Tyrone's Ronnie Garbinsky isn't used to losing. Not in the regular season, where he only lost his freshman year. Not throughout his career, as his 154-10 record would indicate.
The school's first four-time District 6 champion certainly wasn't accustomed to losing in the Southwest Regional Tournament, where he was a two-time winner.
He was denied his third by Burrell's Jeremy Landowski in the overtime tiebreaker of the 135-pound finals Saturday at the War Memorial, where he hadn't lost since Shady Side Academy's Geoff Alexander beat him in the 103-pound finals as a freshman.
Photo for the Mirror by Jim Butler
Ronnie Garbinsky was beaten by Burrell’s Jeremy Landowski in Saturday’s final.
But the loss to Landowski, whom he had handled pretty handily as a junior, might have been helpful. Garbinsky, a future pre-med major at Pitt, searched for a prescription to the loss, and what he came up with was a change in his offensive attack.
"In the past month or so, there's been a lot of pressure on me," he said. "I wrestled like I was scared to lose. I didn't go out there to dominate the match. I went out there and wrestled defensive. So, when I waited, Landowski, and even [Jeannette's Michael] DePalma [a 1-0 semifinal win] attacked me, and Landowski beat me.
"I'm going to have to go after people at states. It's my last year, and I have nothing to lose. After I lost, I realized I have to be the aggressor. You can't go out there and try to get by."
n He is a four-time District 6 champion and two-time Southwest Regional champ.
n He's 35-1 with 23 pins as a senior.
n He has a career record of 154-10.
Tyrone coach Blair Packer said he didn't think Garbinsky (35-1) was holding back, but he agrees with his new plan of attack.
"You can't get a lead and sit on it," Packer said. "I've told all three of our regional qualifiers [Garbinsky, Mark McMonagle, Dylan Weston] we don't wrestle well on the defense. We practice on going on the offense and going after the opponent."
Landowski set the tone early, taking Garbinsky down twice in the first period.
"He was a lot tougher on his feet than he was last year," Garbinsky said. "I wasn't getting any angles on my shots. I hung out in the ties, and I was flatfooted. He wrestled his match."
Packer said some of the problem from the neutral position was he was chasing Landowski, who was called for stalling twice in the first two periods.
"When you're chasing and moving forward, you're closing the gap for him," Packer said. "He's planted and ready to strike. He has to stop chasing and move from side to side. We'll work that out before states."
If he can't chase his opponent, then how is he to score points on his feet? For Garbinsky, the answer is to be physical, attacking not just with shots but wearing down his opponents in ties.
"I'm not working the head or being as physical as I should be," he said. "At regionals, I just wanted to win. That's now how I want to win. I have to keep after them for six minutes."
Garbinsky gained a reputation, especially last year, within District 6 for being a rugged, hard-nosed wrestler who would frustrate his opponents and irk opposing fans with his physical style.
"It's interesting. In the beginning, he didn't have much of a killer instinct," Packer said. "He became tough, hard-nosed and technically sound over the years. If you're a timid wrestler, you're going to be intimidated by him."
In the past, he's been able to solve any perceived flaws in the "cage" by working out and eliminating with A.J. Schopp, but the 2010 state champion spent his first year at Edinboro University winning open tournaments as he redshirts.
"It's been tougher without him here," Garbinsky said. "I have Dylan [Weston] and Mark [McMonagle], but I have to go out of my way for other practice partners. I go to the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club and Ken Chertow. I have to do a lot of extra work."
Garbinsky and Schopp would always be moving along in the championship rounds of postseason tournaments. That is, until the dreaded state semifinals, where Garbinsky has lost all three years.
Last year, he was tied, 3-3, late in the bout with Boiling Springs' eventual state champ Joe Spisak when Garbinsky took a chance and tried to hit a granby roll from the bottom position. Spisak caught him on his back for three points in the last 5 seconds to win, 6-3.
Bouncing back from state semifinal losses are the hardest for most wrestlers, particularly for Garbinsky, who placed fifth last year after taking fourth his first two years.
"Each year, they're tougher and tougher to take," Garbinsky said, "because I'm so close to reaching my goal. Once you lose, you're kind of heartbroken. I wrestled 45 minutes after I lost, and I didn't even care."
Will he get past the semifinals with his new aggressive style and make the finals for a possible rematch with Landowski?
"That loss may be the best thing that could have happened," Packer said. "If he's a champion, he'll use that to launch himself right to the state title."