“He was there for the birth of the Bentworth High School wrestling program. He was there when no one else was. He was there when no one else cared. He was there to agonize over all the losses, all the frustration, all the pain. For 15 years, Tom Teagarden was there for – as he would say – the “boys” of Bentworth. And Wednesday night at Chartiers Valley High School, Teagarden was rewarded for all his effort, for all his time. Largely because of Teagarden’s coaching – moving wrestlers up, down, and all around the Chartiers-Houston Bucs – Bentworth earned its first wrestling and WPIAL championship with a convincing, 34-30, victory,”
– John Sacco,
Observer-Reporter, February 20, 1991
Fifteen years after being asked by the principal of Bentworth High School if he wanted to be the Bearcats’ first wrestling coach, Tom Teagarden worked, thought and taught his way from first-time coach to champion.
This was not an easy climb. In fact, it was fraught with obstacles, pain-staking defeats and challenges most men would not have wanted to face, let alone overcome.
But there he was that magical February night 30 years ago, holding a WPIAL Class AA championship trophy over his head, surrounded by those Bentworth Bearcats that were just ornery, crazy, talented and committed enough to make history.
Bentworth’s 34-30 win over Chartiers-Houston, which at the time was still considered among the elite in Class AA wrestling, was a work of art by Teagarden and his wrestlers.
Chartiers-Houston defeated Bentworth in the second match of the season in December of 1990, 33-32. The Bearcats never lost again, winning 17 in a row to finish 18-1.
Teagarden and Bearcats’ wrestling had conquered it all.
“We had planned all year for it,” Teagarden said. “I knew we could win. We put Bentworth wrestling on the map. I had set standards for myself. That night is such a memorable moment.
“Those boys worked hard and were disciplined when they had to be. That was a rowdy bunch.
“I had never coached a day in my life when I was hired. I was fresh out of college. I wasn’t sure what I could do. We didn’t get a year to wrestle just junior varsity. We jumped right in. We started from scratch. I ordered the uniforms, scheduled the officials. We practiced in the lobby, at the elementary school, in the cafeteria.”
Bentworth didn’t have any mats. Teagarden did not have an assistant. He was coach, trainer equipment manager and the scorekeeper.
Teagarden was not used to such hurdles and adversity.
As a standout at McGuffey, he was a PIAA champion in 1969 and runnerup in 1970. Both of those seasons, he was a WPIAL Class AAA champion. He was a section runnerup in 1971, losing to his rival George Bryant, who went on to WPIAL and PIAA titles, in the Section 3 championship.
Teagarden enjoyed a strong wrestling career at Penn State.
After losing its first ever dual meet, 63-4, to Jefferson-Morgan, Dec. 7, 1976, Bentworth did manage one dual meet victory that first season. The lone winner in that first dual was Andy Pordash, who became the Bearcats’ first WPIAL champion in 1979. Bentworth actually produced a winning season by year three. It was an aberration.
A few years before the 1990-1991 season, Teagarden almost gave in and gave up.
“I was ready to try and find a coaching job elsewhere,” he admitted.
The lopsided losses piled up along with a bunch of frustration.
“To have a successful program, you need support from the community and the school. At that time, I didn’t feel we were getting as much as we needed,” he said.
Instead of walking away, Teagarden made a way for Bentworth wrestling.
He decided to insert three freshmen on the varsity. He gave Albert Thomas, Tim Woods and Chad Zrimsek a chance to start as ninth graders in 1987-88. Those three became cornerstones for a championship team.
The turning point came during the 1989-90 season. The Bearcats advanced to the WPIAL semifinals for the first time. They went 10-2, losing only to Jefferson-Morgan, the eventual WPIAL champion and the then king of Class AA.
Bentworth started the 1990-91 season as top contenders. Jefferson-Morgan was still king. Chartiers-Houston was considered serious title contenders. And then there were the Bearcats.
The season didn’t quite start the way it was planned. Bentworth needed a comeback to defeat Fort Cherry in the season opener. Their lone loss came next, that one-point decision to the Bucs.
“At the beginning, we knew we had a good team,” said Thomas, who is the current Bearcats’ assistant coach. “It was a close loss. We knew we had a good team. We didn’t let it impact us. We knew at some point we would be a real good team. I don’t think there was any point we talked about winning a WPIAL championship. I don’t remember even thinking about it.”
A regular-season win over Jefferson-Morgan made it clear the Bearcats had arrived and were title contenders. The loss was the Rockets first after winning 32 straight over a two-year period against WPIAL Class AA opposition.
