It’s always a tremendous feat to win a PIAA wrestling championship as a freshman.
It begins a journey that if a title is won every year following, it puts a wrestler in a class of just 12 others that includes former Penn State wrestlers Cary Kolat and Jimmy Gulibon to accomplish such a feat.
St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy’s Ammon Ohl and Zack Witmer took one step in the direction of getting to the finals on Thursday after the first day of the PIAA Class 2A Championships were finished. Teammate Caleb Dowling also remains alive in the winner’s bracket. Penns Valley’s Baylor Shunk and the Wolves’ Jacob Powers and Evan Courts remained alive in the consolation brackets.
“I think I was more nervous for them than they were. Ammon and Zack have been so steady this year,” Wolves coach Pat Flynn said of his freshmen and sophomore. “Caleb has been training real hard. He believes in himself. It’s snowballing for him.”
Ohl admitted he was so nervous for Thursday that he didn’t even want to warm up for practice yesterday. The 106 pounder, who moved to the area from West Virginia in fifth grade, didn’t know what to expect in the Giant Center.
“It’s a lot bigger than I thought,” he said. “My teammates told me it was a hockey rink, so I didn’t think it would be much. It’s unlike anything else. I’ve been to big tournaments before, but this is something different.”
Ohl didn’t let the atmosphere get to him racing out to a 6-2 first-period lead on Biglerville’s Blake Showers. In the second, Ohl, who in his words “got a little sloppy on top,” gave up a reversal and near-fall points to hold an 8-6 lead. He then used a strong ride out in the third period to secure the first and most important win of any tournament.
Ohl opens Friday morning with Reynolds’ Gary Steen, who topped Shunk 7-0.
“I’m just going to keep going for the win,” he said of his mindset for the rest of the tournament, “hopefully, make it to the finals. I got a tough one coming up, though, so I just got to get mentally prepared.”
Witmer is well-known for his wrestling success as a younger wrestler, and knows what its like to win state tournaments on the junior level. He made his 120-pound PIAA debut by shutting out Biglerville’s Josh Tuckey.
A first-period takedown gave the freshman a 2-0 lead over the junior. He added an escape, takedown and three near-fall points to run his lead up to 8-0. In the third period, Witmer’s defense secured the victory. Witmer gets Reynolds’ Andrew Ischo in the quarterfinals.
Dowling made sure his one and only 138-pound match didn’t last long. He also had visions of his victory before he even stepped on the mat.
He got in on a low single on Trinity’s Colton Zimmerman and Zimmerman dipped his head down. The Wolves’ wrestler locked up a cradle and it was over in 27 seconds. Dowling takes on Saucon Valley’s Jason Jones Friday morning.
“I was actually thinking of that before the match,” he said, recalling what he did in the District 6 tournament. “I was like I’m going to try that this match. I sweeped to his legs and he got his head low, I just decided to crank down on it as best as I could and locked it tight.”
Shunk, who is competing on the state stage for the second consecutive year at 106 pounds, came out calm, cool and collected. He racked up three first-period takedowns on Line Mountain’s Blake Wirt. He went on to win 13-4 before suffering the defeat to Steen. Even in defeat though, Shunk was still smiling.
“I feel like I wrestled well. The second match, Steen is real tough,” the junior assessed his day. “I went out my first match, and wasn’t real nervous or anything. I felt good. The really good head and hands defense from Steen is hard to get by. But, we’ll bounce back.”
Shunk’s coach Joel Brinker echoed the words of his wrestler with a little extra flair.
“The first match he did well. The second match he wrestled good against a tough kid,” Brinker said. “The better man won that round. It stings but you refocus your goals and get the next best thing. The best guy wins the tournament, but the toughest guy takes third.”
Powers looked in control in his 132-pound first-round match with Muncy’s Joseph Klock. He had Klock locked up in a cradle but Klock rolled through and stuck Powers in 1:38.
The St. Joseph’s wrestler stayed alive with a 13-5 domination of Athens’ Chris Horton. Powers led 4-0 after one period, a late takedown in the second and another takedown and near-fall points secured the win in the third period.
Courts didn’t have a friendly 145-pound opener in Pequea Valley’s Gabe Miller, who finished third in the state last year at 132 pounds. Miller shut out Courts 8-0.
Courts responded with some solid double leg takedowns in a 13-5 major decision win over a visually-frustrated Colton Babcock of Benton to remain alive in the consolation bracket.
“We are at the states, man,” Flynn said. “There are 20 guys in every bracket that want to rip your head off. We have to be ready to go and be confident in what we’ve done all year. We got to come back the next round and capitalize on all the training that we’ve done.