What do you get for beating a former state champion at the Southwest Regional Tournament? How about a shoe-leather tough 112-pound bracket at the PIAA Class AA Championships.
Penn Cambria's Evan Link (39-1) earned a big 4-3 win over North Star's Nick Roberts in the regional finals, but to win a state title, he'll have to travel a bumpy path filled with stars who have glittery wrestling resumes.
Should he win his first bout against Annville-Cleona's Tony Yohe (40-8), he would most likely face Bermudian Springs' returning 103-pound state runner-up Brad Farley (38-2). If he wins that one, he would probably face Line Mountain's returning 103-pound state champ Zain Retherford (40-1).
Mirror photo by Gary M.?Baranec
Penn?Cambria senior Evan Link (right) is going for a gold medal at 112 pounds in Hershey this weekend.
If he survives that one, Roberts (27-2) and Bethlehem Catholic's Zeke Moisey (38-5), who beat Farley in the Southeast Regional Tournament, await. Brutal stuff.
"We've got a tough side," PC coach Todd Niebauer said, "but, honestly, if he wrestles well, we're going to be right there. We're going to have to go through two or three tough kids. We'll have to beat a state runner-up and a state champ. In the end, if we get a state title, they can't say he got there the easy way. To be the best, you have to beat the best."
Link and the 20 other area Class AA state qualifiers will begin competing among the best wrestlers in Pennsylvania at 9 this morning at Hershey's Giant Center. Win that preliminary bout and they're done for the day. If they lose the first one, they're in the first round of consolatons, which are set for 12:15 p.m.
What: PIAA Class AA Championships
Where: Giant Center, Hershey
Starts: Thursday, 9 a.m.
Medal rounds: Third, fifth, seventh-place bouts, 12:30 p.m. Saturday; Finals, 2:30 p.m.
What's at stake: Top 8 at each weight earn medals
Link, of course, is two-time medalist in Hershey, having lost to Roberts in the 103-pound finals as a sophomore and placing seventh at 112 last season.
"I want to be a state champ," Link said after winning the regional title. "It's going to be a battle in the semis. I have to take it one match at a time."
While Link is trying to make it though the minefields, Tyrone's Ronnie Garbinsky, who placed fourth his first two years before taking fifth last season, will be trying to overcome a rare regional loss and, if he wins his first two bouts at 135, that semifinal wall he's run into every year.
Garbinsky, who has pledged to return to more of a physical style for the tournament, opens with Central Catholic's Damien Hopper (30-3). A possible semifinal bout with Jeannette's Michael DePalma, whom Garbinsky beat, 1-0, in the regional semis, and a possible rematch with Burrell's Jeremy Landowski (46-6) loom on the horizon.
"I'm definitely looking forward to it," Garbinsky said. "It's been a goal of mine to be a state champ since I was 5 years old."
Tough draws are the theme of the first day, and nobody seems to have tougher draws than the Claysburg-Kimmel five-man contingent of Josh Brown (103), James Dodson (119), Ty Dively (125), Cole Claar (130) and Corey Aungst (145).
Aungst, a returning state qualifier, gets Wyomissing's 2009 state champion and 2010 third-placer Nick Hodgkins (43-0), whom Tyrone's A.J. Schopp beat, 4-2, in the semifinals last year en route to winning a title.
"We have some tough draws," C-K coach Dave Marko said, "but guys are wrestling well, peaking at the right time and are looking forward to the opportunity. [Hodgkins] has lost there before, and every year crazy things happen at states. Corey is very capable of pinning anybody, so why not? He's been there before, so hopefully he can use that to his advantage."
Link's teammates - Nick Szala (130), Justin Miller (140) and Tom Hanlon (152) - are all making their first trip to Hershey, and all of them have tough first-round draws against regional champions.
"When you come in fourth or fifth in the region, you're going to get the best kids in the first round," Niebauer said. "I thought Miller might not get a champion, but he did. Hopefully, they're not too tight in those matches. We'll try to get them relaxed and see how it goes."
Speaking of relaxed, the Central Cambria qualifying trio of Ben Rager (125), returning state qualifier Tony Risaliti (152) and Shane Morris (285) haven't been.
"They're pumped," CC coach Bob Nikolishen said. "When you get to this level, you get this monstrous feeling that you've accomplished something huge. But then you realize they're kids. Kids get rowdy. I've witnessed that the last two practices. They're tired of practicing, and they want some competition."
Returning Northern Bedford state qualifier Joel Suter (215), still recovering from a month without practice due to mononucleosis, will lead teammates Dan Sollenberger (189) and Quinton Hixson (285) into the tournament.
"We're looking forward to it after coming out of a tough regional," NBC coach Jan Clark said. "I think we have a legitimate shot at getting three placers. We took Dan Sollenberger with us last year, and while he was down there, he said 'I'm going to be down here next year.' We have to be ready to wrestle."
Bedford's Brian Gibbons (171) and Portage's Dave Kephart (189) are making their third trips to the individual tournament, while Huntingdon's Kie Brown (119) and Chestnut Ridge's Tyler Dibert (160) are making return tripa. For Bedford freshman Ryan Easter (103), it's his first trip individually, but he was there with the Bisons for the PIAA Duals.
Almost all of the wrestlers were on the mats Wednesday night for warmups. They got a chance to check out the competition and get some scouting reports for a tournament in which every little bit of knowledge helps. If they place in the top eight, they get a medal they've been working for their whole lives.
"This is the ultimate goal," Marko said. "I told them 'Now that you've gotten there, it's time to get greedy.' "
"This is like getting to the top of the totem pole," Nikolishen said. "Getting there is good, and getting to the top would be outstanding."