That win carried Bentworth through a team tournament quarterfinal thrashing of Jeannette and a narrow win over Jefferson-Morgan in the semifinals.
“We lost a couple of close ones,” said Ron Headlee, who was the Rockets’ coach then and is the current coach at Waynesburg University. “We knew it would be one of those matches. I had the utmost respect for Tom. He was humble. He had a great career himself.
“I knew Tom and the effort that he put forth. You never want to be on the losing end. But if you were going to lose, Tom was the kind of man you’d be OK losing to. Tom worked so hard.”
The championship and rematch with Chartiers-Houston had been contemplated by Teagarden most of the season. He had a plan and he stuck to it.
While that match was won in front of a crowd at Chartiers Valley, the seeds of victory were planted an hour or so before during weigh-ins. As the wrestlers weighed-in, the Bearcats did so in usual alignment. But only those paying close attention and doing diligent and accurate recording of the weights would have known what was coming once the bright lights were shining on the mats upstairs in the gymnasium.
The Bucs simply had no idea what was going to hit them. Teagarden weighed them in without any suspicion, but he had many of his guys to wrestle at a weight less than normal. One in particular, Kelly Shriner, would be able to wrestle two weights lower than the norm. Chartiers-Houston had no clue when the match commenced.
“It was a combination of the moves and that the boys wrestled a hell of a match,” Teagarden said. “We were as emotional as we had been all year, probably as emotional as any Bentworth team has been.”
Teagarden dropped Keith Lehman from 119 to 112, Woods from 140-145 to 135, Ken Holman from 152 to 145 and Shriner from 171 to 160. Of all the shuffling, Lehman was Teagarden’s trump card. A week prior, Teagarden didn’t think Lehman would be available to him as a 112-pounder. But Lehman managed to make the weight. And what followed was more stunning and crippling than the Bucs could have ever believed.
Lehman shocked C-H’s Mac Simms, scoring five points in the bout’s first 48 seconds. He then jolted the Bucs late in the period when he took Simms down and pinned him suddenly with a half nelson.
The Bearcats extended their lead to 34-15 with wins by Zrimsek (125), Rob Weinzen (130), Woods (135) and Thomas (140).
After the Bucs got six points to cut the lead to 34-21, Bentworth clinched the title when Jason Ivcic defeated Derek Blough, 7-4, at 152 and Shriner decisioned Bob Gostic, 7-1, at 160. Shriner weighed in at 171 but weighed just 160 pounds – a fact that went virtually unnoticed by everyone but Teagarden. “I don’t think they figured that,” he said after the dual meet.
The Bucs’ staff was so blind-sided, they called for a conference at the scorer’s table having no idea that Shriver had weighed just 160 and was eligible to wrestle that weight. “The big thing was they made a lot of moves,” Chartiers-Houston head coach Ed Vorhes said after the match. “Tom moved kids all over the place. And he brought a tough lineup.”
“We knew they missed it at weigh-ins,” Thomas said. “Tom knew the matchups he wanted, and he got them.”
Said Woods: “It was a great job of coaching and planning on Tom’s part. It was tough for him through the years. He handled us well. Tom had us in shape and ready to win. It was one of the best nights of my life.”
Bentworth was truly a team. The Bearcats did not have a WPIAL individual champion.
“It was an incredible feeling of accomplishment,” Zrimsek said. “Tom asked us to do our jobs that night. It wasn’t just winning and losing. He brought a lot of energy and emotion that night.”
It rubbed off. While Teagarden pulled the strings, the Bearcats’ performance was outstanding and the execution near perfect.
“We never let that early-season loss get in the way,” Zrimsek added. “When I was a freshman, we were just looking to fill all the weights. Three years later, we were champions. It was our privilege to wrestle for Tom.”
Said Weinzen: “It was Tom’s night and Tom’s win. He did everything he could in his power to help us win. We had become a great team. We came together. It definitely is very special, maybe more so now.
“Wrestling wasn’t something big in our district even when we won. It’s a football and basketball town. So that night will always be special. Wrestling was in the spotlight.”
Teagarden remembers the great support Bentworth wrestling had that night. It stands out to him, humbles him.
“I will never forget that night,” he added. “Bentworth wrestling was king.”
George Linck, who was in his first year as athletic director, summed it up.
