The Penns Valley Rams contingent was not "eating good in the neighborhood" Wednesday night in Hershey.
For years, coach Joel Brinker and his Rams who qualified for states celebrated their good fortune with a little feast at Applebee’s.
Not this year.
“We have not had much success in the new arena (the Giant Center). We believe we’re cursed. We need to change our fortune,” Brinker said Wednesday before the Rams left for Hershey and the PIAA Wrestling Championships.
“We’re changing where we eat tonight. It used to be Applebee’s.”
All eight Centre County wrestlers who earned state berths are hoping for good fortune. This is the culmination of more than three months’ of blood, sweat and weight management.
The PIAA Class AA and Class AAA Wrestling Championships run today through Saturday at the Giant Center in Hershey. The Class AA field takes the mats at 9 this morning. Class AAA gets things started at 4 this afternoon.
Bellefonte’s Brock Port (120 pounds) and Trevor Corl (132), Philipsburg-Osceola’s Chris Thompson (113) and Bub Lumadue (182), Penns Valley’s Curtis Decker (120) and Corey Hazel (170) Bald Eagle Area’s Josh Fye (285) and State College’s Mike Kauffman (138) all earned PIAA berths.
Corl goes to Hershey as a PIAA Class AAA Northwest Regional Tournament champion, Lumadue and Fye as regional runners-up and Port, Thompson and Kauffman as third-place finishers.
Hazel makes the trek to Chocolate Town USA as a PIAA Class AA Southwest Regional Tournament champion. Decker was a third-place finisher.
When the whistle blows this afternoon to signify the start of the Class AAA tournament, Centre County’s six qualifiers will already know their opponents.
Corl will meet Matthew Grossman, a senior from District 3’s Manheim Township in the first round. Grossman has a record of 34-3 and was third-place finisher in the Southcentral Regional.
“It’s crazy. I have confidence I can beat anyone in the state right now,” Corl said. “That’s going to be huge going into (the tournament), wrestling the best kids in the state.”
That’s exactly what his coach, Mike Maney, wants to hear.
“We want him to believe he can do down (to Hershey) and compete with the best guys in the state because he certainly can,” he said.
“His three losses were at the beginning of the year at the King of the Mountain Tournament (at Central Mountain High School) where he wrestled, in three consecutive matches, a state runner-up, a state champ and a state runner-up and all of those were one-point or overtime matches. He just has to continue to believe in himself and keep the momentum going.”
Lumadue will meet a Southwest Regional runner-up in his opening match. Kellan Stout, a junior from Mount Lebanon in District 7, is 33-3.
Fye is paired with junior Brandon Lance from District 11 Nazareth. Lance is 34-5 after finishing second in the Northeast Regional.
“The goal was to move on. That’s what he did,” Bald Eagle Area coach Steve Millward said. “He wrestled better in this tournament that I’ve seen him wrestle all year. He avenged a few losses. He needed that. Hopefully that gave him a shot of confidence. I think Josh really did a nice job.”
Thompson faces Michael Bracey, a sophomore from Kennard-Dale in District 3. Bracey is now 29-7 after finishing second in the Southcentral Regional.
“He’s had a lot of disappointments. I’m really happy for him. Nobody works harder. He’s been intense the last couple weeks. I’m just really happy for him,” Philipsburg-Osceola coach Tim McCamley said.
“I don’t think he’s going to be satisfied just going to Hershey now. He’s got a goal.”
Port tangles with Southcentral Regional champion Zack Clingan from District 3’s Spring Grove. Clingan, a senior, is 38-3.
Maney said the freshman bouncing back from a regional semifinal loss with a pair of wins provided a huge amount of momentum for the state tournament.
“He lost a tough one. That semifinal loss and coming back and wrestling the next one is always tough, coming right back from a loss. It was a very important match. It was good for him mentally to string two good matches together and get two wins against good opponents,” the coach said.
“It’s hard to beat a good guy three times. This is the third time he beat him this year. That’s a credit to his focus and preparation. A freshman coming in and advancing to the state tournament is an accomplishment.”
Kauffman will meet a Southcentral Regional runner-up in Manheim Township senior Cortlandt Schuyler. He is 34-3.
Little Lions coach Ryan Cummins said the senior wrestled his best last week.
“He wrestled like he was possessed. He went out there and did everything he needed to do and then some,” he said. “He looked awesome out there.”
Hazel, who cruised to his regional title, meets Fairfield senior Nick Mort. The District 3 product, who is 36-3 on the season, placed fourth in the southeast region.
“He’s a gamer. He believes so much in himself. There’s never a lack of confidence with Corey. He believes he can go with anyone,” Brinker said.
“Corey wants to place absolutely as high as he can.”
Decker will meet Southcentral champion Zack Clingan, a senior from District 3’s Spring Grove. He is 38-3.
“He won his first one and then in his second match he wrestled the kid from Derry, the returning state champ. Corey gave him everything he wanted and lost 4-2. That gave him confidence. He said he felt really good. He said he feels like a beast right now, the best he’s ever felt,” Brinker said.
“Curtis is believing now. He wants to be on the podium. I tell them you have to pick where you want to place. If you don’t go to Hershey thinking you’re going to win it, then you’re not going to last very long.”