Centre County’s athletes at the PIAA wrestling championships in Class 3A carried a lot more experience at the Giant Center than their local Class 2A counterparts, and it gave a little help Thursday.
The most experienced of the quintet were Bald Eagle Area’s Seth Koleno and Gage McClenahan and State College’s Cole Urbas, and each of them won their first-round matches to get closer to state gold. Meanwhile, Philipsburg-Osceola’s Matt Johnson, who was making his debut, and the Eagles’ Garrett Rigg remained alive in the consolation brackets.
McClenahan and Urbas, each of whom was making his second PIAA appearance, made it look easy in their openers.
McClenahan raced out to an 8-1 lead after two periods over Bangor’s Eddie Hay at 152 pounds. McClenahan used two takedowns, a reversal and two near-fall points. In the third period, he tacked on another takedown for the final points in a 10-2 major decision. A win he felt was important.
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“Winners get rest here,” the BEA sophomore said. “A lot of rest. Everybody knows everyone is banged up coming into the tournament so I get to rest up and heal my body.”
Urbas almost wrestled his whole 195-pound opener against Indiana’s Alex Donahue. The Little Lion junior ripped off 15 unanswered points for a technical fall with one second remaining. He tallied three takedowns, three sets of near-fall points and an escape. State College coach Ryan Cummins joked at the beginning of the third period, with Urbas up 10-0, “Let’s pin him here.”
“It was just to see if we could get a couple extra points out him, but a tech is fine with me,” Cummins said with a laugh. “He looked great. He went out there and controlled the match. He had some good takedowns, worked hard on top and got right out on bottom. Can’t find too much to complain about.”
Eagles coach Ron Guenot didn’t have anything to complain about either during Koleno’s match. Guenot was just nervous.
Koleno, the top seed at 138, came out a little flat-footed, giving up an early takedown to Gettysburg’s Joseph Pecaitis. Koleno’s second-period escape tied the bout at 2-2 going to the third period. The BEA senior picked up two near-fall points with a tilt and hung on for a 4-2 victory.
“I have to admit coming down here so many years the nerves still get to you,” Koleno said. “Going through my mind, I was just thinking, because I’m the No. 1 seed I have such high expectations, so I wanted to (live) up to those expectations, but I think I let the nerves of that get to me in the match.”
For Johnson, his 152-pound PIAA debut was a culmination of the hard work he’s put in the past few seasons. The senior missed last year’s postseason with an injured shoulder. This year, midway through the season, he broke his hand in a dual with BEA.
The Mounties’ first state qualifier since Bryce Bennett in 2016 is trying to become the first P-O wrestler on the podium since Mike Horton, who finished fifth in 2008.
“It’s big. I love wrestling for Philipsurg,” Johnson said. “It just shows all the hard work we’ve put in to make it here.”
Johnson started the day off with a 7-2 victory over Spring Ford’s Ben D’Arcangelo. His prize, the Southcentral Regional champ in Lower Dauphin’s Clayton Ulery. Ulery pinned Johnson in 2:19, ending the Mountie’s day.
“Matt is a great kid. He wrestles for every second,” P-O coach Brad Pataky said. “He’s going to bounce back here. That was a tough kid that he ran into. He is in a spot, that if he continues to wrestle with his mind focused, he is going to do really well.”
Guenot knew Rigg drew the short end of the stick with his 145-pound debut match in Pope John Paul II’s Ryan Vulakh. Vulakh is the third-ranked wrestler in the state and topped the Eagle 4-0.
Rigg responded with a 15-2 major decision over Avon Grove’s Nick Barnhart to remain alive in his PIAA debut.
“We knew that was a tough kid. It was a tough matchup and tough draw,” Guenot said of Rigg’s opener. “I thought he wrestled a good match but just couldn’t get off the bottom there.”