“Our kids performed great that night,” he said. “Tom had to deal with many things in those 15 years. He never quit. He made it go. He doesn’t get enough credit for being the mastermind. He was extremely good technically and knew what he was doing.”
CANONSBURG – In the story of Samson and Delilah, the cutting of Samson’s hair didn’t work out very well for the legendary Israelite warrior.
Don’t tell that to Cole Homet, who showed up with his curly locks in some one’s trash can. The newly shaved head of Homet glowed under the lights of Canon-McMillan’s gymnasium.
Homet wrestled his nemesis, Dylan Evans of Chartiers Valley, and instigator of the shaving of said head after their last meeting, a 9-4 victory by Evans in the 138-pound finals.
This time, with a clean shaven head, too, Kyle Homet, Cole’s brother, was standing along the top railing and yelling down instructions. The combination of bald heads, mostly Cole’s, produced a 3-2 victory in the finals of the Section 4 Tournament at Canon-McMillan High School.
The top two finishers in each weight class advance to the WPIAL Class AAA Championships next week at Canon-McMillan.
Waynesburg dominated the tournament with 12 first places and Trinity had one, Ty Banco at 215. It is believed to be the most section champions crowned in the tournament’s current format.
Winning titles for the Raiders were Ky Szewczyk at 106 pounds, Joe Simon at 113, Mac Church (120), Zander Phaturos (126), Colton Stoneking (132), Homet, returning PIAA champion Wyatt Henson (145), Rocco Welsh (152), Nate Stephenson (160), Luca Augustine (172), Eli Makel (189) and Ryan Howard (Hvy).
This was a tournament of paybacks: Szewczyk, Phaturos and Homet rallied from losses in the subsection.
Homet’s loss tore at him and spurred the change of hairstyles.
“I was able to ride,” said Homet, who is now 1-1 with Evans. “I came home after I loss and my brother said come here. We almost fist-fought because he was yelling at me. But he was trying to help me.
“He said, ‘Come over here. I want to shake your head.’ I said ‘No, you can’t shake my head.’ He said, ‘I want to shave your head.’ He shaved my head and we talked for four or five hours that night about life in general and made some changes. I put aside my pride.”
Phaturos has wrestled Blake Reihner of Trinity for the fourth time this season, the latest coming in the 126-pound finals. Phatorus lost a 3-1 overtime decision to Reihner in Wednesday’s subsection tournament. The victory ties the season series at two wins apice.
“He likes to keep it close and pull it out at the end,” said Phatorus. “I knew I had to attack, stay on him. I wasn’t afraid of getting tired. The bike workouts have helped a lot. We condition pretty well at Waynesburg.”
Szewczyk, whose dad won a state title at North Star High School in 1997 before becoming an assistant coach at Waynesburg, lost a 7-2 decision to Andrew Binni of Canon-McMillan in the subsection tournament. Szewczyk gutted out a 2-1 decision to win the section title.
“I wanted to get my hand raised so bad,” said Szewczyk. “He such a great competitor. I have so much respect for him.”
The lone non-Waynesburg wrestler to win a title was Ty Banco of Trinity, who avenged a pin from Tim Rohaley of Canon-McMillan with a pin in 4:59.
Banco took a 2-1 in their three-bout series so far.
Banco offered a hand to help Rohaley up but he refused it.
“I was like whatever,” said Banco. “I was thinking about that pin the whole week. This was just a revenge match. I was thinking about the last match. I wanted to get back out there. He’s a good kid. I’ll see him again.”
CANONSBURG – Chris Vargo walked off the mat with a scowl on his face that could bring rain.
He tore his headgear off and let it hang loosely along his side.
There wasn’t even a hint of smile from this freshman from Bentworth.
And he was a 4-1 winner over Damon Michaels in the 113-pound final of the WPIAL Class AA Championships, handing the Elizabeth Forward freshman his first loss of the season.
Good thing the match wasn’t closer or who knows what Vargo might have done.
“I didn’t really wrestle well,” said Vargo. “I couldn’t finish any of my shots. Towards the end, I focused on stalling and not on scoring any points.”
In the 85-year history of this tournament, there have been only 31 four-time champions but Vargo has put himself in the conversation after the win over Michaels (24-1).
Vargo raised his season and career record to 11-0. The lack of mat time was a concern for the Bentworth coaches.
The top three wrestlers in each weight class advanced to the regional tournament Saturday at Indiana University.
Burgettstown had two runners-up and three wrestlers who finished in third place. Beth-Center had four third-place finishers. Burrell led all schools with four champions.
