Valley News Dispatch wrestling all-stars
When he had a few free minutes before or after his high school wrestling practices, Kittanning senior Jason Nolf sometimes wandered across the hallway outside his team's locker room and onto the high school's basketball court.
Nolf's visits usually turned into short shootarounds with members of the girls or boys varsity basketball teams, as the wrestling standout seized opportunities to dabble in the sport he occasionally considered choosing over a mat-centric life during his earliest days as an athlete.
While his basketball skills might've earned him respect among his Kittanning schoolmates, Nolf's wrestling abilities made him a WPIAL legend.
By pinning a previously unbeaten opponent in the 145-pound finals of the PIAA Class AA championships in March, Nolf finished his career as a three-time state champion and four-time WPIAL champ with a record of 176-1. He earned the PIAA Class AA's Outstanding Wrestler award and finished the high school season ranked No. 1 in the country among 145-pounders by Flowrestling.
In his senior individual postseason, Nolf pinned 12 of the 13 opponents he faced; the other result was a 16-4 major decision.
Nolf, who has signed with Penn State, was the 13th WPIAL wrestler and 40th in the PIAA to finish his career with three state titles. Among the 40 three-timers, Nolf had the second-highest win percentage and was tied for third-most in total wins.
His lone loss came in the 2012 PIAA semifinals, when he dropped a 6-4 decision to eventual champ Ryan Diehl of District 3's Trinity.
For the dominance he displayed in his final days as a Kittanning wrestler, Nolf is Trib Total Media's 2014 Wrestler of the Year.
Who was your favorite opponent from your high school career?
(Bethlehem Catholic's) Darian Cruz, from my freshman year. He was my favorite opponent because after that match, I grew tremendous amounts of self-confidence.
Who is one person you wished you had the chance to wrestle at the high school level?
Aaron Pico (formerly of St. John Bosco in California), because until he stopped high school wrestling (as a junior to pursue a professional MMA career), he was ranked ahead of me nationally, and I would've liked the opportunity to wrestle him.
Who did you model your wrestling style after when you started competing at the high school level?
I've been modeling my style after (Penn State's) David Taylor because I love the way he wrestles and how he is constantly scoring points. I change it up a little, though.
What have you done with all of your medals?
The first two years that I won states (2011 and 2013), I put my section through state medals in shadow boxes in my room along with some pictures. I plan to do the same with this year's medals. Other than that, I just put my medals on my dresser or wherever they fit.
When you're standing on top of a medal stand and you have to wait there as everyone does the picture-taking routine, what is going through your head?
I don't really think when I'm on top of the podium. I just feel like the hard work has paid off again.
Your career was somewhat unique in that you went from 103 to 152 pounds. Did you ever daydream about wrestling your entire career as a lightweight, or, on the flip side, imagine yourself going even heavier?
I have always figured that I would gain a lot of weight because my dad is pretty big, so I knew that I wasn't going to be a lightweight for life.
What's your preferred way to lose weight when you need to shed a few pounds? And what's one form of weight-losing you refuse to use?
I usually just put a sweatshirt and sweatpants on and run on the treadmill, or I just get a wrestling workout in because those two seem to work the best. I refuse to take laxatives or anything like that because that is pretty much cheating.
What are some superstitions/traditions you have/had as part of your practice or pre-match routine?
I do squats, and I pray before every wrestling match.
If you had a chance to go back in time and wrestle that PIAA semifinal against Diehl again, what would you change about the way you prepared for that match?
I probably wouldn't have changed my warm-up, but I would've changed the way I actually wrestled in the match. I didn't wrestle to my full potential. I would've attacked more.
What are your ultimate, long-term goals as a wrestler?
My ultimate goal is to become a four-time undefeated national champion. I haven't really thought about entering the Olympics, but if I do, then that will be my goal.
If you'd picked and stuck with basketball over wrestling when you liked both as a kid, how do you think you would've turned out as a varsity player?
I would've still strived to become the best. I would've worked hard until I became the best.
How long have you been a mathlete, and do you take it anywhere near as seriously as wrestling?
I have been a mathlete team member for my senior year only, but I have always been a mathlete at heart.
You're a big fan of post-tournament ice cream, so what is your favorite brand, flavor and form?
I don't even know if I have a favorite flavor of ice cream because it's all pretty much good. I do love going to Dairy Queen on Mondays with my friends to get Moolattes. I get a Caramel Moolatte with peanut butter.
Valley News Dispatch wrestling all-stars
Kiski Area, senior, 152
2013-14 record: 31-13
Battled his way through consolation bracket after quarterfinal-round loss at WPIAL Class AAA tournament to reach third-place match. Finished one win short of PIAA berth.
Burrell, senior, 132
2013-14 record: 29-17
Upset a 2013 PIAA finalist en route to a appearance in the Southwest Region title bout. Placed third in the WPIAL. Dealt with weight-loss difficulties to help Burrell win eighth straight WPIAL team title.
Burrell, junior, 285
2013-14 record: 44-6
Finished third in PIAA Class AA after defending Southwest Region, WPIAL titles earlier in postseason. Also won King of the Mountain tournament title and reached WCCA finals.
Kiski Area, freshman, 120
2013-14 record: 33-11
Needed one more win to reach third-place bout at WPIAL championships. Also tested eventual state champ Luke Pletcher of Latrobe in Section 1-AAA finals, losing 8-3.
Valley, senior, 195
2013-14 record: 40-6
Returned home from Hershey as Valley's highest placewinner after taking fourth in PIAA Class AA. Also won WPIAL title and reached Westmoreland County Coaches Association finals.
Valley, senior, 126
2013-14 record: 42-4
Placed seventh in PIAA Class AA after reaching the Southwest Region and WPIAL finals. Entered individual postseason with undefeated record. Also won Westmoreland County Coaches Association title.
Burrell, senior, 152
2013-14 record: 46-4
Overcame early-season obstacles and surged in postseason to win PIAA Class AA, Southwest Region and WPIAL titles. Pitt-Johnstown recruit also claimed King of the Mountain title and reached WCCA finals.
Burrell, senior, 145
2013-14 record: 41-15
Placed fifth in PIAA during first trip to Hershey and also reached Southwest Region finals. Also placed third in King of the Mountain and Westmoreland County Coaches Association tournaments.
Valley, senior, 182
2013-14 record: 37-3
Capped his career as two-time PIAA Class AA placewinner, as he took fifth in state after falling to consolation bracket with controversial loss in quarterfinals. Won Southwest Region and WPIAL titles.
Kiski Area, senior, 285
2013-14 record: 40-2
Took third in PIAA Class AAA to wrap up career in which he finished in top four in the state three times. Repeated as WPIAL champion. Also won third WCCA title. Set school record for career pins (107).
Kittanning, sophomore, 220
2013-14 record: 43-9
Concluded breakout season with fifth-place finish in PIAA Class AA. Also placed third in Southwest Region and reached WPIAL finals. Also took fourth in Powerade and King of the Mountain tournaments.
Plum, senior, 285
2013-14 record: 32-11
Took third in WPIAL Class AAA to qualify for PIAA championships. Also won Section 3-AAA title and placed second at Allegheny County championships.
Highlands, senior, 152
2013-14 record: 33-12
Grinded his way to PIAA Class AA tournament, placing fifth in Southwest Region, fourth in WPIAL and second in Section 3-AA.
Kiski Area, sophomore, 220
2013-14 record: 33-3
Moved up to 220 for individual postseason and won WPIAL Class AAA title after competing at 195 for most of the year. Claimed WCCA and Manheim Holiday Tournament championships at 195.