While all seven Centre County wrestlers want to return home Saturday night from Hershey with a PIAA wrestling gold medal, Penns Valley 126-pounder Curtis Decker and Corey Hazel want to take that a step further.
If one of those two Rams were to win a championship, and Hazel is inarguably among the favorites at his weight, he would join an ultra exclusive club in the annals of Penns Valley sports history.
The Rams have had only one state wrestling champion — Max Dinges in 1963. That’s it. The school has had plenty of placewinners, including Hazel’s fifth-place finish at 170 pounds in 2014, but only one champ.
Rams coach Joel Brinker said he knows Hazel intends to join that exclusive club.
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“He’s definitely here to win it,” Brinker said. “I know he’d be shattered if he doesn’t walk out of here with a state title.”
Hazel has been ranked at or near top of the 182-pound weight class all year, so a title wouldn’t be a shock.
The other six county wrestlers — Decker, Bald Eagle Area’s Seth Koleno (126) and Josh Fye (285), Bellefonte’s Brock Port (132) and Trevor Corl (145) and State College’s Cory Dreibelbis (195) — haven’t been as highly touted as Hazel, but all are capable of winning.
With schools canceled due to the aftermath of the ice storm Tuesday into Wednesday, all four coaches took their athletes to Hershey to get one last workout in, on the Giant Center mats.
“We wanted to get them acclimated to the environment, get the initial reaction out of the way,” Bellefonte coach Mike Maney said.
Both Port and Corl qualified for the state tournament a year ago, but each lost their first two matches and were quickly eliminated.
“That’s all to their advantage. Over the last couple of days I’ve been talking to both of them, especially Brock, about what their thoughts were reflecting last year, what was going through their head. He said he was nervous,” Maney said. “We told them they have to realize they’re one of the best, that’s why they’re there.”
For Dreibelbis, Wednesday’s workout took on a little more urgency. State College coach Ryan Cummins said when school was dismissed early, he wasn’t able to hold practice.
“(Tuesday), with the weather we got out early and weren’t allowed to have practice. We need to get a decent one today to shake the cobwebs out,” Cummins said.
“He’s pretty laid back. I think he’s all right. He does a lot of wrestling on the offseason so I don’t think tournaments bother him that much. Hopefully going over today, rolling around in the arena and seeing all the mats out will help out.”
Bald Eagle Area’s Koleno and Fye worked out at the Giant Center, too. The aura of six mats on the Giant Center floor didn’t awe them.
“They’re very calm about it. They’re not too worked up at all. Our workouts Monday and Tuesday went as expected. They absorbed everything they could last Saturday up to now,” Eagles coach Steve Millward said.
“We asked them about their impressions coming into the arena. They don’t seem overly excited. It’s a big tournament, but they’re keeping it in the perspective of it’s just another match.”
For Koleno, a freshman, it’s his first trip. Fye, a junior, qualified last year only to be pinned twice and eliminated.
“They’ve got to go out, wrestle, create action and score points. They’re at their best when they just go out and wrestle, make the things happen that they do,” Millward said.
“Seth just goes out to wrestle; he’ll figure things out as they come at him. Josh has to make them move and wrestle. Neither one is too involved mentally that they overthink things. It’s just another wrestling match, that’s what I’m hearing from them.”
Penns Valley’s Decker was there last year, too. He went 1-2, so he knows what it takes to win in Hershey.
“Last year he was having hard time at end of year maintaining weight because he was growing and the hour weigh-in affected him. We talked about nutrition this week,” Brinker said.
The Red Raiders, too, talked about the little things. And, in their morning workouts, Maney saw encouraging signs.
“We worked out before school. They both felt really good. The last couple of days they looked crisp and sharp. We want to keep the momentum going,” he said. “They enjoyed beating up on me a little bit.”
Now it’s time for all seven county wrestlers to go beat up on their first-round opponents.