Shane Kemper of Burgettstown surprised a lot of people by moving up a weight class for the postseason. But the choice to settle in at 189 paid big dividends as Kemper, a senior, moved on to next week’s regional tournament with a second-place finish.
“I feel I have better movement,” said Kemper. “Like a lot of thee 189-pounders, (Trevor) Schultheis couldn’t move real good. That’s why I came up.”
This was Kemper’s third trip to the finals. The tradeoff this time was giving up some weight for more quickness. It mattered as Patrick Cutchember of Quaker Valley shut out Kemper, 6-0 in the finals.
“He’s a real positional type of wrestler,” said Kemper, “but so am I. He just came out on top.”
In the 126-pound finals, Joey Fischer (15-0) of South Park, a state runner-up last season, stopped Joey Sentipal of Burgettstown, 12-3. Sentipal made it to the finals with a thrilling 8-6 decision over Shawn Szymanski of Burrell in the semifinals.
Ethan Barr made it to the 172-pound finals, where Rune Lawrence, a freshman from Frazier, ended the McGuffey sebior’s run with a pin in 1:36. That made Barr a three-time WPIAL runner-up.
“The goal wasn’t to go out and get pinned,” said Barr. “I don’t like to think that that’s a possibility. This is just a bump in the road.”
Barr made it to the finals with a 6-3 decision over Noah Gnibus of Mt. Pleasant.
Joe Baronick showed some ability to rebound, pinning Vitali Daniels of Bentworth in 3:43 in the consolation semifinals. But Baronick fell to Nick Murphy of Elizabeth Forward, 9-0, for third place.
Winners were Cooper Hornack (106) and Niko Ferra (120) of Burrell; Vargo (113) ; Joey Fischer (126) of South Park; Jamison Poklembo (132); Ian Oswalt (138) of Burrell; Ken Duschek (145) of Blackhawk; Grant MacKay (152) of Laurel; AJ Corrado (160) of Burrell; Rune Lawrence (172) of Frazier; Patrick Cutchember (189) of Quaker Valley; Dayton Pitzer (215) of Mt. Pleasant; and Mitch Miles (Hvy) of Laurel.
Any time Trinity is in danger of losing a game, it’s an event.
True, the Hillers fell to Norwin early on, and had quite a challenge Jan. 23, when they ended Chartiers Valley’s state record 64-game win streak.
Aside from that, however, the No. 1 team in WPIAL Class 5A has breezed through its schedule, and came into Saturday’s bout with North Allegheny having won their last two games by 77 and 71 points, respectively.
But playing against the top-ranked team in Class 6A is never going to be easy, especially when that team is 17-0.
The battle of No. 1s didn’t disappoint.
At the end of the day, Trinity powered through to beat the Tigers, 59-56.
With the playoffs looming, it was the type of challenge both coaches – North Allegheny’s Spencer Stefko and Trinity’s Kathy McConnell-Miller – wanted.
“There were stretches in the game where they just out-everything’d us, and that’s what we came here for,” Stefko said. “Now it’s time to go get better.”
“There were some great players on the floor tonight, and they made some great plays,” McConnell-Miller said. “I just think it was a really good matchup for both teams at this point in the season.”
There was a time when it looked like Trinity (15-1) might cruise. The Hillers closed the first half on a 20-9 run and went into halftime up 33-23.
But North Allegheny (17-1) got it together, and behind 12 third quarter points from Paige Morningstar, led by one going into the final period.
For McConnell-Miller, the key to bouncing back in the fourth quarter was held by defensive execution.
“We needed to get some stops in order to get some scores, and I thought once we put a couple of them back-to-back-to-back, then things kind of loosened up for us a little bit,” she said.
The Hillers picked up the necessary stops, and just as important, had clutch shooting from Alyssa Clutter.
The brightest star of the afternoon scored a career-high 23 points, and her day paralleled that of the team in general. She was hot in the first half, with 15 points, cold in the third quarter, with just two, and down the stretch, she delivered.
With the game tied 45-45 just around the five-minute mark, Clutter hit a three to put the Hillers ahead.
Roughly a minute later, with Trinity leading 48-47, the junior drained another three ball to make it a two-possession game.
“I kept taking pull-up jumpers, and I realized what wasn’t working for me,” Clutter said. “Then I decided to spot up, and my teammates were getting me the ball, and that’s what kept it going for me.”
