Penns Valley’s Corey Hazel makes no bones about why he’s at the Giant Center this week.
“I’m coming for gold,” the Ram senior said of the PIAA Class AA Wrestling Championships. “That’s what I’m here for.”
He just may have that medal hanging around his neck Saturday if his first-round match is any indication.
Hazel, the District 6 and Southwest Regional champion, crushed Hamburg’s Ignacio Reynoso on Thursday at 182 pounds. Hazel needed less the 3 1/2 minutes to score a 15-0 technical fall against Reynoso.
The Rams’ Curtis Decker also made it to the second day of competition, rebounding from a preliminary round loss to get a 7-4 triumph in the first round of consolations at 126 pounds.
Hazel left little doubt against Reynoso, who won a preliminary bout 6-4 in sudden death overtime against Juniata’s Taylor Foster. Hazel twisted the Hamburg freshman into a pretzel.
After 30 seconds of feeling out his foe, Hazel took Reynoso straight to his back and nearly pinned him as he grabbed a quick 5-0 lead.
Two more long tilts pushed the margin to 11-0 and Hazel had Reynoso nearly on his back again as the buzzer sounded for another two-point tilt and a 13-0 lead.
Reynoso started down in the second period and Hazel knew exactly what he had to do to end the match. It took him 27 seconds to tilt Reynoso again and complete the technical fall.
“You don’t have to say anything to Corey,” Penns Valley coach Joel Brinker said. “He’s tunnel-focused here. He’s just going to go out and wrestle his match and on his terms. He wrestled a solid match and put a lot of points up in a hurry.”
Hazel said it was important to get the match finished from on top, especially with the competition in the stands.
“I knew that I was up 13-0 and I was like, ‘I just tilted this kid. Let’s get the match over.’ I didn’t want to show any more moves from my feet. … I know other guys are watching me wrestle right now.”
Hazel (36-1) will meet the lanky TJ Sistrunk (32-4) of E.L. Meyers, who pulled a mild upset in knocking off Ft. LeBeouf’s Garrette Reinwald 3-2.
Hazel said he likes the prospect of facing a taller opponent.
“A shorter kid, it’s harder to get to his legs,” Hazel said. “A taller guy, his midsection is wide open.”
Hazel said he’s a much stronger wrestler than he was last year when he took fifth at 170 pounds.
“I’m probably in the same shape, but I got way better technique-wise,” said Hazel, who has practiced with a number of different wrestlers, including college graduates. “I worked on my weaknesses. Last year, I wasn’t that good on top, but obviously I just titled this kid every which way.”
Brinker said Hazel has the talent to make a title run in a tough weight class.
“There are a handful of kids in his weight class who are pretty confident they can win a state title,” Brinker said. “He’s in that group. They all know each other. They’ve seen each other in the offseason and in summer tournaments. He’s driven to win a title here. We hope he can and we’re just along for the ride.”
Hazel needs a pair of wins Friday to qualify for the finals.
“I just need to go out and wrestle as hard as I can,” he said. “I don’t think anyone can beat me if I wrestle as hard as I can. That’s my mindset.”
While Hazel entered with golden dreams, Decker had a more modest goal — winning a medal.
That goal of finishing in the top eight took a hit when he was pinned in 5:09 by Pen Argyl freshman Chase Anklam in the preliminaries. Anklam went on to nearly upset unbeaten Charles Johnson of Wyoming Area, falling 9-8 in a tiebreaker.
“It was a good match,” Decker said. “We were both pretty good on our feet. I just got sloppy on my top and he caught me on my back.”
“He lost and understands it was a tough loss,” Brinker said. “The bottom line is that you can let it eat you up and you can walk out of here 0-2, or you have that amnesia and move on from it. You can’t let it chew you up.”
In the consolations, Decker met a familiar foe in Panther Valley’s Darren Goida, whom he had pinned at the Panther Valley Duals earlier in the season.
Decker trailed 2-1 after the first period, but took control from there. Starting on top in the second, he titled Goida to go ahead 3-2.
After getting an escape earlier in the third, Decker countered a Goida shot to push the lead to 6-2. A late reversal by Goida and a penalty point concluded the scoring.
“I used the anger that I had from the first loss,” said Decker. “I made sure I got the win because I wasn’t going to go two-and-out this year.”
“We knew it was going to be a closer match than the dual match,” Brinker said. “He took care of business and wrestled smart.”
Even if he has to take the longest road to the medal stand, Decker (30-11) is up for the challenge.
The junior, who admits he was “a deer in the headlights” in his first PIAA match in Hershey last season, believes he can come through the consolations. He’ll face Central Columbia’s Lewis Williams, a 5-3 loser in the first round, in his next match.
“You’ve got to make sure you don’t give up,” Decker echoed. “Once you lose, a lot of people zone out and they don’t worry about wrestling any more. … I can do it. I just have to stay strong and have no more mistakes like I did the first match. Get those out of my system, trust in my match and I’ll be fine.”