LEHMAN TWP. – Senior Tashawn Qualls has been wrestling since he was in fifth grade.
After his sophomore season, when GAR’s program merged with Coughlin. Qualls was out of a starting slot in the lineup.
The 152-pounder, who leaves GAR everyday after school and heads to Coughlin’s wrestling room for practice, could easily have stopped wrestling. But he worked hard, got better, and finally cracked the tough Coughlin lineup this season.
Not expecting much and being nervous as the No. 1 seed in his bracket on Sunday at the Wyoming Valley Conference Tournament, Qualls emerged as a champion for the first time in his career when he defeated Nanticoke’s Collin Kudurko-Kashatus 3-0 in the finals.
“It was unexpected,” Qualls said about winning his first gold medal. “Last year, I didn’t do too good at all. It’s overwhelming coming in here and getting first place for the first time.
“Coming to Coughlin is a big move. I started to get better and work on techniques and stuff. They allowed me to come in and use my skills to help the team. I came in, they gave me an opportunity to start last year and I didn’t do too good. But I took the L’s, used it as a lesson learned. Came in today and just went to work.”
Not only did Qualls get a gold for himself, he was one of three titlists for the Crusaders, who won the team championship for the second time in four years. Coughlin had six finalists with Darren Clarke (120 pounds) and Jake Brown (132) joining Qualls as champs.
The Crusaders scored 202 points. Tunkhannock’s 187 points were second. Crestwood (148.5), Dallas (129), and defending champion Hazleton Area (124.5) rounded out the top five.
In tournaments last month, Coughlin finished behind Tunkhannock and Lake-Lehman. But now, with a healthy lineup, the team is ready for a run at a Division 1 title.
“When we needed to score points, we did, and when we needed to be good on defense, we did it. So we did everything together and that was the result when you have a team effort, and a full team,” Coughlin coach Dave Parsnik said. “This is the first time all year where we’re healthy and we have our normal team in all the weight classes. I think the kids wrestled well and I’m looking forward to the regular season.”
Qualls, Clarke and Brown were all first-time winners of the tournament along with Tunkhannock’s David Evans (106) and Connor Munley (182), Hanover Area’s DJ Erickson (145), Crestwood’s Ron Grevera (160), Hazleton Area’s Shane Noonan (195) and Lake-Lehman’s Kaleb Konigus at 285. Grevera, Erickson and Konigus all improved on last year’s second-place showing.
Clarke, a freshman, won by major decision over Justin Sterling of Crestwood in the final.
“Darren’s ability is untapped. He can be as good as anybody in the league,” Parsnik said. “He’s a freshman, but he has so much wresting experience from PJW’s (Pennsylvania Junior Wrestling state championships) and junior high that he doesn’t fear anybody. He just goes out and wrestles. And when he’s on, he’s good.”
Noonan won his first WVC Tournament title beating Tunkhannock’s Sam Rice to win the gold. The previous two years, Noonan’s teammate Carson Kinney defeated Rice in the finals. It was also the second time this year that Noonan defeated Rice. But this time, he won by fall in 40 seconds, sticking him with a dump to his back.
“I felt a little slow at the beginning of the year, so to come in here and win this, it feels good,” Noonan said. “It was different (winning by pin). It just kinda happened.”
David Krokowski of Wyoming Valley West tops the list of multiple time champions. The junior joined elite company becoming just the fifth wrestler in the history of the tournament to win it three times. When he beat Coughlin’s Patrick Clarke in the 126-pound final 6-0, he joined former Spartan Kyle Krasavage, Meyers’ Colin Pasone and Hazleton Area’s Chad Hoffman and Jimmy Hoffman as the only three-time winners of the tournament. No one has ever won four golds.
“I just focus on doing my best, and if I do my best, I hopefully win,” Krokowski said. “Makes me happy to know that I have achieved a certain goal and to have that. Hopefully next year, I can be the only one to do that.”
Krokowski’s teammate J.J. White, a sophomore, won gold for the second time as he topped Hanover Area’s Joe Rowley via tech fall in the 113-pound final; White had four wins on Sunday, including three by fall in 48 seconds or less. Valley West had four finalists as 106-pounder Cadden Kucek and Landon Stanislow (145) were second.
“J.J. White is a great wrestler. I grew up with him. He’s probably the best drill partner I’ve ever wrestled with in my life,” Krokowski said. “It feels like I have a brother to go out and wrestle with all these years. And he’s a good person to have around to keep me motivated. It’s like steel on steel.”
Tunkhannock’s Tommy Traver, who was named the tournament’s Outstanding Wrestler for the second straight year, picked up his second crown as well, pinning Josh Brown of Coughlin in the 138-pound final.
Dallas’ Steven Newell (170) and Crestwood’s Shane O’Rourke (220) both repeated as champions, winning with falls.
For O’Rourke, the win was a little more special for the senior, who missed last year’s postseason due to an illness. So now, fully healthy, he’s hoping to continue this momentum into more hardware when the individual postseason comes around next month.
“I can’t take this and think I can slack off,” O’Rourke said. “I have to work harder, and this will motivate me to get better so I can do good in districts. And I want to make it to states.”
The WVC dual season kicks into high gear on Wednesday with a full slate of six duals on the schedule.