Penns Valley wrestling fans can argue all they want about who the best Ram wrestler of all time is. However, after his performance Saturday at the District 6 Class AA wrestling Championships, Corey Hazel inserted himself into the conversation.
Hazel won the 182-pound championship, a year after winning a title at 170. He’s the first back-to-back champion since Chris Cole in 1972-73. And, with his finals win, it was the 111th of his career, the most in Penns Valley history.
The Rams as a team did exactly what coach Joel Brinker wanted to do. They didn’t push for the team title, but they let everyone know they were there.
Huntingdon was the champion with 175 points. West Branch was next with 157. Westmont Hilltop was third with 135.5, just a point ahead of fourth-place Penns Valley with 134.5. Blairsville rounded out the Top 5 with 129.5 points. Blairsville’s Scott Thompson, who won his fourth title, was named the Outstanding Wrestler for the second consecutive year.
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In addition to Hazel’s title, Penns Valley had a runner-up in Curtis Decker (126), a third-place finisher in Andrew Hurd (152) and two fourth places from Darren Yearick (106) and Jared Hurd (132). Jacob Confer (138), Isaac Bierly (145) and Logan Johnson (285) started the day in contention but were eventually eliminated.
“I was optimistic we could get seven, but we got five. That’s pretty darned good. I’m pleased, overall, with the day,” Brinker said. “That’s exciting. We wanted to be top five. The guys battled today and put themselves among the top teams. They’re thrilled. They’re happy. Overall, it was a good tournament.”
Hazel had to endure a razor-thin decision to get to the finals. He handed undefeated No. 4 seed Taylor Foster of Juniata his first loss of the season, 4-3, in the semifinals.
“I had a pretty tough match. I had a few takedowns. He was tough. He was strong,” Hazel said. “He stayed in good position. I couldn’t really get to many of my shots. The shots I did get to, it was hard to finish on him.”
In the final, he posted a controlled 6-3 decision over surprise finalist Scott Carbaugh, a No. 6 seed from Southern Huntingdon.
Hazel scored the first takedown late in the first period, but Carbaugh immediately reversed him. Hazel escaped and took a 3-2 lead into the second. He chose bottom, escaped and scored another takedown. Carbaugh escaped late.
Carbaugh chose bottom to start the third and Hazel kept him there, sealing his second title.
“He kept backing up. It’s hard for me to get my shots,” Hazel said. “They keep distance because they don’t want me to get close. That makes it difficult for me.”
Brinker seemed almost glad that Hazel had to work for his wins.
“These are matches he needs to see. These guys aren’t slouches. The semifinal guy was undefeated and really strong,” Brinker said. “He was able to neutralize Corey to a certain extent. The finals guy was a big kid. Corey was trying a lot and forcing the pace. Corey’s effort was awesome.”
Decker, the No. 2 seed at 126, earned his finals berth with a pin in the semifinals. He locked up a cradle on Central No. 3 seed Brock Biddle and pinned him in 3:18. His run to a title ended when he met defending champion Triston Law of Forest Hills. Decker could never get any offense going against Law and dropped a 7-0 decision.
“Law’s a tough kid. Curtis wrestled him last year,” Brinker said. “The score was a little better last year. Law’s a tough kid. Kudos to him. We’re pleased with Curt, too.”
Yearick went on a serious hot streak to get to the third place bout, finishing significantly above his No. 9 seed. He started with two consecutive falls and then a dominating 5-2 decision in the consolation semifinals. Yearick’s run finally ended when he met No. 1 seed Hunter Campbell, who had been upset in the semifinals. Campbell stayed a step ahead in an 8-2 win.
“Yearick, we knew on paper he was better than a nine seed, but he had to prove it, and he did,” Brinker said.
Jared Hurd accepted a forfeit to start his day and then notched back-to-back 9-3 and 6-3 decisions to reach the third place bout. Despite a 3-0 loss to No. 3 seed Richard Gilson of Juniata in the third place bout, Hurd still finished three spots ahead of his No. 7 seed.
“If people knew the kind of pain he was in with an injury and he’s fighting through … I give him all the credit in the world,” Brinker said. “He showed a lot of heart and toughness today. I’m very proud of him. The kid he beat, Kennedy from Central, beat him here last year to knock him out of the tournament, so that was a nice way to get revenge.”
Andrew Hurd absorbed a 13-3 major decision loss to Penns Cambria’s Dominic Farabaugh in the semifinals. He rebounded nicely with a fall in 58 seconds to earn his place in the third place bout. He had to work to earn his third place finish. He rode Central’s Bryce Biddle the entire second period and then reversed him and rode him out in the third for a hard-fought 2-0 win.
“In the semis, he got taken down right to his back and the game plan went out the window in his head,” Brinker said. “He was chasing points and got out of position and kept giving up points. He didn’t get hung up on that. He rebounded and came back and finished the day strong.”
Confer (138) got off to a promising start, notching a fall in 3:22. He then lost a heartbreaking 1-0 decision in the fifth round of consolations and was eliminated.
Bierly (145) and Johnson (285) both lost their first matches of the morning session and were eliminated.
Penns Valley has two weeks to recuperate and refocus for the next step, the Southwest Class AA Regional Championships on Feb. 27-28 at Canon McMillan High School in Canonsburg.
Until then, Rams fans can state their cases for the all-time greats. Brinker’s not about to jump into that, but he did say Hazel has an argument.
“Corey’s definitely put his stamp on Penns Valley wrestling,” Brinker said. “The unique thing about him is he did it in three years. His freshman year he wasn’t a full-time starter. He was 6-6 as a freshman.
“In the last three years, he’s been a hammer. It’s a credit to him. He does everything in the offseason. He finds training partners. He goes to the area clubs, goes to Fargo. It’s full-time for him and he’s reaping the rewards.”