Corey Hazel collapsed onto a mat, located behind some curtains back into the bowels of the Giant Center.
Things hadn’t gone like the Penns Valley wrestler had hoped in the PIAA Class AA title match and he needed some time to process the previous six minutes of a 10-3 loss to Franklin’s Dakota Geer.
“I was just wrapping my head around everything,” said Hazel, who was trying to become the second wrestler in program history to strike PIAA gold. “I was beat tired. I didn’t want to stand up or talk to anyone. It was the worst feeling in the world honestly.
“It’s second place, but you’ve still got to live with it the rest of your life. Why did I do that? All of that kind of stuff.”
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Minutes later, he was giving heartfelt congratulations to Geer, who held the spot on the podium he wanted so badly. The two have split four career matches, all in the last year.
“Me and Dakota, we’ve been to Super 32s, wrestled with each other all summer,” said Hazel, who is now 2-2 lifetime against Geer. “It’s not like I just met him. The same colleges are recruiting us. We’ve worked out with each other and the same guys over the summer. When it comes, it’s business time, but at the end we’re still buddies. … If I could have done anything different, I would have done it on the mat. I lost.”
Hazel joins Robert Stover, a 133-pounder in 1969, as the only silver medalists in school history. Max Dinges, the 1963 winner at 180 pounds, remains the only gold medal winner for the Rams.
Hazel finished the season 38-2 and his career at 117-18.
“Two good kids went at it,” Penns Valley coach Joel Brinker said. “I give Geer a lot of credit. He came out on top this time. We’re awfully proud of Corey, though. Second in the state of Pennsylvania is nothing to laugh at. He is down in the dumps now, but hey he’s walking out of here second. It’s a great career and a great year.”
After waiting nearly two hours following their introductions in the Parade of Champions, Hazel and Geer (39-1) finally hit Mat No. 2.
The first period went scoreless — as one might expect from two competitors who had wrestled to three previous one-point decisions — but action picked up in the second.
Hazel got on the board first with an early escape, but Geer netted the first takedown 1:15 into the period. Hazel reversed him 17 seconds later, but was penalized a point for locked hands.
That made it 3-3 heading into the final two minutes.
They are the two minutes Hazel would love to have back.
On the bottom, Geer took advantage of a mistake by Hazel at the 1:12 mark to not only score a reversal, but tack on three back points for an 8-3 lead.
“I threw legs in and I just got high and got sloppy with legs,” Hazel said, shaking his head. “I have no idea why I rode legs. It was the first time I rode legs all season. The whole tournament, the first time I throw legs in and that’s what happens.
“I don’t know why I did it,” he added. “I did it. I got high and I felt it. I tried to keep myself back. He’s really good on bottom and a good mat wrestler. He reversed me and he had me and got back points. That was a big turnaround.”
Geer would get two more back points as Hazel tried to wriggle free that accounted for the final margin.
“As soon as the back points came, you knew that was trouble,” Brinker said. “You’re chasing points a little bit.”
Hazel has now won the first and third (Geer’s only scholastic loss this season) meetings and Geer has won the second and fourth.
“Momentum is a crazy thing,” Brinker said. “They’ve gone back and forth. You look at it and go this is his turn from a momentum standpoint. … These are tight matches. Any little mistake at this level and kids are going to capitalize on it. That’s what happened.”
While he was tough on himself initially, Hazel says he realizes a silver means plenty — not only to him, but also fans and especially his parents Mike and Carol. He also finished fifth last March.
“My Dad pushed me a long way,” Hazel said. “He probably made me who I am today.”
“He’s definitely put his stamp on the Penns Valley program, legacy and wrestling discussions,” Brinker said. “He’s a phenomenal wrestler. He’s put a ton of time in and we couldn’t be prouder. It’s not what he wanted, but it’s darn close.”
Hazel vows to learn from his mistakes and take it to the next level.
He has yet to select a college, but has several interested.
“I have a long ways to go,” Hazel said. “I know I do. I’ve made gains every year so far. I feel myself every summer getting better and better. I don’t feel like I’ve peaked yet. If I get with the right coaches and the right training partners, I feel like I can win a national title if I put my mind to it.”
Brinker has no doubt that Hazel has the confidence to achieve that goal.
“He has such a belief in himself,” Brinker said “No one believes in Corey more than Corey. The kid believes so much in himself, his ability and what he can do.”
Brinker believes Hazel has just scratched the surface of his talent.
“I think he’s just beginning to come into his own,” he said. “He’s becoming a complete wrestler. If he does pursue a wrestling career beyond here, somebody will be fortunate to build off of what he currently has.”