Juniata’s Heggs on the search for gold

JOHNSTOWN – No matter how it was spelled, the key to success for Juniata and Mount Union early Friday could be summed up in a homonym: weight, or wait.

It wasn’t until the first round of the Class AA Southwest regional wrestling tournament reached the upper end of the scale that the wins started coming for the two local schools. And then as the first consolation round offered its chance at redemption, wrestlers from both started finding their groove.

But the tide turned as the night wore on.

The first day ended with just one entrant – Juniata’s Sean Heggs – still looking at a gold medal on the table, and two more – who remain in the hunt for a top-five placement and a trip to the state tournament.

Mount Union’s first-round successes were tempered by the fact that three of the four winners were matched in the quarterfinals with one of the two district champions whose record earned them a bye in the opening round.

Heggs, whose record earned him a bye in the opening round, gutted out a 7-6 victory over Burrell’s Steve Edwards at 138 pounds to move on to today’s semifinal round, which gets under way at 11 a.m.

Ever mindful of his status as the new kid in these environs, Heggs took an early lead on the first takedown of the match, and sat at 2-1 going into the second. Edwards quickly tied it, got a lead and the two traded moves to make it 5-4 Edwards headed into the third.

Edwards had emotional control at that point – Heggs was visibly tired – and was more than comfortable wrestling Heggs on his feet, which also happens to be the Juniata wrestler’s preferred stance.

“The first match was the hardest. You’ve got to get that first win,” Heggs said. “He got his second wind after the first,” while Heggs said breathing was an issue.

“It’s ice down here – it’s hard to breathe on top of that,” he said. “No excuses, though.”

Heggs got the points in the third after Edwards gave up the tie on an uncontested escape to start the frame, then was taken down in the final minute.

“I got a little tired in the second period. He saw I was tired so he was coming after me,” Heggs said. “He’s always willing to go after kids. He doesn’t stop.”

For the District 4 product, the regional was also a chance to take on the vaunted WPIAL.

“I heard District 7 was pretty tough. I didn’t think it was going to be as much as everybody talked about,” he said. “I guess growing up in District 4, coming into a different district, you don’t know what to think. You can’t relax.”

Mount Union put four into the quarters, and not one of them advanced:

Dylan Smith (160), who came into the round on a last-second takedown that nobody from Jefferson-Morgan was happy about, scored first in the quarters but that was his only lead in an 8-5 loss to Bryce Fochtman of Berlin-Brothersvalley.

Cory Kylor (170) pinned Mount Pleasant’s Austin Piper in the first minute of his opener, but was put on his back by South Fayette’s Mike Fetchet to drop into the lower bracket.

At 195, Phil Kyle won by fall in his first bout, over another Mount Pleasant grappler, Eli Holt – but had difficulty scoring against Garrett Vulcano of Chartiers-Houston, who got the semifinal berth on a 19-4 technical fall.

And heavyweight Nikolas Smith made it three pins in a row when he flattened KaDale Coles of Avondale to start – but made it three pins out of four in the quarters when Burrell’s Allan Beattie showed him the lights.

The second consolation round was its usual mix of caution and aggression, the final chance to either stay for a shot at advancement, or say goodbye to the season.

Juniata’s lone entrant in the final session, 132-pounder Adam Barrick, scored nothing but back points in a 7-0 decision over Bentworth’s Trevor Wood to add a day to his career. He had fallen to returning state placewinner Nick Zanetta early then had a technical fall to advance out of the first consolation round.

Along with Mount Union’s four quarterfinalists was Sage Moist, who managed two first-period falls after dropping a major decision in the 113-pound opener.

At the end of the last match of the night, Moist would be the lone Trojan standing. The four top-end wrestlers who had won their first were unable to stay in action, with a pair of close shaves – Dylan Smith lost a 1-0 decision to Nico Brown of Beth-Center, and Kylor went to overtime before giving up a takedown. Kyle was pinned and Nikolas Smith lost an 8-1 decision to bow out.

Mount Union remained in a tie with Penns Valley for sixth in team points. Chestnut Ridge (District 5) had the lead after the first day of action.

Two wrestlers who lost in the first round won in the first consolation round, while two saw their season come to an end. Mount Union freshman Jake Boozel went 0-2, as did Juniata senior Luke Nanna, whose career ended at the furthest point he advanced on the mats.