It’s extremely rare for the WPIAL to enter the PIAA Class 3A tournament without a single returning champion. So rare, in fact, you’d have to go back more than a quarter-century to find the last time it happened, all the way back in 1998.

It’s tough to single out any local entrant in Class 3A with the best chance at bringing home their first title at this year’s PIAA tournament, taking place Thursday-Saturday at Giant Center in Hershey, Pa. Several of the WPIAL’s most acclaimed wrestlers find themselves facing an uphill climb to reach the top of the podium, with a handful of brackets featuring multiple nationally ranked competitors. That doesn’t mean the WPIAL is going to come home empty-handed, of course — but anybody who manages to claim a gold medal in the largest classification is certainly going to have to earn it the hard way.

Some would point to Thomas Jefferson junior Maddox Shaw (39-3) as the WPIAL’s top overall wrestling talent in Class 3A. Shaw is a returning state finalist and Super 32 Challenge champion who is ranked No. 4 in the country at 144 pounds by FloWrestling, but he will likely need to defeat a pair of Penn State recruits to win his first state title.

“I think if I perform at my best, which I think is levels above everybody else, I think it could all work out,” Shaw said. “I’m really just focused on my performance now.”

Jersey Shore senior Brock Weiss (30-0) is the Northwest Regional champion, and he carries a 59-match winning streak into the PIAA tournament. He also just so happens to be on the top half of the 139-pound bracket — setting Weiss and Shaw on a collision course for a must-see semifinal showdown.

On the bottom half of the bracket, Central Mountain junior Dalton Perry (31-3) is a former PIAA champion who lost to Weiss, 9-8, in last week’s regional finals, and he defeated Shaw in the 2022 PIAA quarterfinals on his way to winning a state title as a freshman. FloWrestling has Weiss ranked No. 11 in the country at the weight and Perry at No. 12.

“[Shaw] is a silent leader. He never says no. He’s always on time. It’s the little things,” Thomas Jefferson coach Michael Ladick said. “His diet is phenomenal. His grades are phenomenal. His attention to detail is phenomenal. … He never puts himself in a position to be in danger, whether it’s on the mat or off the mat.

“That kid has been in those types of matches before. He looks forward to these opportunities.”

Norwin freshman Landon Sidun spent most of the season ranked No. 1 in the country at his weight, but he lost in the WPIAL finals to Butler sophomore Santino Sloboda in an epic 114-pound championship match. Many are already penciling Sloboda (36-0) and Sidun (38-2) into the state finals for a highly anticipated rematch, but Sloboda has undefeated Manheim Township senior Kaedyn Williams looming on his side of the bracket.

Williams (34-0) is a four-time South Central Regional champion, three-time PIAA medalist and a 2021 PIAA champion with a career record of 112-5. Despite finishing as the WPIAL runner-up, Sidun might actually have a less challenging path to the championship than Sloboda.

Butler’s Santino Sloboda celebrates after defeating Norwin’s Landon Sidun, 5-4, in the WPIAL Class 3A 114-pound championship match at Canon-McMillan High School on Saturday, March 2, 2024. (Mike Darnay)

At 127 pounds, Canon-McMillan senior Andrew Binni (32-6) is a returning PIAA finalist and Navy recruit who finds himself ranked No. 13 in the country by FloWrestling, while Council Rock North junior Eren Sement (39-7) is ranked No. 16. After losing to Latrobe’s three-time PIAA champion Vinny Kilkeary in last year’s state finals, Binni could be poised to turn silver into gold this time around.

All things considered, the WPIAL wrestler with the best shot at winning a state title in Class 3A might be Pine-Richland junior Vaughn Spencer. Fresh off his second WPIAL title, Spencer (39-2) could end up facing fellow Lehigh recruit Bekhruz Sadriddinov (42-3) of Council Rock South in the 172-pound championship match. Including his junior high days, Spencer holds a career record of 4-0 against Sadriddinov, and he’s confident he’ll have his future teammate’s number once again if they meet in the state finals.

“Last year was supposed to be my year to at least catch a medal, but I blew out my PCL and MCL,” said Spencer, ranked No. 17 in the nation at 175 pounds. “I rehabbed all summer. Now this is my year. … I’m hoping for maybe a Lehigh battle in the finals if we both do what we’re supposed to do.”

Class 2A preview

All eyes will be on Frazier senior Rune Lawrence this weekend, as the West Virginia recruit attempts to become only the seventh WPIAL wrestler to win four state titles and the 14th four-time PIAA champion overall.

A once-in-a-generation talent with a career record of 141-8 — including 122 bonus-point victories and 99 pins — Lawrence (29-1) has pinned 11 consecutive opponents going into the PIAA tournament. He has won each of his previous two state championship matches by fall, and Lawrence hasn’t lost an actual match since a 6-4 decision against Camden McDanel of Teays Valley, Ohio, in the semifinals of the prestigious Walsh Jesuit Ironman tournament on Dec. 10, 2022. Since then, Lawrence has rattled off 70 wins in a row with 58 pins, all while facing the toughest competition the nation has to offer — with his only “losses” during that span coming via medical forfeit.

Now fully healed from a midseason knee injury, Lawrence is firing on all cylinders heading into his final state tournament, and he knows the world will be watching.

“I look back on it, and I’m like, ‘Man, I got three losses where I never even wrestled someone,” Lawrence said. “If I didn’t get hurt, who knows what my record would be this year and what [tournaments] I would have won? It is what it is.”

