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Butler’s Sloboda, Malovich look to ride momentum to state wrestling tourney

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Butler's Santino Sloboda is in control of his match with Fox Chapel's Landon Funk at the WPIAL AAA Northern Sectional championships last weekend. Sloboda is 32-0 and seeded No. 1 at this weekend’s WPIAL Championships. Ed Thompson/Butler Eagle 02/24/2024

Santino Sloboda and Ana Malovich are both undefeated — and both have goals that extend beyond this weekend.

The Butler wrestlers are favored to win their respective weight classes in the boys WPIAL Class AAA Championships and girls Western Regional, both taking place this weekend at Canon-McMillan High School.

The boys wrestle Friday and Saturday while the girls tourney will run alongside the boys on Saturday.

Sloboda is 32-0 at 114 pounds this season. The Golden Tornado sophomore was pinned by Canon-McMillan’s Tanner Mizenko in last year’s WPIAL final. Sloboda is seeded No. 1 in this year’s tournament, ahead of Norwin freshman Landon Sidun (35-1).

“That kid is the real deal,” Butler coach Scott Stoner said of Sidun. “He and Santino are clearly 1-2 in that weight class, whatever order you want to put them.

“I’ll be surprised if that’s not the final and it should be a great match.”

After missing six weeks with a concussion, Malovich was cleared to resume wrestling activities Jan. 23. The 118-pound senior is 12-0 on the season and, like Sloboda, was dominant in her first postseason tournament of the season.

“It’s almost a given that Ana’s going to get through this and win the thing,” Butler girls wrestling coach Nathan Bottiger said. “She’s so far ahead of the game and she keeps getting better.”

The top four wrestlers from each weight class Saturday advance to next weekend’s boys and girls state tournaments.

Butler has four other WPIAL boys qualifiers, the most notable being 133-pound junior Kase Chopp. At 31-5 on the year, Chopp won the Northern Section title last weekend and is seeded fourth in the WPIAL tourney.

“The top-seeded wrestler in his weight class is a returning state place-winner, but he’s got a bad knee right now,” Stoner said. “If Kase wrestles well, he’s in a pretty good spot.”

Also on the injury front, Butler 145-pounder Leo Iarrapino, who placed second last weekend, cut his hand in a non-wrestling mishap and required stitches.

“”Unfortunately, his season is over,“ Stoner said.

Brin Zehmisch (14-5) at 112 pounds and Anastasia Manchester (22-5) at 142 are entering the West Regional with solid records on the girls side. Kaitlynn Plopi (11-11) is the Tornado’s other qualifier at 136.

“All four of our girls should be right in the mix,” Bottiger said. “It’s going to be a tough tournament, District 10 has a lot of good wrestlers and they’ll be part of this tournament, along with District 8.”

Seneca Valley’s Connor Smith ((24-6) won a section title at 121 pounds and Mars’ Liam Hein (30-9) won at 145 pounds. Smith is seeded third this weekend behind Greater Latrobe’s Luke Willochell (34-1) and Franklin Regional’s Tyler Kapusta (39-5).

“Those are the top three,” Seneca Valley coach Kevin Wildrick said. “Connor beat Kapusta twice in the regular season last year, then lost to him twice in postseason. He hasn’t wrestled Willochell in a couple of years.

“I’m confident he can be competitive with both of those kids.”

Despite being a section champion and 30-win wrestler, Hein is only seeded 12th at 145 pounds this weekend.

“There’s a lot of good wrestlers in my weight class,” Hein said after winning his section title. “It’s going to be a grind, a big challenge. But I’m ready for it.”

Seneca Valley has four girls in the Western Regional, led by sophomore Hannah Hornick, who reached the WPIAL final at 148 pounds two weeks ago.

Knoch has one Western Regional qualifier in Miranda Lajevic, who placed third at 100 pounds at the WPIAL meet.

Butler County qualifiers this weekend follow:

GIRLS WEST REGIONAL

(County Qualifiers)

Butler

112 pounds-Brin Zehmisch 14-5; 118-Ana Malovich (12-0), 136-Kaitlynn Plopi (11-11), 142-Anastasia Manchester (22-5)

Knoch

100-Miranda Lajevic (22-9)

Seneca Valley

124-Natalie Tofanelli (14-10), 148-Hannah Hornick (17-10), 170-Kenley Alexander (18-11), 190-Haley Hunter (11-9)

WPIAL Boys AAA Championships

(County Qualifiers)

Butler

107-Nick Savannah (26-11), 114-Santino Sloboda (32-0), 133-Kase Chopp (31-5), 139-Gavin Rush (20-11), 160-Dawson Davis (15-19)

Mars

145-Liam Hein (30-9), 160-Cooper Courson (9-23), 215-Augustus Aubrecht (26-8)

Seneca Valley

107-Riley Smith (7-19), 121-Connor Smith (24-6), 133-Zach Hill (23-9), 152-Brody Pirt (13-9), 189-Corey Wolfe (20-9), 215-Tomas Wuycheck (16-15), 285-Roman Royal (16-13)

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