Before he stepped down off the medals stand after all the photos for the 112-pound medalists were taken, Penn Cambria's Evan Link took the silver medal from around his neck, jumped down, and, with jaw set and eyes looking forward, walked past everybody.
Link had just worked his way through one of the toughest brackets in the PIAA Class AA Championships, but he was pinned in 4:14 with a tilt by North Star nemesis Nick Roberts, whom he had beaten twice already, in the finals. Which is why he was shocked and angry at the medals stand.
"I stopped moving on the bottom, and you can't stop moving," Link said. "He caught me with that tilt. I knew he had back points, but I didn't feel like I was getting pinned. I don't know what I was thinking. It happened so quick. It was a great match the first two periods. I was staying on the attack, and he was staying back. I think that was his gameplan.
Photo for the Mirror by Jim Butler
Penn Cambria’s Evan Link is the second family member to be named the Mirror Wrestler of the Year.
"I can't really worry about anything now. You just have to look at it as I took second at states, and not that many people do that. It's an accomplishment."
Link earned another accomplishment. He has been named the Altoona Mirror's Wrestler of the Year for 2010-2011. He's the second in his family to win the award. His brother, Nathan, was named Wrestler of the Year after he lost in the finals in 2007.
Evan, a three-time state placer and two-time runner-up, was in Altoona Thursday taking part in a photo shoot of the 28th annual Mirror All-Star Team, and he was in a little better mood.
Mirror wrestlers of the year
2010-11Evan LinkPenn Cambria
2007-08Gary PfahlerChestnut Ridge
2006-07Nathan LinkPenn Cambria
2004-05Garrett ScottJuniata Valley
2003-04Garrett ScottJuniata Valley
2002-03Nate MorrisCentral Cambria
Garrett ScottJuniata Valley
1995-96Jody StrittmatterCam. Heights
1991-92Tony AlbertelliPenn Cambria
1989-90Brian MurphyCambria Heights
1985-86Dave YahnerCambria Heights
1983-84Jeff HusickTussey Mountain
"I feel great," he said. "My season is over. I took second at states. I was a regional champ and district champ. I wish I got first, but I wrestled Nick Roberts, and it's always a battle with him. I'm happy that I got this award. It's a great honor. It feels good that my brother got it, and I got it."
"I'm very proud of him," PC coach Todd Niebauer said. "There are some great wrestlers like [Tyrone's] Ronnie Garbinsky and the other guys in the area. It's an accomplishment because it's such a long regular season. He's deserving of it, and it's icing on the cake to his career."
The Links also share the number of career wins (138). Evan finished his career with a 138-21 record, and he went 42-2 this season, with his only loss prior to the finals coming to Waynesburg's Derrick Nelson early in the season at 119. Nelson finished seventh in the Class AAA tournament at 119.
"He kind of came into his own this year," Niebauer said. "He was determined to step it up a notch, and he did."
Did he ever. After the early-season loss, nobody came close to beating him until the Southwest Regional Tournament semifinals. Link didn't have any regular decisions until his 6-5 win over Burrell's Zack Kelly in the semis. He became a pinner, notching 27, which ranks second in school history to Adam Farabaugh's 28 in 2002.
"I think when I saw openings to pin people, I would do it," Link said. "I didn't have as many takedowns as I did last year. Even if I couldn't get an opening, I felt like I'd always push him, wear him down to an extent to where I thought I could break him. That's the Niebauers' whole thing, and I think I took it another step."
Link will be taking another step soon after he wrestles at nationals in Virginia Beach. He has to pick a college and make the jump up to 125. He's talked to Penn State, UPJ and got a letter from Maryland recently, and he might contact Kent State and North Carolina State.
Link certainly built an excellent recruiting resume this season. He won his third District 6 title, was voted the tournament's Outstanding Wrestler and then won a regional title for the first time, beating Roberts, 4-3, in the finals. Link had lost to Roberts, 4-1, in the 2009 state finals, but he beat him in the preseason Super 32 and at regionals.
Then, he knocked off Bermudian Springs' returning state runner-up Brad Farley, 6-0, the quarterfinals and Line Mountain's returning state champ Zain Retherford, 4-3, in the semifinals.
"It was great to see him beat the kids he beat," workout partner and fellow all-star Justin Miller said. "I wanted him to win a state title, but it must not have been his time. I told him it's going to come to him in college. But, yeah, it was pretty remarkable watching him go through the state championships."
"Obviously, he's got to be a little disappointed he finished second," Niebauer said. "We were wrestling so well and had a great run. He beat some of the best kids in the state. He did a great job not looking ahead."