

As the lone Crimson Crusher with any wrestling experience inside Giant Center, senior and Penn State signee Mason Gibson offered advice to his teammates.

"It's just like any other tournament," Gibson said. "Just take one match at a time and don't let it get to your head.

"It's a big arena. Everybody's going to be there watching. Just have fun when you're there and just soak in the experience."

After waiting out a two-year postseason ban due to alleged violations of the PIAA's rules regarding transfers and recruiting, the Bishop McCort lineup is ecstatic for the opportunity.

"This is our first time competing in Hershey," said sophomore Bo Bassett, who is 40-0 with 25 technical falls.

"I've gone to Hershey my whole life watching. It's a big stage and we're really excited for it. This is the first year I'm able to compete. I've competed in really big stages."

Bishop McCort beat Huntingdon (54-18) and Bald Eagle Area (58-15) on Saturday to earn its first trip to Hershey for the dual tournament.

"I feel like we're on a hot streak," Bassett said. "I feel like we're wrestling well. The guys are ready to go. We're prepared.

"The energy was high in the room. It's time to carry it into this weekend."

Freshman Melvin Miller (145/152/160) has a 42-2 mark. Junior Devon Magro (160/172), a Brown University commit, is 39-5. Sophomore Jax Forrest (127) has a 37-1 mark. Gibson (133) and sophomores Owen McMullen (172/189) and Lincoln Sledzianowski (121) all have 32 or more victories this season.

In his previous time wrestling at Giant Center in 2021, Gibson was pinned by Notre Dame-Green Pond's Brett Ungar in the PIAA Class 2A 120-pound final.

Gibson will use that loss as fuel this weekend.

"We're hyped up," Gibson said. "We're ready to wrestle.

"We're going there with a little chip on our shoulder. It's been three years since we were able to compete. We're just here to try to make a statement. Last time in Hershey, I ended in a loss. That loss is always replaying in my head no matter what.

"It doesn't matter what time of day it is, it's always there. I think it will be a little motivational booster."

A trio of West Perry juniors have compiled 32 or more victories each this season. Tyler Morrison (172/189) is 35-2 with 18 falls. He finished in sixth place at the 2023 PIAA Class 2A championships and has 118 career wins. Tucker Seidel (189/215) is 35-3 with 97 career triumphs. Jackson Rush (121/127/133) is 32-3 with 20 pins. He has 104 career victories.

The 12-time defending District 5 champion Lions, who have four wrestlers with 31 or more victories, defeated Everett (48-18) and Northern Bedford County (54-19) on Saturday. Getting the chance to wrestle inside Giant Center is something the entire program gets excited about.

"Our kids, community, school and administration look forward to this every year," Chestnut Ridge coach Josh Deputy said. "We have built something special and it's an expectation we carry year in and year out."

Chestnut Ridge sophomore Dominic Deputy is 36-0 this season at 107. The 2023 PIAA runner-up has racked up 25 pins. Junior Easton Mull is 35-9 with 22 falls at 121. He has 106 career wins. Senior Mason Weyant has a 34-8 mark, and freshman Jayden Imler is 31-12.

Despite losing key contributors to graduation each season, the Lions keep producing wrestlers to fill in and keep the program's expectation level high.

"We have lost at least five key seniors the last three years to graduation," Coach Deputy said.

"I don't necessarily think it has been one individual that has been key to this. It's our culture we preach here. The next-man-up mentality no matter if you are an underclassman or upperclassman, you are expected to perform at a high level.

"We make no excuses for being young. We just hold a standard, and the kids embrace it and live up to it."

Berks Catholic lost 40-21 to Bishop McDevitt in the District 3 final. The Saints have six wrestlers with 20 or more victories this season. Junior Brayden Hartranft (121/127) leads the squad with a 24-4 mark and 101 career victories. In 2023 during the PIAA championships, Mull lost 5-4 in the ultimate tiebreaker to Hartranft.

"Berks is a tough team as is every team in Hershey," Coach Deputy said. "We are gonna lean heavily on our experienced guys to win matches, collect bonus points and hopefully, that's enough. We are looking forward to the 121 matchup, which was a great match at states last year in which we came up short handed."

Jake Oswalt is a copy editor for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @TheWizOfOz11.