Nolf's lone career loss serves as catalyst for continued excellence
HERSHEY — No participant in this past weekend's PIAA Class AA individual wrestling championships performed better than Kittanning senior 145-pounder Jason Nolf, who received the Outstanding Wrestler award out of 224 Class AA candidates.
Nolf, however, never has cared much about how he compares to the competition.
All that matters to the standout is whether his performance meets his idea of perfection.
Nolf finished just short of the perfection he sought, as he won by pinfall in the PIAA Class AA finals Saturday to conclude his career with three state titles and a 176-1 record. The Penn State recruit's only loss came in the 2012 PIAA semifinals to the eventual state champion.
“I guess it was pretty good,” Nolf said of his career minutes after pinning previously unbeaten Williamson junior Billy Barnes in the championship bout Saturday at Giant Center. “I lost, so it's not like I was undefeated.
“The loss might've been a blessing in disguise.”
Nolf (44-0 this season) brought up the sophomore-year loss, a 6-4 decision to then-junior 113-pounder Ryan Diehl of District 3's Trinity, unprompted. It's a moment that stung and shaped him.
While that setback left a lasting sour taste in Nolf's mouth, it also served as the starting point for the Kittanning star's transformation from a more methodical, controlling grappler into an unrelenting aggressor, one capable of scoring and pinning at almost any time and in any position — he stuck Barnes (42-1) in the first period as Barnes hung upside down off of Nolf's back.
“I think we both considered it a good loss because that just changed his whole style,” said Mike Nolf, Jason's father. “What he's done, it's amazing. I don't think it's sunk into him yet.”
In his final state tournament, Nolf had three pins and a 16-4 major decision.
He became the 13th WPIAL wrestler and 40th in the PIAA to finish his career with three state titles. Among the 40 three-timers, Nolf has the second-highest win percentage and is tied for third-most in total wins.
“Coach (Brandon) Newill, I give him a lot of credit, along with (the Mat Factory wrestling club's) Isaac Greeley and the (Young Guns wrestling club's) Strittmatters and coach (Rob) Waller,” Mike Nolf said. “If it wouldn't have been for any one of those four or five guys, this wouldn't have been possible. (Jason) just buys into everything those guys teach, 100 percent.”
For the second season in a row and just the second time in school history, Kittanning had multiple PIAA placewinners, as sophomore 220-pounder Jacob Robb also brought home a medal in his first state tournament appearance.
After losing twice Friday night to fall from the semifinals to the weight class' fifth-place match, Robb (43-9) regrouped Saturday and rolled to an 8-0 win against Conneaut Area senior Connor Overman (32-12).
“It was pretty bad (Friday),” Robb said. “I was just thinking I needed to bounce back and win. I didn't want to end the season with a loss.”
A top-five finish left Robb with a bittersweet sensation. He considered himself capable of more, a thought supported by the fact that both PIAA finalists at 220, Avella senior Jake Temple and West Branch junior Reynold Maines also came out of the PIAA's Southwest Region.
“I feel like I should work harder to live up to the reputation of our region,” Robb said. “I need to just keep getting better and better and better.”