Though Stefko said North Allegheny’s defense didn’t make it easy for Clutter, she still found a variety of ways to hurt the Tigers
“She was incredible,” Stefko said. “Every time we left her (open), she made us pay, and that didn’t just pay off in the points, but in some other aspects of the game. … There were stretches where we were trying to stay connected to her, and that opened up some other things for them. So a ton of credit to that kid, and a ton of credit to her teammates who did a great job finding her every time we left her (open).”
As usual, Courtney Dahlquist, also had a productive night offensively for Trinity, scoring 17 points including four foul shots in the final 11 seconds.
North Allegheny made a final push with five seconds left. The Tigers’ only option was the shoot a three-pointer. Knowing what was coming, Trinity’s defense was ready for Jasmine Timmerson’s shot. It didn’t fall, and overtime wouldn’t be needed.
“That’s never going to be an easy shot,” Stefko said. “Credit to Jas for finding a way to squeeze something off. They did a great job defending that.”
Morningstar led NA’s scoring with 16 points. Lizzy Goretsch added 13.
Also for the Tigers, Kellie McConnell, the niece of McConnell-Miller and Suzie McConnell-Serio, started as a freshman, scoring four points Saturday. With McConnell-Serio in attendance, it was the second time McConnell-Miller has had to go against a member of her family, the first being that game against Chartiers Valley when the Hillers ended brother Tim’s win streak.
“It’s happening way too often,” McConnell-Miller said. “My heart is with Kellie. I just love and respect her as a freshman what she’s doing and how she’s making her team better. The last thing I ever want for her is to not be successful and lose. Obviously, I care and am passionate about our girls and their success, but it breaks my heart every time a McConnell doesn’t have success.”
Though the Hillers certainly don’t want to slack off in any of their final three regular season games, the first of which is at Thomas Jefferson Monday night at 7:30, it would be a surprise for Trinity to have a setback before the postseason.
North Allegheny, on the contrary, goes from playing Trinity to playing the only team that’s beaten Trinity. The Tigers will be at Norwin Monday night.
PITTSBURGH – Sidney Crosby had two assists in his 1,000th NHL game, and the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the New York Islanders 3-2 on Saturday night.
Kris Letang scored twice, including a tiebreaking goal in the third period, as Pittsburgh won for the fourth time in five games. Mike Matheson also scored, and Tristan Jarry made 33 saves.
Jordan Eberle and Brock Nelson scored for New York, which has dropped two straight following a season-high eight-game point streak. Semyon Varlamov stopped 15 shots.
Nelson gave the Islanders a 2-1 lead with his fifth goal just 53 seconds into the third period, but the Penguins responded.
Matheson tied it with his first goal for the Penguins at 7:35. He started the rush and eventually finished the play with a wrist shot from the slot.
Letang put Pittsburgh ahead for good at 13:34. His center-point wrist shot beat Varlamov over the shoulder to the blocker side.
Crosby became the 25th active skater to play in his 1,000th game. He’s also the first player in Penguins history to play 1,000 games with the team. Crosby entered his 1,000th game with the eighth-most points in NHL history through 1,000 games.
Pittsburgh handed New York its first regulation loss in nine games on Thursday. It was the first time the Penguins won a game all season without trailing at any point.
But the Islanders took it to Pittsburgh in the first period Saturday, building a 16-4 advantage in shots. Jarry stepped up, and the game was scoreless after one.
Shots were 23-10 in favor of the Islanders when Letang opened the scoring 12:36 into the second. Letang scored 12 seconds into a power play with a blocker-side slap shot from Malkin and Crosby.
Eberle tied it with his seventh goal at 15:28, beating Jarry with a backhand.
The Penguins all took warmups in Crosby’s No. 87 jersey to recognize their captain before his 1,000th NHL game. At one point during warmups, his teammates knelt down in unison and replicated Crosby’s routine of re-tying his skates.
The Penguins honored Crosby on the ice with a pregame video. The video featured career highlights and a message from his family and teammates in addition to comments from Mario Lemieux, Steve Yzerman, Steven Stamkos, Patrick Kane, John Tavares and others. Malkin and Letang presented an emotional Crosby with a silver hockey stick, a watch, and a framed mosaic celebrating 1,000 games.
Recorded messages of congratulations were also played from others during stoppages in play, including former teammate Phil Kessel and longtime rival Alex Ovechkin.
The Islanders begin a four-game homestand Monday against Buffalo.
Pittsburgh will visit Washington on Tuesday. The Penguins close February with four road games against the Capitals or Islanders.