PC’s Brown savors state medal after tough loss

Mirror file photo Penn Cambria’s Derek Brown has won 114 matches during his four-year scholastic career.

Penn Cambria’s Derek Brown was in awe of his first state tournament as a sophomore, but he nearly created some shock and awe in his second PIAA Class 2A Championships as a junior.

He made it to the 170-pound semifinals, where he dropped a 15-9 heartbreaking decision to Susquehanna Township’s returning state champion Edmond Ruth.

Brown lost a couple more times and finished in sixth place. A state medal is what many high school wrestlers aim for, and he got his.

“It was really special,” Brown said. “I wish the semifinal would have gone a little bit different. I wasn’t content with sixth place. This year, I want the gold.”

Ah yes, the semifinals. Brown actually had Ruth, who went on to beat Ligonier Valley’s Robby Patrick, 6-4, for his second title, on his back in the semifinals, but the action was stopped when Brown called for injury time.

“I’ve never been in a state final, and then to have a returning state champ on his back and he called injury time, it was heartbreaking,” Brown said. “I just went out mentally. The next two matches, I lost to two kids I had already beaten in my career. My coach said ‘You pulled the semifinal slide.’ I said ‘Well, I made it here, and I made it to the podium. I got one more year.'”

“We got into the semifinals, and some things happened there,” Penn Cambria coach Todd Niebauer said. “I thought we had a little bit of a letdown after that, and that was to be expected from a high school kid who just had a pretty good opportunity to get into the finals. But as a junior, for him to place was a great stepping stone for this year.”

Brown is 21-2 with 10 pins as a senior 170-pounder, and he recently lost, 17-6, to Chestnut Ridge’s three-time state placewinner Jared McGill. McGill is ranked first in the state by PA Power Wrestling, while Brown is third. His other loss was to Spring Grove’s Anthony Hinson, 8-3, in the Panther Classic finals.

Brown announced Monday night that he’ll wrestle at Clarion University next season.

“He’s been a little bit up and down,” Niebauer said. “He’s a little bit beat-up from football. He’s been offensive at times, but I think the good thing that I can think of as a coach is I don’t think he’s wrestled his best by far. He didn’t show his best against McGill, for sure. I think there’s some things we can tweak and get him peaking at the right time.”

“It was a really tough match, but I really wasn’t wrestling my match,” Brown said of the McGill loss. “I was very sloppy in neutral, and whenever he was on top, I let him have control over me, and he got a lot of back points. I feel like conditioning-wise I was starting to get the better of him, but I still need to improve on it. Maybe I can break him a little bit earlier.

“It really puts it in perspective that you’re not the best and you have more to work on.”

Brown has been wrestling with a knee injury he sustained during football season. Brown, a running back, safety and special teams player, said the bursa sac “exploded” and was “basically destroyed.”

“I took a few too many helmets to the knee, and I really didn’t get any time to rest from football to wrestling,” he said. “It’s mostly my fault because I really didn’t want to take a break because I’ve been trying to prepare myself for this year’s state competition. I really push off all injuries so I can deal with them when I graduate.”

How much does it hurt?

“At rest, it doesn’t hurt,” he said. “But whenever someone grabs a hold of it or I hit it on the mat a certain way, it feels like I’ve got a machete in that knee cap. I don’t think it’s going to affect me later in life. It’s just something I’m going to have to deal with. I have it drained and I’ve had some stuff done to it.”

Brown has had a long wrestling career. He says he started wrestling when he was 4, and he medaled as an 8-year-old at the Pennsylvania Junior Wrestling state tournament.

“My parents signed me up for it just because I was always trying to wrestle people,” Brown said. “I was a very active, very hyper kid, and they figured that would be a good way to get me tired so I would come home and go to bed without driving them up the wall.”

Brown came up to the varsity level as a freshman, but he says he quit for a little bit before the season started because of a disagreement with Niebauer about what weight he was going to wrestle at. Brown grudgingly came back to wrestle at 152, and ultimately developed a better relationship with Niebauer. In fact, Brown says he’s “like a dad” to him.

Even though he was a freshman at a senior-laden weight, Brown went 23-13 and finished fourth at the District 6 Class 2A Tournament to qualify for the Southwest Regional Tournament.

“I was surprised,” Brown said, “because I heard everyone saying ‘Derek is a freshman. He’s up at the heavy weights. He’s not going to medal at any tournaments.’ Then I started winning matches against these seniors, and a few of the kids had some names. My mindset turned to I belong here, time to shock everyone.”

Brown never did go to camps or extra training until his sophomore year. As a sophomore, Brown went 34-12 and took fifth at districts and at regionals at 160 to qualify for the state tournament. He lost his first bout at Hershey, but he made it to the second day.

“It was actually shocking to me because I’ve been to state tournaments with PJWs, and I’ve never been nervous or anything,” Brown said. “When I got to the high school state tournament, I couldn’t believe how big the arena was, and it showed. My first match I looked terrible. I think it was a good learning experience for me.”

Last year, Brown was 36-8, and he finished second to Patrick at the district and regional tournament before he made his run to the state semifinals.

Now Brown, who has career record of 114-35, has the experience to handle big tournaments. He shares his knowledge and his experience with his teammates, many of whom are very inexperienced.

“Derek is a team leader,” Niebauer said. “We’ve got so many kids who are brand new on the team. Sometimes I catch him showing other kids moves when I want him working on some stuff himself. It’s almost like he’s too good of a leader, but I think that’s a good problem to have.”

In his younger days, he hoped to play football in college, but he’ll likely wrestle. Brown, who Niebauer says his “tenacious” and “athletic,” is undecided about a college.

Before that big step, Brown will aim for a title at this weekend’s rugged Thomas Chevrolet Tournament and then make an even bigger step up the medals stand at the state tournament.

“I’ve been dreaming about it,” Brown said, “getting back to the tournaments and competing with some kids who will actually make me go to the third period. I just dream about getting that medal around my neck, being in the center of the Giant Center (for the finals).”