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Altoona’s Sarbo, Fasick reach end of road

Under this season’s COVID-19 pandemic-influenced PIAA wrestling format, the first-ever Super Regional tournaments technically served the function of the first part of the state tournament, with competition that is just as intense and difficult.

Two Altoona Area High school entries in Saturday’s Class 3A West Super Regional tournament at the Altoona High School Fieldhouse did well to reach that point, but they both ran into meat-grinder opposition there and were eliminated from competition with two straight losses Saturday morning.

Senior 138-pounder Matt Sarbo and sophomore 120-pounder Caleb Fasick both drew formidable opponents in Saturday’s quarterfinals and consolation quarterfinals, and were denied a trip to next Saturday’s PIAA Class 3A state tournament at Hershey’s Giant Center.

The top four finishers in each weight class at all four of the state’s Super Regional competitions — two apiece in both Class 3A and Class 2A — are advancing to Hershey, where, this year, all qualifiers are guaranteed placewinner’s medals.

Sarbo — a four-time District 6 and Northwest Class 3A Regional champion — dropped a 10-7 decision to Franklin Regional junior Finn Solomon in the quarterfinal round, and was eliminated from the Super Regional following a 14-8 setback to Central Dauphin senior Josh Miller in the consolation quarterfinals.

Fasick was pinned in 3:57 by Chambersburg junior Karl Shindledecker in the quarters, and eliminated when he suffered a 12-3 loss by major decision to Manheim Township junior Josh Hillard in the consy quarters.

“I know the kids had higher expectations, but this is just like the state tournament,” Altoona coach Joel Gilbert said. “It’s great for our kids to get here.”

Indeed, all of this year’s Super Regional contestants will officially be listed in the record books as PIAA tournament qualifiers — whether they advanced to Hershey or not.

That may be little consolation for a wrestler of Sarbo’s caliber, though. He finished his four-year career at Altoona with a scintillating 113-19 record, and became the school’s first-ever four-time Northwest Class 3A Regional champion Feb. 27.

Sarbo — who medaled at Hershey by placing seventh at 106 pounds as a freshman three years ago, but has come up short of a state medal in each of his final three seasons — had a laser focus on state gold this year as a senior.

Sarbo (10-3 in this abbreviated season) will continue his wrestling career on the Division I collegiate level at Lock Haven State University.

“I really had a fun high school career,” Sarbo said. “I never got exactly what I wanted (state gold), but I’m going to keep on working in my collegiate career to achieve the goals that I want to achieve. It’s going to take a lot of work, but I’m willing to put that work in.”

The 138-pound weight class at the Class 3A West Super Regional was arguably the toughest in the tournament, with Sarbo among five of the state’s top-ranked competitors in the weight class.

In an electric, much-anticipated quarterfinal-round battle between Sarbo and Solomon, Sarbo battled back from a 4-0 second-period deficit to tie the score, 7-7, via an early third-period takedown.

Solomon — who entered the tournament with a 29-2 record and would later pick up his 100th career win in Saturday’s semifinals en route to eventually winning his weight class at the event — promptly escaped to take an 8-7 lead, and after Sarbo’s takedown attempt on a headlock went out of bounds, Solomon sewed up the match with a takedown of his own with less than 30 seconds left.

“Finn’s a tough wrestler,” Sarbo said of Solomon. “I wrestled him tough, but that’s just how it went. He earned it.”

Solomon said that his game plan was to continue to attack.

“I didn’t feel great at the end, but I wanted to keep after him, just keep wrestling, and try to keep scoring to finish the match up,” Solomon said.

The loss dropped Sarbo into the wrestleback round against South Central Regional champion Miller, who entered the tournament with a 22-1 record before losing a 4-2 overtime decision to Chartiers Valley sophomore Dylan Evans in the quarterfinals.

Miller used a four-point move to build an 8-2 lead on Sarbo in the second period, and held on for the 14-8 decision.

“He got himself into a hole, and against this type of competition, it’s a huge deficit to come back from,” Gilbert said of Sarbo’s match with Miller.

Sarbo has been snakebitten over the past three seasons after winning regional titles.

“The poor kid — I feel so bad for him,” Gilbert said. “It has been clicking for him throughout his career at districts and regionals, but at this (point of the postseason), it just hasn’t clicked for him. Some weekends, it clicks, and other weekends, it doesn’t. That’s just the way this sport is.”

Sarbo cast a very positive influence over the Altoona program over the past four years.

“Matt had a great career here,” Gilbert said. “He has been the face of our wrestling program over the past three years, and as an upperclassman, he was a great help to the younger kids in our program.”

While Sarbo wrapped up his stellar high school career on Saturday, Fasick (12-9 this season) spent this postseason laying down a promising building block for the rest of his scholastic career.

Fasick made it to the Super Regional by winning a true second-place match for all the marbles in the Northwest Class 3A Regional, and got a feel for what the intensity and competition of the deep postseason is all about.

He now has two more years to build on that experience.

“I’m proud of my season,” Fasick said. “There are a lot of really great wrestlers here today, and I want to get to this level of competition myself. Losing (stinks). You never like to lose, but I’m glad that I got to weigh myself against this level of competition here.”

Meet notes: Individual champions from District 6 included Mifflin County’s Trey Kibe (172) and Bellefonte’s Ethan Rossman (189) … Other state qualifiers from District 6 included Bellefonte’s Ethan Richner (second, 160) and Jude Swisher (third, 132), Central Mountain’s Luke Simcox (second, 126), and State College’s Lance Urbas (172) … Former long-time Tyrone coach Tony Yaniello has been the head coach at Shippensburg High School for many years and made an appearance with one wrestler at the Super Regional.

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