Frazier’s Rune Lawrence, right, is four wins away from joining one of the most exclusive clubs in all of high school sports. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Don’t start etching his name into the history books just yet, though. Awaiting Lawrence on the other side of the bracket is Muncy junior Austin Johnson (28-1), the reigning PIAA champion at 215 pounds and a two-time PIAA finalist with a career record of 108-3. Johnson is ranked No. 20 in the nation at the weight class, while Lawrence is ranked No. 3.

For his part, Lawrence won’t be satisfied with simply getting his hand raised. Anything short of domination is considered a letdown by his standards, and rest assured Lawrence will be going for the pin the entire time he’s out there on the mat — for better or for worse.

“He’s just got to be one point better,” said Frazier coach Buck Watkins. “That’s all that matters.”

The only other returning PIAA champion from the WPIAL, Burrell senior Cooper Hornack will have a much tougher time getting back to the top of the podium this year. That’s because he’s in the same weight class with Bishop McCort sophomore sensation Bo Bassett (52-0), a Cadet world champion in freestyle wrestling and the No. 13 pound-for-pound wrestler in the country. The two faced off in the 139-pound finals at the Southwest Regional last week, and Bassett raced out to a 12-3 lead after the first period before pinning Hornack (37-5) with a cradle in 2:24.

Holding a sparkling career record of 70-0, Bassett finished 18-0 as a freshman but was ineligible to wrestle in the postseason due to sanctions placed on the school for alleged recruiting violations. He captured titles at both the Ironman and Powerade tournaments this year, along with winning his second Super 32 Challenge title at the premier preseason all-star tournament in the country. Bassett has recorded bonus points in 50 of his 52 victories this season, with 30 of his wins coming via technical fall and 16 coming via pin.

Bassett is one of several nationally renowned wrestlers for Bishop McCort, which also features 127-pound sophomore Jax Forrest — ranked No. 2 in the nation in his weight class and No. 6 pound-four-pound. Forrest and Bassett are the only sophomores ranked in the top 25 of FloWrestling’s pound-for-pound rankings.

That being said, Forrest (49-2) is coming off a shocking 13-7 loss in the regional finals against Bentworth senior Chris Vargo (38-2), a four-time regional champion, three-time WPIAL champion and three-time PIAA medalist with finishes of third, fifth and second in his previous three trips to the state tournament. Anything can happen in Hershey, but many expect Vargo and Forrest to rematch in the state finals. Can Vargo shock the world twice to capture his first PIAA championship?

Bentworth senior Chris Vargo, right, pictured during his WPIAL Class 2A 127-pound championship win over Indiana’s Nico Fanella, will try to defeat nationally ranked Jax Forrest of Bishop McCort for the second week in a row. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Girls preview

For the first time, girls will be wrestling alongside the boys at the PIAA tournament, with the Class 3A and Class 2A boys finals scheduled to take place simultaneously with the inaugural girls championship finals at 4 p.m. Saturday.

The WPIAL will have a great chance at crowning Pennsylvania’s first girls state champion, as Canon-McMillan senior Valarie Solorio is the overwhelming favorite to win the 100-pound title despite competing with a partially torn ACL. Solorio (12-0) is an Iowa recruit who has been wrestling since she was 7 years old, mostly competing against boys until the PIAA sanctioned girls wrestling this year. She is ranked No. 3 in the country at 100 pounds.

“I never really thought I’d have the chance [to wrestle at the PIAA championships],” Solorio said. “I thought if I wanted to go to the Giant Center, I’d have to do it with the boys. So whenever we got sanctioned, it was just a big relief, like, ‘Wow, I can do this with the girls.'”

Solorio is one of three unbeaten girls from the WPIAL, along with Butler senior Ana Malovich (15-0) and Moon freshman Haley Smarsh (25-0). Malovich is a Grand Valley State recruit who spent the previous three seasons competing on Butler’s boys team, compiling a career record of 51-34. Entered as the No. 2 seed at 118 pounds, Malovich is ranked No. 10 in the country at 115, with 14 of her 15 victories coming via fall. Palisades junior Savannah Witt (27-0), ranked No. 4 in the country at 125 pounds, is the top seed at 118.

Meanwhile, Smarsh is the No. 2 seed at 130 pounds, while Easton junior Aubre Krazer (23-0) is the No. 1 seed. Krazer is ranked No. 3 in the country at 130.

“I know there are really tough wrestlers [in my bracket]. It’s not going to be easy,” Smarsh said. “There’s definitely a lot of pressure, but I’m just going to go out there and do my best.”

Joining Solorio as the only other No. 1 seed from the WPIAL is North Allegheny senior Leyna Rumpler (32-1). A Baldwin Wallace recruit, Rumpler is ranked No. 23 in the country at 155 pounds, while Hickory senior Avry Ryhal (22-2) is ranked No. 27. Rumpler defeated Ryhal, 2-1, in last week’s West Regional finals, and she has won two out of three matches against Ryhal so far this season.

“I know Avry. We’ve known each other for a long time,” Rumpler said. “We might come in contact [again] at states. Who knows? … I’m super excited to experience the atmosphere with all my friends, all my teammates, and just see how we all react.

“I’ve been there a few times for the [boys tournament], and now I get to finally wrestle on the same stage as them and showcase what I’m able to do.”

Steve is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at

Steve Rotstein

Steve is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at