Quinton Hixson is a two-time District 5 champion who will go for his third title this weekend in Windber, but the last two years the Northern Bedford senior has had extra incentive going into the tournament.
Last year, Meyersdale's Eli Kerr beat Hixson at the Southmoreland Holiday Tournament for one of four losses Hixson had during the regular season. Hixson, however, pinned him in 2:22 in the 285-pound finals at districts en route to finishing seventh at the PIAA Championships, avenging a Southwest Regional loss to Central Cambria's Shane Morris with a pin in the seventh-place bout.
Hixson is 24-1 heading into this year's district tournament, and he has a chance to avenge that one loss. Somerset's Jake Hayman beat Hixson, 3-1 in overtime, in the Feb. 2 dual meet. Hixson is the top seed, and Hayman is the second seed, so they would have to meet in the finals for Hixson to avenge the loss. Hayman will likely have to go through Chestnut Ridge's Austin Buttry, who pinned the Somerset senior at the Richland Duals, in the semifinals.
Oddly enough, Hixson might have to wrestle one of his workout partners, Tussey Mountain's Mitchell Hall, in the semis.
"I expected to be undefeated, but the loss kind of made me realize how much I have to work to be the best I need to be," Hixson said. "I'm going to work really hard to get that third one. I don't see myself losing. I don't want to sound cocky, but I'm going to get that third one."
Hixson said he had pneumonia when he lost to Hayman, and while he usually pushes the 285-pound limit, he was down to 270 for that bout. It was his second bout with pneumonia this season, but Hixson says he feels better now after getting treated with antibiotics.
First-year coach Brian Dutchcot said nerves might have played a factor in the loss too.
"I think he's wrestling well," Dutchcot said. "He gets nervous at times because he thinks he has a target on him, and he has to live up to the seventh place at states. I think he can wrestle more wide open, and I hope to see that in the weeks to come."
That he has the potential to be a three-time district champion and possibly a regional and state champ - he is ranked second in the statewide Off The Mat rankings behind Fort Cherry's Corey Garrey - is remarkable considering he didn't start wrestling competitively until he was in eighth grade.
Then, former NBC coach Jan Clark brought Hixson up to the high school level as a freshman, and he went 12-13 with seven pins. Not bad for a freshman heavyweight, but Hixson said he had a "terrible" season.
In fact, Hixson was so upset with his wrestling that he almost quit. That was around the time of the Thomas Tournament, which he decided not to wrestle in.
"We gave him a little break," said Dutchcot, who was an assistant to Clark. "We didn't push hard. Coach Clark told him to take the weekend off. It's hard for a freshman to come up at heavyweight. It didn't play out like he had in mind.
"I remind him of that every day. I tell him 'You were going to give it up,' and he just laughs. Now, he really enjoys it."
As a sophomore, he went 24-7 with 15 pins and won his first district title with a 3-0 victory over Everett's Johnny Matney. Last year, he was 33-8 with 25 pins, and he qualified for Hershey by placing fifth at regionals. He started to improve toward the end of the season with the help of former Tyrone state champ Terry Tate, who started working out with him after the Thomas Tournament.
He's worked out with Tate a few times this year, and he practiced with Hall Monday. He's also practicing with Hollidaysburg's Matt Barton, who is ranked second behind Hixson in the Mirror wrestling rankings.
"It makes me practice a lot harder," Hixson said of the workouts with fellow heavyweights. "In practice, the only one closest to me in weight is the 195-pounder. I like a challenge, and Barton is pretty good."
"It's tough in the wrestling room because there's no one as big as Quinton," Dutchcot said. "The three of us [coaches] can't wrestle with him anymore. It's a challenge to get kids in there and for him to have a real good practice."
The 6-foot-2 Hixson was a first-team all-state football player, but more schools are looking at him in wrestling than football. The college wrestling coaches see a big man who is athletic and wins (93-29 in his career).
"He's the most athletic heavyweight I've come across," Dutchcot said. "He's a little quicker than most heavyweights, and he has great balance. He needs to believe in himself and open an attack. If he goes out and takes people down, he has a real good chance to be a state champion."
"My coach made me write down three goals at the beginning of the season," Hixson said, "and I look at them every day before I go out. The third most important goal is win districts. The second most important is to win a regional title. The most important is a state title. If I want to achieve that, I have to work harder than everybody else."