At this point of the high school wrestling season, two types of wrestlers are left competing: those who are just happy to make it to the PIAA Championships and those who won’t be happy unless they leave Hershey with a medal.
In 2016, Penns Valley’s Jared Hurd fell into the former category.
“Jared was just happy to get there last year,” Rams coach Joel Brinker said. “All year he talked about getting to states. He made it and went 0-2, but he met his goal.”
By most accounts, in 2017, Hurd leads a group of 14 Centre County qualifiers that fall squarely into the latter group as both the Class 2A and Class 3A tournaments start Thursday. The Centre County contingent includes
▪ Bald Eagle Area: Junior Garrett Rigg (126); junior Seth Koleno (138); freshman Gage McClenahan (145)
▪ Bellefonte: Sophomore 106-pounder Cole Stewart (106); Senior Brock Port (145)
▪ Penns Valley: Sophomore Baylor Shunk (106); Senior Darren Yearick (120); Senior Hurd (145)
▪ State College: Junior Ian Barr (160); Sophomore Cole Urbas (182); senior Pete Haffner (220)
▪ St. Joseph’s: Freshman Ethan Kauffman (106); sophomore Jacob Powers (120); freshman Caleb Dowling (132)
So, if the goal is to be one of eight wrestlers out of the 20 at each weight to stand on the all-state podium, and ultimately at the top, how do you make that happen?
“You can’t let the atmosphere get to you and you can’t be nervous going out there,” said Koleno, who is making his third trip after not placing in 2015 and finishing seventh in 2016.
It’s easy to talk about blocking out the atmosphere and controlling nerves; it’s quite another thing to execute that plan.
Port, the member of the Centre County group with the most state tournament experience, is making his fourth trip. Clearly, he’s figured it out. After a DNP in 2014, he placed sixth in 2015 and seventh in 2016.
“Focus on Match 1,” Bellefonte coach Mike Maney said. “If you start to overlook guys, upsets happen. The primary focus is Match 1. Wrestle as hard as you can. He’ll finish where he finishes, but if he wrestles his best, he can compete with anyone in his weight class.”
Penn’s Valley has Centre County’s two other returning state qualifiers — Hurd and Yearick, who was pinned in his first match last year and came all the way back for a sixth-place finish.
Brinker said he uses a combination of cinematic and traditional tactics to sharpen his wrestlers’ focus.
“We treat it like ‘Hoosiers’ — the mat’s the same, the circle’s the same, just block all of that out,” he said.
“Most of our guys, we’ve just been talking to them. We use our years of wisdom. I wrestled there, and other guys have been through it. We go over do’s and don’ts. You’ve got to wrestle your match and get after it. If you don’t, you’ll be starstruck, look like a deer in headlights.”
St. Joseph’s coach Pat Flynn and State College’s Ryan Cummins said they are taking a business-as-usual approach.
“We’re going down (Wednesday) around 2 and going straight to the Giant Center,” Flynn said. “Then we will do our make weight workout, our routine warmup, our normal drill and our normal wrestle. We will treat this weekend like we have all of our competitions since our first tournament of the year.”
Cummins said he’s talked with each of his wrestlers about “being confident and taking one match at a time.” He said especially Haffner, a senior, needs to make as many memories as possible.
All five coaches want to return home with memories. Flynn, whose wrestlers have been making history all postseason, has a concrete plan for that.
“We’re going to go get a picture on the ride at Chocolate World,” he said. “I want to start a whole collection of pictures for St. Joe’s.”
PIAA Wrestling Championships
When: Thursday, Class 2A prelims and first round, 9 a.m.; Class 2A first-round consolations, 1:15 p.m.; Class 3A prelims and first round, 4 p.m.; Class 3A first-round consolations, 8:15 p.m.; Friday, Class 2A quarterfinals and second-round consolations, 9 a.m.; Class 2A third-round consolations, 11:45 a.m.; Class 3A quarterfinals and second-round consolations, 2:15 p.m.; Class 3A third-round consolations, 5 p.m.; Class 2A semifinals and fourth-round consolations, 7:30 p.m.; Class 2A fifth-round consolations, 9:30 p.m.; Saturday, Class 3A semifinals and fourth-round consolations, 9 a.m.; Class 3A fifth-round consolations, 11:30 a.m.; Class 2A finals, third-, fifth- and seventh-place matches, 2 p.m.; Class 3A finals, third-, fifth- and seventh-place matches, 7 p.m.
Where: Giant Center (Hershey)
Radio: 970 WBLF-AM, 1260 WPHB-AM, 106.3 WBLF-FM (4 p.m. Thursday and 2:15 p.m. Friday)
Admission: $8 per session for adults and students