Nickelson advances to PIAA tourney
Belle Vernon Area wrestler Adam Nickelson quickly realized last year why Hershey's arena is called The Giant Center.
“I've been wrestling my whole life and it is literally the biggest wrestling atmosphere I have ever seen,” Nickelson said.
“You can't explain it. You're standing there at the gate and your name is called and you look up and see your name on the main screen of the Jumbotron. My first match was so nerve-wracking. I remember getting taken down and while I was falling back, I could just see the whole crowd looking down on me.”
Nickelson, who recovered to garner an eighth-place medal, will get his second and final chance under the bright lights of The Giant Center. He advanced to the PIAA Class AAA tournament Saturday despite dropping a 7-2 decision to Alex DeCiantis of North Allegheny in the WPIAL Class AAA 182-pound championship.
Beginning Thursday afternoon at The Giant Center, Nickelson (37-2) will tangle with Gordon Bolig (45-5) of Owen J. Roberts high school in the opening round of the PIAA Class AAA tournament. Bolig was the Southeast Regional runner-up.
Win, and Nickelson likely faces Bald Eagle Area senior Jacob Taylor in the second round. Taylor, along with Norristown senior Brett Harner, are the odds-on favorites to reach the final from separate sides of the bracket.
Taylor defeated Nickelson, 11-4, last year in the consolation bracket. But Nickelson expressed confidence for his chances in a potential rematch.
“Honestly, I wrestled Taylor tough last year and if I can get past him, I feel pretty good about my chances to get to the finals,” Nickelson said.
“My goal all year is to finish in the top four and I'd say that's 100 percent reasonable. … It's definitely been one of my goals my entire life and we've talked about how awesome it would feel to be Belle Vernon Area's first state champ.”
BVA's wrestling program, which appears to have turned a corner this season, had a couple close encounters with gold medals at past state tournaments. But Aaron Olszewski (2001) and Jason Weslager (2005), both lost their respective title matches.
“There have been some great wrestlers, even national champs, who weren't state champs in Pennsylvania,” BVA coach Jack Jolley said.
“Adam has done everything you could ask of him. You've got to be a very good and a little lucky to come through the WPIALs and Adam has done it twice. I'm hoping to say by the weekend he's medaled at states twice.”
“I've seen so much happen out there. You've just got to put a good weekend together.”
Nickelson's only other loss this year was to Burrell's Dakota DesLauriers, a WPIAL and Southwest Regional Class AA champion, and his 128 career wins are five short of the school record held by Donnie Tasser.
He said the loss Saturday to DeCiantis, who racked up four points in the final 10 seconds of their match, served as “a wake-up call.”
“Honestly, that loss really didn't put me down. It was a tough match and, if anything, it helped me out in preparing for states,” he said. “I honestly think the rest of the state is not even comparable to the WPIAL. There's guys who placed fourth (in the WPIAL tournament) who didn't even make it to states who could (medal) up at states.”
Jolley noted Nickelson's comeback victory Saturday in the semifinals. The senior was trailing McGuffey's Brent Blacharczyk, 3-2, before notching a third period takedown and holding on for the victory.
“He has intestinal fortitude. He proved that Saturday and he proved that last year when he lost his first match at states and wrestled all the way back to medal,” Jolley said.
“I always tell the kids wrestling is like life: if you get kicked down, you better get back up. I think Adam can wrestle with anybody. Look at the losses. He's in that league, he just needs to take that one step up.”
Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-684-2635.