Bigger, better stronger at 152: Altoona’s Hollingshead has handled weight gain well

There was some indication at the end of last season that Altoona’s D.J. Hollingshead would be a lot bigger in 2013-2014 when the 132-pound first-teamer showed up at the Mirror All-Star photo shoot weighing more than 138-pound teammate T.J. Brandt.

Fast forward to nearly a year later, Hollingshead is a full-fledged 152-pounder and has shown no signs that he’s had any problems adjusting to the weight gain.

After an offseason of lifting weights and wrestling in tournaments, the Mountain Lion junior is stronger and is 29-2 with 16 pins coming off of capturing his second District 6 Class AAA Tournament title in his third appearance in the finals.

“It feels so much better to wrestle at a higher weight and not cut as much weight as usual,” Hollingshead said. “I gained 25 pounds since last year, and a lot of it was muscle. I did a lot of lifting in the offseason.”

“I think he’s handled [the weight gain] real well,” Altoona coach Joel Gilbert said. “I think he probably could have gone to 145 if he wanted to, but when you’re looking at the state rankings, you’ve got two returning state champions in [Father Judge’s] Joe Galasso and [Canon McMillan’s] Solomon Chisko, and they’re two of the best guys in America right now.

“He feels that his best chance to place as high as he can at states will be at 152 pounds. I haven’t seen a problem with him yet out here against an opponent. He holds his weight well. He lifts hard, lifts heavy to keep his weight up. So, I think he’s happy in that weight class right now.”

Hollingshead finished third at the prestigious Powerade Tournament, losing only to Franklin Regional’s returning state third-placer Josh Shields, 18-6. He also dropped a 9-6 decision to Manheim Township’s Cortlandt Schuyler at the Cedar Cliff Duals, but the state-ranked Hollingshead has won 14 in a row since then.

“I think I wrestled real well at Powerade,” Hollingshead said. “I’ve tried to keep that pace going since then and really condition hard because that’s what is going to make me at the top level elite. Shields was tough. He caught me in a couple moves, which I think would have changed it.”

“He’s forcing his opponents to make mistakes, and he’s scoring off of those mistakes,” Gilbert said. “I think that’s been his biggest improvement this past year. He’s basically the total package, and we’re real glad he’s here.”

Gilbert and the rest of the Altoona wrestling community have been glad Hollingshead has been here ever since he came up to the high school team as a freshman after placing three times in the top three at the Pennsylvania Junior Wrestling Championships, including winning a title at 100 pounds in 2010 in the 11-12 age group.

He made it to the 120-pound finals of the district tournament and dropped a 4-1 decision to Bellefonte’s Tom Traxler, who said Hollingshead was one of the toughest freshman he had ever wrestled. He ran into a rugged weight at the Northwest Regional, losing to Brashear’s eventual state champion Godwin Nyama, 6-2, in the quarterfinals and to Clearfield veteran Christian Stone, 6-2, in the consolation semifinals to finish with a 35-5 record.

“I was very nervous,” Hollingshead said of districts that year. “Traxler was a returning district champ. I thought he was a good guy for [the comment]. I talked to him afterward. You usually don’t talk to somebody that beats you, but he seemed like a good guy.”

As a sophomore who went 34-6, he breezed to the district title and qualified for the PIAA Championships by finishing third at regionals, losing only to McDowell’s eventual champion Nick Gibson, 8-3, in the semis.

His appearance in Hershey was brief, however, as he went 0-2, losing 2-1 in his first bout to Easton’s Robert Rizzolino and 5-0 to Middletown’s eventual fourth-placer Bryce Killian in the consolations.

“I think I was nervous last year in my first match and kind of didn’t wrestle like I should have. I backed up and stuff,” Hollingshead said. “This year, it will be guns-a-blazing. I’ll be wrestling as hard as I can, and I won’t be nervous.”

Coming into the season, his goals were to win a district title again and win his first regional title. Hollingshead checked the district title off of his to do list when he beat Mifflin County’s returning district champ Noah Stewart, 7-2, in the finals. He’ll find out if he can check the regional title off of the list this weekend. With a 99-13 career record, he’ll also reach the 100-win plateau.

“It feels great, actually, getting two under my belt now,” Hollingshead said after beating Stewart. “I knew Noah was definitely coming after me since I beat him earlier this season.”

It’s that type of bout, when he’s challenged by a tough opponent, that gets Hollingshead excited to wrestle.

“I like the important matches more than the ones that aren’t as tough,” Hollingshead said, “because you wrestle your best whenever you’ve got a better opponent. [Wrestling is] a lot of fun, especially whenever you’re winning. It gives you motivation to keep going and practicing hard to be at the top. I love the sport.”

Gilbert loves that Hollingshead will be back next year as a bigger, better senior.

“We’re darn right we are, without a doubt,” Gilbert said laughing. “We’re licking our chops.”