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Altoona’s Sarbo drilling harder to get state medal

Photo for the Mirror by Chuck Meyers Matt Sarbo will be wrestling at 132 pounds in the District 6 Class 3A tournament this Saturday.

Altoona’s Matt Sarbo placed seventh at 106 pounds at the PIAA Class 3A Championships as a freshman. Many, including Sarbo, expected an even better finish to his sophomore season.

He started off well, rolling to a 20-7 major decision in his first bout at the Giant Center. But then he went 0-2 on the second day, including a controversial 3-2 loss to Liberty’s Mike Torres in his consolation bout.

Just like that, Sarbo’s state tournament ended one win shy of making the medal round.

“There’s always really good competition at the state tournament,” Sarbo said. “When you go there, you really see where you’re at. You see how what you’ve been doing is paying off.

“Last year, I didn’t place, and it was because of the way I was working. It was the things I was doing and how hard I was working. Since last season, it’s changed a lot, and I did a lot more work. I was working hard, but I wasn’t as determined I don’t think. The technique that I’ve been getting practicing at M2 (Training Center) I think has really made a difference for me.

“It’s going to be different this year.”

Without a state medal to hang up in his bedroom, the two-time District 6 and Northwest Regional champion became more motivated than ever to get better. Determined to put his sophomore season behind him, he worked out at M2, lifted, ran and wrestled as he focused on his junior season.

“Everybody wants the gold medal at the state tournament,” Sarbo said. “Just not getting what you wanted changes the way you’re doing your practices, the way you’re drilling and the way you’re working out.

“Every time I work out, it crosses my mind, ‘What am I doing this for? What do I want out of this?’ Every time it’s the same thing. I want to go out and compete for a state title.”

Sarbo has excelled on the mat again this season. He’s 29-2 with 17 pins and is ranked fifth at 132 by PA Power Wrestling entering Saturday’s District 6 Tournament.

His two losses were to Tunkhannock’s David Evans, 12-10, in the semifinals of the Panther Holiday Classic, and to Latrobe’s second-ranked Gabe Willochell, 11-10, in the finals of the Ultimate Warrior Tournament.

“He looks really good,” Altoona coach Joel Gilbert said. “He looks fast. He looks explosive. He’s able to scramble well. He’s scored a lot of points. He’s had a few lapses, but overall, he’s had a great year.”

“I think I’ve been wrestling pretty well,” Sarbo said. “It’s been a fun season. I’ve had a bunch of good matches.”

Sarbo is aiming for his third District 6 title after beating State College’s Owen Woolcott, 8-1, in last year’s finals.

“I’m just going to go out, do what I do and wrestle hard,” Sarbo said. “There a few pretty good kids at the weight, and I’m just going to come and wrestle.”

Sarbo is only up one weight class from last season, but it’s obvious that his offseason training has made him bigger and stronger.

“Last year, I wrestled at 126, and I was a little small,” he said. “I think I definitely filled out this season, and I think I’m at a good weight.”

Sarbo is 98-14 in his career and should earn his 100th win in the district tournament.

Sarbo, who began wrestling in the second grade, was accomplished by the time he reached the high school level as a freshman. He made the semifinals of the Pennsylvania Junior Wrestling Junior High State Tournament in the seventh grade, and then he won a state title at 102 pounds in 2017.

He said he didn’t start becoming a good wrestler until about the sixth grade.

“Nobody is instantly good,” Sarbo said. “It takes a lot of work and a lot of commitment. Ever since I was young, I’ve really liked the sport, so I always worked hard.”

Sarbo serviced notice as a freshman he was going to be the next Altoona star wrestler. He wrestled most of the season at 113 before dropping to 106 for the postseason. After winning his first district title, Sarbo pinned General McLane’s third-ranked Andrew Brest in the Northwest Regional finals.

He finished his freshman season with a 33-7 record and 15 falls.

“I really wasn’t sure his freshman year what we had there,” Gilbert said of his expectations for Sarbo. “I knew he was a pretty good wrestler being a JO state champ. He turned it on, but you get down to the state tournament, you get your weaknesses exposed, but he ended up placing. It told him he was good enough to compete with all of those guys down there, but there a few things he had to shore up.”

“I expected a lot from myself,” Sarbo said. “My freshman year was pretty special. I went out and I competed really well with all of the kids. It didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to, but it still showed me I was competing and I could keep up.”

Sarbo went 36-5 with 16 pins and eight technical falls as a sophomore. Two of his losses came at the state tournament and another was to Glendale’s eventual Class 2A state champion Brock McMillen in the Panther Holiday Classic finals.

After beating Woolcott for his second district title, Sarbo beat the State College wrestler, 7-4, in the regional finals.

Sarbo is probably headed toward another meeting or two with Woolcott in the postseason tournaments. Woolcott is ranked 10th by PA Power Wrestling.

Sarbo is ready to start another postseason tournament journey.

“I’m looking forward to it a lot,” Sarbo said. “I have a lot of great kids in my state bracket, and I really like that I get a shot at those guys. I think it’s a good opportunity to see where I’m at and see where my training has taken me. I’m extremely confident in what I’ve been doing throughout the summer and throughout the season.”

“Matt just goes out and he wrestles hard,” Gilbert said. “I know his goal is to win the state title, and it has been every year since he’s been at Altoona. My expectation for Matt is in each match is to make sure he does the things that he’s been taught and focus on the task at that time.

“That’s the way to have an opportunity to win the state championship. As long as you follow through on those things, good things are going to happen for you.”

He has another year left in his high school career, so if he has plenty of time to improve his skills and become Altoona’s first state champion since Steve Maurey in 1974.

That isn’t how Sarbo is looking at it, though.

“I want to get Altoona a state title this season,” he said. “I think it’s very possible. I’ve wrestled some of the ranked guys, and it’s not out of reach at all. You can do the work now. I think if you put the work in you can win as a freshman, you can win as a sophomore, and you can win any year you want.

“You’ve just got to want it.”

Sounds like a lot of self-imposed pressure.

“I don’t feel the pressure now, and I don’t think I’ll feel it then,” Sarbo said. “I think if you did the work and you really committed yourself to it, there isn’t any pressure. Just go out, have fun and wrestle.”

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