Huskies’ young guns on target
ALTOONA – For the Mifflin County wrestling team, Saturday was the establishment of another benchmark in the mat history of the school.
Going into the District 6 Class AAA individual tournament, the Huskies were arguably the favorite to capture the team title. With two solid days of competition, the Huskies did just that as they won the first district wrestling title in the brief history of the school.
Although winning the team title is huge, the big story in the Huskies winning the crown might have been in the way they did it.
Riding the outstanding efforts of three freshmen affectionately known as the Tenacious Trio, Mifflin County held off the late charge by Central Mountain for the top spot in the team standings.
Claiming individual titles for the Huskies were Hayden Hidlay (113), Noah Stewart (126) and Brandon Wilson (145). Sophomore Isaac Underhill (112), and seniors Lucas Besch (132) and Joe Knarr (152) weren’t as fortunate in the finals as their freshmen teammates, but did make it that far to claim silver.
Completing the group of Mifflin County regional qualifiers was third-place winner Kevin Bair (138) and a trio who were fourth in their respective weight classes: Drew Hannon (195), Kyle Kahley (220) and Caleb Rhodes (285).
For Mifflin County coach Kirby Martin and his staff, the hope is that this is just the start of many good things to come down the road for the Huskies’ wrestling program.
“What I am hoping is that this is the start of things to come,” Martin said. “With the schools (Lewistown and Indian Valley) combining, the kids have just done an outstanding job of collaborating from day one. To their credit, they are not only working hard, but working together and results like this are to be expected. With those high expectations, we have to give (the wrestlers) a lot of credit.”
In winning the team title, Mifflin County accumulated 198.5 team points to 189.5 for Central Mountain and along the way, qualified 10 wrestlers for this week’s Class AAA Northwest regional, which will be back at Altoona Area High School.
Heading into the championship finals, Central Mountain had trimmed the Husky lead from 13 down to just four points. However, with his half dozen wrestlers in the title bouts, Martin wasn’t really concerned about the eventual outcome.
“Those kids who were in the finals are hard-working kids and I knew if they wrestled soundly we were going to come away with the (team) championship,” Martin said. “You always want to wait until it (the final result) is official, but it is just a tribute to just how hard the kids have worked this year.”
For his title, Hidlay used his superiority on his feet to slick Bald Eagle Area’s Travis Giedroc several times in a 9-1 major decision.
“I knew coming into the match that he was a pretty good defensive wrestler,” Hidlay said. “He has a pretty square stance so I knew if I could get him out of position that his leg would be right there. My original game plan was to attack him with a high crotch, but when he kept giving me the leg, I just took it.”
Hidlay suffered his first career loss to defending state champion Ethan Lizak of Parkland in the finals of the King of the Mountain tournament back in December. Since that time losses have been few and far between for him as he prepares for the next step that hopefully will lead him to Hershey.
“After my loss to Lizak, I didn’t want to lose for the rest of the year, but that didn’t work out as I had hoped,” Hidlay said. “I lost to him again later in the year, but I have a lot of confidence going into the rest of the post-season and that is just to beat everybody from here on out and win a state title. I have wanted to do that since I was a little kid.”
Following in Hidlay’s footsteps, Stewart was solid in picking up his first district title when he posted a 4-1 decision over Philipsburg-Osceola’s Brian Evans.
“It just feels real great to get that win,” Stewart said. “Only two other freshmen have won it so that was one of my goals coming into this tournament. Right now it feels great and it feels really good to have that under my belt.”
Stewart said he wasn’t going to let his lack of knowledge about Evans going into the match be a factor in how he was going to wrestle.
“Other kids who I have wrestled have wrestled him before, but what they told me I just threw it out of my mind,” Stewart said. “I just wanted to use what I do in practice and whatever I have trained for and it all worked out for me.”
Completing the trifecta of individual champions for Mifflin County, Wilson battled and withstood a late surge by State College’s Derek Horner to walk off the mat with a 6-4 win.
“Just before I wrestled they (his teammates) came back to me and asked me if I was nervous,” Wilson said. “I just told them I was going to go out as I always do and I was able to pick up a big win. I majored him in the dual meet and I knew it wasn’t going to be the same match because he more or less knew what I was going to do. My goal was to get out there, get a takedown and work hard from there.”
Following the finals, Martin could only smile as he recalled the efforts of his three champions.
“We sat down with them at the beginning of the year and said, you know, you could have a lot of success and leave quite a legacy here (at Mifflin County) by the time you graduate,” Martin said. “We told them this year is the beginning of that road, but I also warned them that everything wasn’t going to go as smoothly as they might hope it would. It hasn’t always been smooth for them, but they did an outstanding job in this tournament. Next weekend is the big one to get to the state tournament and if they could reach the state tournament as freshmen it would be huge for their confidence in years to come.”
As Stewart noted, only two county freshmen have won district titles prior to this year’s trio. The most recent was Mike Robinson, whose father coaches Juniata. Prior to that, it was Ken Whitsel, Lewistown’s lone state champion, in the 1970s.
In other finals matches, Underhill dropped a 5-1 decision to two-time district champion Trevor Corl of Bellefonte, Besch was the victim of a fall at the hands of Altoona’s D.J. Hollingshead and Knarr dropped a tough 2-1 decision to Central Mountain’s Chad Reese, the third time this season that Reese has defeated the Husky middleweight.
Notable for his postseason effort was Hannon, who might have received the Cinderella Award in the tournament as he qualified for the regional despite seeing limited action during the season and entering with an 0-3 record.
For his efforts, Martin was honored by his peers as the recipient of the 2013 coach of the year award.
“With this group of coaches here, to be honored by them absolutely means a lot to me,” Martin said. “These coaches are all known throughout the state and to be recognized by them in this way is an honor and I am humbled by it. I watch these guys when they coach their teams and I learn from them. I don’t feel like I am quite in their league yet, but I am hoping to someday get there.”
The Outstanding Wrestler was T. J. Brandt of Altoona, the 138-pound champion, his fourth district title.
Wrestling in the Northwest AAA regional tournament will get under way Friday.