Corey Hazel made a bit of Penns Valley history on Saturday at the Southwest Regional Class AA Wrestling Tournament.
That will give him a good shot to make even more next weekend in Hershey.
Hazel won his second regional title by beating Jefferson-Morgan’s Bill Bowlen 3-1 in the 182-pound championship match. He and teammate Curtis Decker each qualified for the state tournament, which begins Thursday in Hershey, and will look to become the school’s first state champion since Max Dinges won the 180-pound title in 1963.
“It feels great,” Hazel said. “It’s a great accomplishment. I worked hard for it.”
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Hazel beat South Fayette’s Brett Beltz 10-0 in the semifinals on Saturday, then used a first-period throw-by to propel him past Bowlen in a low-scoring championship match.
“He was backing up a lot,” Hazel said of Bowlen. “I wasn’t about to put myself in a bad position for him to take advantage of it. He knew what he was doing, and I knew what he was doing as well, so I wasn’t about to do that.”
That was just fine with Penns Valley coach Joel Brinker.
“He wrestled smart and clean,” Brinker said. “He couldn’t get a lot of pressure back from Bowlen. He didn’t get a lot of offense, but he wrestled a good match, a smart match. He’s walking out of here as the first Penns Valley two-time regional champ, so that’s pretty neat.”
Hazel is 35-1 this season and is second only to Bermudian Springs’ Colton Dull in the latest edition of Off the Mat’s rankings.
“He wants a state title,” Brinker said. “It’s going to be a battle, and he knows it’s going to be a grind and what it’s going to take. That’s what he’s shooting for.”
Decker, who entered the day with a 29-7 record, lost three consecutive matches but still qualified for the newly expanded state tournament, which will include 20 wrestlers in each bracket. Decker lost 6-2 to Bedford’s Jon Gabriel, 3-2 to Derry Area’s Stone Kepple and 5-2 to Mount Pleasant’s Mike Novak on Saturday.
“This weight class, it’s tough,” Brinker said of the 126-pound class. “You could wrestle it tomorrow and it would flip around here and there.”
Still, the Rams coach knows there is some tweaking to be done before Thursday.
“There’s obvious things we need to work on,” Brinker said. “On top, he was giving up reversals, and he didn’t give up reversals all year. I think he got reversed every match here.
“But I’m still proud of him. You’re moving on and give yourself a chance. Next weekend’s a whole different tournament.”
Penns Valley sophomore Darren Yearick, senior Andrew Hurd and sophomore Jared Hurd were eliminated on Saturday.
“I know it didn’t end the way they wanted, but everyone got a win,” Brinker said. “Yearick really closed the gap on the boy he lost to today — (Cambria Heights’ Hunter) Campbell — from districts. Both Hurds, they’re right there. I’m proud of them. Drew had a really good career for us. He graduates and is going to get his life going.”