Trio ready for big show
When the individual wrestling tournaments began, Connellsville had 12 young men competing. Now that number has been reduced to three as action winds up this week with the PIAA State Tournament at the Giant Center in Hershey. Action begins on Thursday.
Steve Bell (112), Ashtin Primus (119) and Jarrod King (152) will each be looking for a shot at state glory.
Of the three, only King, a junior has been to the big show before, having finished second as a sophomore last year. He comes into this year as the WPIAL champ at 152 and boasts a record of 40-3.
"Jarrod is an endless worker," Connellsville coach Tommy Dolde said. "He'll have a couple of tough matches, so we have to condition to take it one match at a time."
King's first match will be against Downingtown's Nate Cain. Cain, a senior, comes in as the third seed from the Southeast Region with a record of 36-8.
But Jarrod has already wrestled against and beaten some of the best in the business, including Shaler's Taylor Letters in the WPIAL finals on Saturday.
"People said that he would be my toughest competition," King said. "It (the win) makes me feel confident and I'm ready to go after it."
Confidence is on King's side, as well as experience. And he believes that his trip to states last year could help him greatly in his quest for the crown this time around.
"It's a big benefit, especially being in the finals last year," King said. "It makes every other match look small."
And being this close to a championship, King doesn't need a lot of extra motivation.
"I can almost touch it now," King said. "I just have to go after it."
While King is an experienced veteran at states, his teammates will be competing for the first time.
Bell, a sophomore with a mark of 38-6, comes in as the third seed out of the WPIAL. He had to fight his way through wrestlebacks at Norwin just to earn a bid, but that might be to his advantage.
"I knew I had to win two matches on Saturday to make it," Bell said as he reflected on this past weekend's action. "I just have to wrestle the way I know how to wrestle and not worry about anything else."
Bell's ability to fight back on Saturday has given him a chance to earn at least a medal at the state meet.
"One of my goals is to place and I think I have a real good chance, but you have to have the attitude to go all the way," Bell said. "It's a big deal, but I have to just try to treat this like any other match."
Dolde explained that Bell's performance on the individual level has largely been due to a different mindset than what he had earlier this year.
"About a month ago, Steve had a change in focus," Dolde said as he explained that Bell has been able to work through things that previously had frustrated him. "He started really picking it up and he has focused in a lot more. He's looking better every day."
Bell's opponent in the first round is Cumberland Valley's Ryan Williams. Williams is the top seed from the Southcentral Region. He sports a record of 39-6.
Connellsville's youngest state qualifier is Primus. The freshmen is the WPIAL's second seed with a record of 37-5. He'll wrestle Freedom's Reinaldo Merced, a senior seeded second out of the Northeast Region. Merced has a record of 34-1.
"Primus has picked it up big-time," Dolde said. "He is only one of five freshmen in the state tournament. To beat a returning state champ in the semis (at WPIALs) is really something."
Primus is hoping that his WPIAL success can carry over into this week's action.
"It will be a big place with a lot of people," Primus said. "But I'm not really nervous. I'd like to know a little more about the kid I'm facing, but it doesn't really matter. I want to take it one match at a time."
Dolde explained that although all three of these wrestlers have their own unique talents and abilities, they also share certain qualities as well.
"They all have very good focus and enthusiasm," Dolde said. "When you combine those two qualities, you're going to get a winner."