John Supsic made no bones about it early in the season when asked his opinion on the new postseason alignment for District 4 Class AAA.
No longer part of a four-team tournament, Supsic's Braves and their cross-river rivals, the Selinsgrove Seals, would have to qualify through a combined districts 4 and 9 tournament to get to the regional. Moreover, the regional was also new, as the Valley wrestlers headed west to Altoona and the Northwest Region, rather than the grueling Northeast tourney in Bethlehem.
Both Supsic and Selinsgrove coach Seth Martin were blunt about the fact that they would rather have quality over quantity as they left for the regional.
"We would have kids with losing records (advancing to the Northeast). This is tougher competition and, being in a different regional, I think our kids will have better opportunities," Supsic said.
He noted that, in the Lehigh Valley, a kid who finished fifth in his District 11 tournament one week would often make the regional finals the next week.
Of this week's tourney, which starts this afternoon, Supsic said, "I would say the depth isn't there in the weight classes. Obviously there are some good kids and to get to states you have to beat good kids, but not as many."
The top three place-finishers this weekend move on to the state tournament the following week in Hershey.
Going into last week's tournament, Supsic said he thought the Braves could advance between six and eight to the regional. They advanced seven, including three champions: junior Dwayne Pepper (220 pounds) and seniors Jesse Shambach (182) and Dan Karpinski (285).
"We are pretty much right where I thought we would be and every kid we took has the capability of winning a couple matches," he said.
He said that would give the underclassmen more confidence, knowing that they have a chance to make the state tournament.
As for the seniors who won titles, Supsic couldn't be prouder.
He said Karpinski had a great opportunity last week and made the most of it, pinning St. Marys' Brad Wolfel in the semifinals, then rallying for a 6-5 decision over Dakota Sera of Bradford in the finals. The latter was 17-7; Karpinski entered the event at 11-14..
"He beat kids with winning records and had a good tournament, which should give him a lot of confidence going into this week," Supsic said. "Anything can happen and now Dan feels he can go out there and win matches."
Supsic said Pepper wore people out at 220, after moving up from 195.
"He's wrestling some slower guys and he is pretty athletic," Supsic said.
Shambach also wrestled well, he said, with an overtime win in the finals.
Supsic was also proud of freshman Darryl Englehardt for winning three matches and taking third at 170.
The Shikellamy coach partially attributes his team's success in Clarion to the schedule. "Our schedule is tough, going to Manheim (tournament) and seeing different guys and Nazareth (tournament) and seeing a lot of different guys. I think our schedule really helped us out this past weekend."
Supsic said the D4 coaches were not pleased with the tournament set- up because, with having both AA and AAA at the site, there was too much down time.
He said that this was a trial-and-error situation and he believes it will be remedied. He also said coaches have talked about having it at Clarion another year and then possibly going two years at Jersey Shore.
"But I think we are going to be there (in the D4/9 tournament) for the foreseeable future," he said.
Anyone who saw what happened to the locals over the last few decades would likely say a loud "Amen" to that.
n Sports editor Harold Raker covers high school wrestling for The Daily Item. Email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.