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Strong group stands between Kittanning's Jason Nolf and a 3rd straight WPIAL title

| Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Kittanning's Jason Nolf puts a headlock on Keystone Oaks' Nick Zanetta during the 132-pound finals of the Section 3-AA tournament on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013. Nolf won, 1-0.
Kittanning's Jason Nolf (left) grapples with Keystone Oaks' Nick Zanetta during the 132-pound title bout of the Section 3-AA tournament on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013.

Each of the past two wrestling seasons, when asked in the early winter about who might stand between him and success, Kittanning's Jason Nolf identified a competitor from the far side of the state.

As a freshman 103-pounder, Nolf named Bethlehem Catholic's Darian Cruz, who took Nolf to the ultimate tiebreaker period of overtime before he lost, 2-1, in the PIAA semifinals.

As a sophomore 113-pounder, Nolf picked Ryan Diehl of District 3's Trinity. With a 6-4 victory in the PIAA semifinals, Diehl dealt Nolf an unprecedented loss.

This season, for the first time, Nolf (35-0) needed only to look elsewhere in the WPIAL to find opponents he considers formidable foes.

The Kittanning junior with a career record of 122-1 enters the 2013 WPIAL Class AA individual championships as a frontrunner to win the 132-pound weight class' title. Nolf, who earned the No. 1 seed, begins his quest for a third WPIAL gold Friday at Chartiers Valley.

But a deep field might put up a serious fight.

Among Nolf's top challengers: South Park freshman Jake Wentzel (25-5), West Greene senior Wade Blackmon (27-9 and a returning fifth-place finisher at 126), South Side Beaver junior Shane Gentry (32-1 and a returning third-place finisher at 132), and Keystone Oaks senior Nick Zanetta (26-2), who gave Nolf a close call in Saturday's Section 3-AA title match, where he lost, 1-0.

“He slowed me down in the first period,” Nolf said of Zanetta, a Pitt recruit who placed second in the WPIAL, Southwest Region and PIAA last season. “I need to pick up the pace more, hand-fight more, create more opportunities for myself.”

The 1-0 win was the first of Nolf's career, and just the fourth decision for the junior this season. Of his 32 contested bouts this season, 28 ended with pins.

Dominant victories are expected by Nolf, and his playoff history is full of lopsided wins. Through his first two years, Nolf went 24-1 with 13 pins, one technical fall, two major decisions and five decisions that included at least a four-point margin.

Last week's Section 3 tournament started no differently for Nolf, who pinned his first two opponents. But in the finals, he and Zanetta remained tied until 16 seconds into the third period, when Nolf scored an escape.

“Not satisfied,” Nolf said of the result.

And of a potential rematch: “I like it. I'll know what to do against him next time.”

Zanetta also used the section final to set a baseline for future clashes. He learned the importance of that approach after his junior year, during which he wrestled former Derry standout and current Penn State freshman Jimmy Gulibon in the championship round of the final three postseason tournaments.

That a nationally ranked wrestler again exists in Zanetta's weight class causes the senior to shrug. He declined to move to another class. He came away from his first match against Nolf confident.

He intends to infuse more offense and take more risks in a rematch, if he earns one — Nolf and Zanetta would not meet until the finals.

“He's a really technical wrestler,” Zanetta said. “I think I have an edge on him, strength-wise, so I just have to match his technique and tough him out.

“I'm open to the challenge every week. Whatever happens, happens.”

Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at wwest@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BWest_Trib.

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