Setting the bar high: Missed Hershey trip spurs Tigers’ Barton

The proverbial thrill of victory and agony of defeat is probably felt no more keenly than in the elimination rounds of the PIAA’s regional wrestling tournaments.

With a trip to the state tournament on the line, matches like the Northwest Class AAA Regional Tournament’s third-place bouts are often more intense than anything seen in the championship round.

Hollidaysburg Area High School’s Matt Barton felt the pain of falling short in such a do-or-die match last March, dropping a 1-0 decision to Erie McDowell’s Scot Augustine in the Northwest Regional’s 285-pound consolation final at the Altoona Area High School Fieldhouse.

Augustine took third place in the regional with that win, and punched his ticket to the state tournament in Hershey. Barton wound up fourth in the regional, and went home for his junior season.

It was a lousy feeling for Barton, and one that he’s doing his darndest this season not to experience again this year as a senior.

“My goal last year was to qualify for the state tournament, and I didn’t reach it,” Barton said. “I was one win away from going to states, and I was pretty upset that I didn’t make it.”

Very upset, according to Hollidaysburg coach Mike Moore.

“I know that loss motivated him,” Moore said. “He certainly doesn’t want something like that to take place this year.”

Barton – who sports a 20-2 record with 14 falls this season – has even higher aspirations this season than merely setting foot on the mats in the state tournament at Hershey’s Giant Center. He wants to earn a placewinner’s medal there as one of the state’s top eight finishers in his weight class.

“I’ve set the bar higher this year,” Barton said. “I’m trying to push myself to make it to the state tournament, and place.”

Moore, for one, wouldn’t bet against Barton.

“His big goal this year is to be a state placewinner,” Moore said. “Just qualifying isn’t good enough. He’s set his goals pretty high, and he wants to go down to Hershey and place.”

Barton has worked diligently on his entire wrestling repertoire since that bitter loss in last March’s regional.

“We’ve worked hard on some things,” Moore said. “Getting off the bottom was an issue for him in that match, and he’s improved on that since last year. He’s also more diverse offensively on his feet over last year. He’s a little more dynamic this year. He has more ways to score this year, more tools in his tool box.”

Long-time Hollidaysburg assistant coach Dave Frazier, a former Golden Tigers’ heavyweight, has been drilling with Barton on a variety of skills – including scoring in several different ways off his favorite underhook move.

“Last year, I used the underhook, but I didn’t have a lot of variety in what I could do with it,” said Barton, who began wrestling in the fourth grade. “This year, I’ve been working on taking shots and working some other offense off the underhook.”

Barton’s physical strength and athletic ability make him a very formidable opponent both on his feet and on the mat.

“He’s a very, very strong kid, and he moves pretty well and is pretty athletic for a big guy,” Moore said. “You put those two together, and that’s a pretty good combination in a 285-pounder.”

Barton is a three-sport standout who started as a two-way lineman on Hollidaysburg’s football team and throws both the shot put and discus for the Tigers’ track and field squad.

“All three sports carry over and playing all three benefit me,” Barton said. “With football, I get work on my positioning, and with wrestling, I get work on body awareness. With track throws, I get work on explosiveness.”

Barton played football under the direction of his father, John, Hollidaysburg’s long-time head coach, who recently resigned the Tigers’ coaching position after 14 seasons. One of the reasons John Barton gave for his resignation as football coach was to allow himself time to watch his two sons, Matt and older brother Chad – a student-athlete at Kutztown University and former Hollidaysburg quarterback – play college football.

“It was absolutely fantastic,” was how Matt Barton described the experience of playing high school football for his father. “At times, it was hard, but I always knew that he was pushing me and trying to help me to be the best that I could be.”

Matt Barton – who is eyeing both Carnegie Mellon University and Catholic University in Washington, D.C. to extend his education and football careers – has excelled in the classroom as well as in the athletic arenas. Matt carries a 94-point grade point average, and last summer, he was one of just 32 students from around the United States who was chosen to attend a leadership program by the prestigious Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.

“He’s a quality kid,” Moore said. “His future is certainly bright, both athletically and academically.”