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Zephs place three at tourney

While many in the Whitehall school district had the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day to relax, the Zephyr wrestling team ventured to Liberty High School for the annual Bethlehem Holiday Classic Wrestling tournament.

The squad finished 19th out of 32 in the team standings and produced 3 placewinners. Seniors Hudson Saylor (152) and Melquan Warren (189) finished in fifth place at their respective weights and freshman Wilmont Kai took home 6th place honors.

Head coach Tim Cunningham summarized the 2-day event, “We come here for the competition. It gauges where we are. You can’t beat this tournament. It’s top notch. Number-one, all-public school tournament probably in the country. Overall, we had some ups and downs. I’m looking more for our guys that were average last year to take the next step.”

The field featured all the top EPC teams, except for Becahi, plus quality programs from PIAA Districts 1, 2, and 3, Colonial League powerhouse Saucon Valley, and Phillipsburg (NJ). Nazareth won the team event over Easton 167.5 to 165. P’burg was third, Northampton fourth, and Saucon Valley fifth.

Kade Pascoe (114) and James Hopkins (215) made it to the blood round before being stopped from medaling by a pair of Easton wresters.

Kai advanced to the quarterfinals with a tech fall over Dean Gouldthorpe (Delaware Valley) and a 7-6 decision against Jasiah Pagan of Liberty. He was knocked into the consolation bracket by eventual champion (and returning state champion) Aaron Seidel of Northern Lebanon.

He reached the medal round with a 5-2 win over Gus Smith of Spring-Ford. An 11-0 major decision over Eli Russ of Parkland got him to the consolation semifinal where he fell to Connor Lenahan of Council Rock South. Nicolas Salamone of Easton won the fifth-place bout 5-0.

Saylor opened his tournament in style with a pin of Wilson’s Mike Brown in 1:36. A 10-6 win over Jesse Scott of Emmaus advanced him to the quarters where eventual finalist Ryan Santiago of Liberty beat him 13-1.

A decision against Patrick Day of P’burg was followed by a dramatic 3-0 win against Devlin Chevere of Northampton. Saylor scored a nearfall from the top position to break a scoreless tie with 15 seconds left in the match.

Easton’s James Geiger won their consolation semi 8-0. Saylor claimed fifth place by fighting off a nearfall in the second period and coming back from 4-3 down to beat Tyler Maiers of Kennett 9-4.

Warren received a bye into the second round and was on the precipice of losing to Nazareth’s Marco Malerba when he scored a pin at the 5:50 mark. He pinned JJ Plaza of Hempfield in 3:10 to reach the championship semifinals.

Eventual champion Adrian Gacek of Parkland bumped him to consolations, 8-2. In the consolation semis, P’burg’s Caleb Rivera used a third-period takedown to nip Warren 3-2. He rebounded in his final match of cruise to a 10-5 decision against Aaron Kirby of Stroudsburg for fifth.

Cunningham spoke about his medalists, “Hudson Saylor is making drastic improvements. Wilmont Kai, drastic improvements. Melquan (a state qualifier last season), once he figures things out, hopefully he can start peaking toward the end of the season.”

The Zephyrs should be able to start off 2023 in a winning fashion when Dieruff comes to town for an EPC dual. The squad will then head to Lehighton on Saturday to participate in the Indian Duals. On Wednesday Pennsylvania’s top-ranked team, Bethlehem Catholic, will be on display under the spotlight on the mat on Coach Tracy Court.