Ten Wolves ready for District 9 wrestling championships

Front l-r, Carter Himes (215), Ethan Illerbrun (113), Alex Bechakas (120), and Derek Peterson (132). Back l-r, Reece Bechakas (145), Ben Walter (160), Harley Morris (138), Shawn "Cooper Nystrom" (285-pound), Isaak Johnson (126), and Luke Ely (152)."
Bob Parana - Staff Writer

It’s been a crazy season, to say the least. The Wolves wrestlers have faced much adversity during the COVID shortened campaign. Ten wrestlers will look to make all the effort worth it at Saturday’s District 9 Class AA Individual Championships in Clearfield.

Ten Kane grapplers are entering the event. The top three finishers in each weight class will advance to next Saturday’s Northwest Regional competition in Sharon.

The Wolves enter the tournament with just five dual meets.

Sophomore 152-pound Luke Ely (4-0) is the top-seeded wrestler among the group. He is set in the second spot. Juniors Alex Bechakas and Harley Morris are three seeds - Bechakas (4-0) at 120-pounds, and Morris (3-0) at 138-pounds. Sophomore Isaak Johnson (4-1) is the fifth seed at 126-pounds. Four Wolves are the five-seed. They include senior 285-pound Shawn “Cooper” Nystrom (3-0), and freshmen 113-pound Ethan Illerbrun (5-0), 145-pound Reece Bechakas (2-2), and 160-pound Ben Walter (2-1). Junior 132-pound Derek Peterson (2-0) and 215-pound freshman Carter Himes (3-2) are seven seeds.

“Seeding wise I’m OK with where we’re at. Some of these guys could have been a higher seed but it’s not the end of the world. It’s been a crazy season and you just never know,” said Kane head coach Mike Swartwood.

“We have some guys that are realistically the third through fifth place guy in a bracket. They just have to wrestle well and maybe beat somebody who they're not supposed to. It happens every year. That’s what makes districts so fun to see who’s going to be the bracket buster. There’s no reason it can’t be a Kane kid,” he added.

Ely, Morris, Alex Bechakas, Johnson, Nystrom, and Himes, all received first-round byes and will have their first matches in the quarter-finals.

Walter will take on 11-seed sophomore Chase Irwin (1-5) of Curwensville. Reece Bechakas will wrestle the 11-seed sophomore Evan Smith (0-7) of Cameron County. Peterson’s preliminary foe will be senior Dayton Sherwood (1-2), the 10-seed from Port Allegany. Illerbrun will face the number-three seed, freshman Jared Popson (11-7) from Brookville.

The preliminary round is an elimination round. Wrestlers losing in the quarters drop to the consolation bracket where they can finish as high as third.

Sherwood likes the positive attitude his team has brought to practice this week. He knows it will be a tough go for some but feels they’re up to the challenge.

“The kids that we have are talented. There are some guys that have taken their lumps a little bit but we’ve got good athletic kids who are coachable,” he said. “Will they make any noise this year – I don’t know. Have we had a full season maybe? Some of these guys don’t have a lot of varsity experience. They might get hit hard by some of the more veteran guys at districts but that’s part of the development. I do know they’re ready to accept anything thrown their way.”

As for the adversity the season has brought, the Kane coach feels his group has helped him through it.

“This would have been an unbearable year for me, but these guys made it bearable. They’re a great group of kids. They’ve been working hard this week. It was a blessing to get everybody back. It made a huge difference as far as morale goes,” he said.

Swartwood is looking forward to seeing his team have a chance to shine at districts.

“We always preach that all the duals and all the tournaments we go to are just practice for districts. I like to think when we get to districts we always step it up a little more and kids wrestle a little better than people expect,” he said.

The Kane coach admits he had his doubts about districts even taking place.

“There were so many times during the season that I thought we’re never going to get to districts. I knew there was a possibility it wouldn’t happen. I’m very relieved to be at this point.”

While conditioning as expected isn’t where it would normally be at this time of the year, Swartwood feels his team is healthy for the most part.

“Nobody’s really banged up. They’re probably sore from getting good practices. They’re working through it. This is a tough group of kids,” he said.

While it might not be quite like Christmas morning on Saturday. The Kane coach is thrilled his group of 10 will be competing.

“I think Saturday morning when we’re on our way to Clearfield these guys will be like OK this is it. We’re going to get after it. It’s going to be a lot of fun to see them wrestle.”