(Photo: Josh Maruca, top, and seven other Franklin Regional wrestlers competed at the National High School Coaches Association Duals May 25-28 at Virginia Beach. Alex Brandon/Associated Press.)
Young Guns Wrestling Club director Jody Strittmatter was a bit surprised to see a bus pull up for the first day of a week-long wrestling camp that took place last week in Blairsville.
"The Franklin Regional Boosters Club rented a bus to bring its wrestlers back and forth to practice all week," said Strittmatter, who is also the assistant coach at Pitt-Johnstown. "They had approximately 20 kids attend every day. That's dedication.
"That's the reason why Franklin Regional has one of the best young teams in the state."
Franklin Regional had 18 wrestlers compete in seven or more varsity bouts last season and none were seniors. Six were freshmen, seven were sophomores and the other five were juniors.
"I'm very fortunate to have a young and talented group of wrestlers who realize that a key to their success is how much time they put in during the offseason," Franklin Regional coach Eric Mausser said. "It's great to see so many of my kids wrestling for the Young Guns."
Eight members of Mausser's squad wrestled for the Young Guns at the National High School Coaches Association Duals, which took place May 25-28 at Virginia Beach.
"We sent nine different teams, in three divisions, to Virginia Beach," Strittmatter said. "We had five high school teams, two junior high teams and two elementary teams."
Josh Shields was one of eight Franklin Regional wrestlers who made the trip to Virginia Beach.
"Our team finished second in the high school division," said Shields, who broke into Franklin Regional's starting lineup this past season as a 132-pound freshman. "Our only loss was to Team Griffin, an all-star team that has wrestlers from a couple different states. I had an 8-1 record. My only loss was to Shyheim Brown [a PIAA Class AAA runner-up from Central Dauphin]."
Also making the trip from Franklin Regional were Michael Kemerer, Dom Giannangeli, Tyler Smith, Josh Maruca, Max Kubas, Brandon Yant and Luck Fleck.
"Wrestling in a national tournament such as the NHSCA Duals gave me a chance to face some of the best wrestlers in the country," Shields said. "The same is true for this week's Disney Duals."
Young Guns is sending two teams to the Disney Duals, a national folkstyle tournament held at Kissimmee, Fla., beginning today. Shields will be joined by Kemerer, Smith, Maruca and Fleck.
"It's great to have so many [Franklin Regional] teammates joining me on the trip," Shields said. "None of us has participated in this tournament before, so it's a new experience for all of us."
Kemerer won a WPIAL Class AAA title in his freshman debut at 106 pounds. Smith and Shields placed second in the WPIAL at 120 and 132. Maruca, another freshman phenom, placed third at 126. All four qualified for the PIAA championships and went on to place among the top six in their weight classes. Fleck fell one win short of a PIAA berth at heavyweight after placing fourth in the WPIAL.
"The competition I faced at the NHSCA Duals and the competition I will face this week at the Disney Duals will help prepare me for Fargo," said Shields, referring to the USA Wrestling Cadet National Championships, which begin July 16 at North Dakota State University.
Shields qualified for his trip to Fargo by winning the 145-pound title at the Northeast Regional.
"I won in both styles [freestyle and Greco-Roman] at the Northeast Regional," Shields said. "I also finished second in the [PAWF] state tournament in freestyle and first in Greco-Roman. I moved down to 138 for that tournament."
Maruca was also invited to wrestle in the Cadet National Duals, which took place June 13-16 at Daytona Beach, Fla. He accepted the invite and helped Pennsylvania claim the team title.