Junior Hollingshead raises expectations at Altoona

Wrestling followers in the area have come to expect a lot from Altoona junior D.J. Hollingshead, and this year he might have raised those expectations for next season.

He served notice early this season that he would be a force at 152 as he took third at the Powerade Christmas Tournament, pinning Burrell’s eventual Class AA state champion Steve Edwards in the process.

And then he won his second District 6 Class AAA Tournament title with a 7-2 win over Mifflin County’s returning district champ Noah Stewart and became one of only two area wrestlers (Central Cambria’s Max Murin in Class AA being the other) to win a regional title, beating Stewart, 4-2, in the Northwest Regional finals.

Hollingshead went 37-4, which broke the school record of 35 that he tied last year, and had 17 pins, and he capped off his season by placing fourth at the PIAA Championships. It was the best finish for any area Class AAA wrestler since Philipsburg-Osceola’s Jon Condo won the 275-pound title and Altoona’s Scott Wible was fourth at 160 in 2000.

For his accomplishments, Hollingshead has been named the Mirror’s Wrestler of the Year, following in the footsteps of former teammate T.J. Brandt, who was honored last year. Murin, Bedford’s state runner-up Jonathan Gabriel and others were considered in a very deep year for candidates, but Hollingshead regular season and postseason success gave him the edge.

“That means a lot because there’s a lot of great guys in the area,” Hollingshead said at a photo shoot for the Mirror All-Star Team. “Gabriel took second. There’s a lot of other guys who placed high.”

“This is a great accomplishment for D.J.,” Altoona coach Joel Gilbert said. “He has worked very hard in season and out of season, not only in the wrestling room, but also in the gym.”

Hollingshead has had less than a week to reflect on the season, but he’s pretty proud of what he was able to do.

“I think it went pretty good,” he said. “I knew I was doing the right thing whenever I took third down at Powerade. I just kept on working hard, and paid off down at states.”

Hollingshead built a 10-2 lead on Edwards in the second period before pinning him in 2:46. Edwards, who was 46-4 this season, won the state title with a 7-5 overtime win over Southern Columbia’s Blake Marks in the finals.

“It felt pretty good to know that I beat the double-A state champ this season at a big tournament,” said Hollingshead, who watched the Class AA finals.

Since the season ended, Hollingshead, who was light for 152, has only gained about six pounds. He says with some work in the weight room in the offseason, he could be at 160 next season. He made a big jump from his sophomore season to his junior season, winning the district title as a sophomore at 132.

Between now and the 2014-15 season, he says he might wrestle in a couple national tournaments, including the ASICS/Vaughan National Championships in July in Fargo, N.D.

In Fargo, Hollingshead will take some more confidence gained from states, where he lost to Cumberland Valley’s eventual champ and two-time runner-up T.C. Warner, 12-2, and to Bethel Park’s Paul Dunn, 5-3, in the third-place bout, and a little bit more understanding of what he needs to work on

“There’s a couple things I need to work on,” he said. “I’ve got to work on my feet, still. I’ve got to work on leg defense. I’ve just got to fine-tune some things. I would like to have wrestled a little better in the last one, but besides that, I think I gave it all I had.”

Besides next year’s postseason, Hollingshead is targeting a couple Altoona records. With a 106-15 career record, he became the first Altoona junior to reach the 100-win plateau, and if he stays healthy, he should break Brandt’s record of 125 wins. With 59 pins for his career, he has a shot at Jake Hines’ school record of 81.

“I think it’s going to be awesome to get the career win record and maybe I can get the career pin record,” he said. “It’s been harder this year [to get pins], but I also got more tech. falls and major decisions because I’ve been trying to keep my conditioning up. I think that’s why my conditioning was up because I teched more people than I did last year.”

He wasn’t able to tech or major Stewart, but their three matchups turned into a pretty good rivalry. Stewart made even more a jump in weight than Hollingshead, winning the district title in 2013 at 126. They could meet again next season.

“I don’t know if he’ll try to avoid me or not,” Hollingshead said. “He didn’t this year, but maybe since we wrestled three times and I beat him all three times, he’ll try to avoid me next year.”

While he’s enjoying the rest and healing a back injury, Hollingshead is dreaming of climbing to the top of the medals stand at the Giant Center.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” Hollingshead said. “I think I can go out and win a state championship.”