It would be easy for Ryan Solomon to stand around the Magic Dome and talk about how he's ready to get past this step on his journey to a second state title.
Let's face it, for wrestlers of Solomon's caliber, the sectional, district and even regional tournament are mere formalities. There hasn't been a wrestler in the country, let alone one in his section, district, region, or even state that has been able to really push the Pittsburgh-bound 195-pounder to the brink of a loss this year.
And the likely candidate to knock Solomon off the podium Saucon Valley's Ray O'Donnell moved up to 220 pounds after Solomon beat him in the finals of both the Beast of the East and the Hurricane Classic around Christmas.
Milton’s Ryan Solomon, the PIAA?defending champion at 195 pounds, pins Chad Daugherty of Wellsboro Saturday at Williamsport High School. It was Solomon’s first postseason match to go past the first period.
So it would have been easy for Solomon to accept his third District 4 gold medal on Saturday and cast it aside as just one more weekend of workouts before attaining his goal in Hershey. But he didn't.
Probably better than most 16, 17 or 18-year olds, Solomon had a lot of perspective in his answer when he was asked if cruising through districts ever gets old.
"I cherish these moments," Solomon said. "Four years goes by real fast. I look forward to this arena, all these mats, all these people. I look forward to it every year."
Maybe it stems from his days of sitting on the back-destroying and butt-numbing wooden bleachers of the Magic Dome as a kid, filling in his brackets and watching the wrestlers he hoped to some day follow as a champion. He's spent the better part of his life in gyms just like Williamsport High School's, winning matches and wowing spectators.
Friday and Saturday at the District 4 tournament were no different. When it took him nearly a full two periods to pin Wellsboro's Chad Daugherty in the finals, it was a bit of a disappointment to the fans. The mumbles of the crowd became audible as Daugherty wrestled very well for the first two minutes, handing Solomon just a 2-0 lead heading into the second period.
He was the first wrestler in six postseason matches to for Solomon into the second period. His first three matches at the South Sectional tournament lasted a total of 50 seconds. His pins in the quarterfinals and semifinals at districts lasted 59 and 46 seconds against the wrestlers which finished third and fourth in the tournament.
The running discussion on press row prior to the finals was if anybody would be able to stretch Solomon to a second period the rest of the postseason. It's an absurd question, absolutely preposterous, really. But that's how good the senior has been this year. He vanquished a field of nationally-ranked wrestlers becoming Milton's first-ever Beast of the East champion prior to Christmas.
But he's not looking past anything. He's not taking anything for granted. Instead he's going out and dominating, wrestling each match like it's the state championship match. And because of it he turned in as dominant a performance as there was during the weekend. Solomon was one of just three wrestlers to beat the second, third and fourth-place finishers in his weight class, joining Warrior Run's Eric Hunt at 113 pounds and Benton's Colt Cotten at 145.
"This has been a lot of fun," Solomon said. "It's my senior year and I don't really want it to be over, but I'm looking forward to the next level.
"I love it here, but I can't wait for Hershey."
Solomon also was awarded Saturday with the annual Max Shnyder Scholarship given to a senior District 4 wrestler every year. Solomon said the award carried a little extra meaning to him.
"Probably not a lot of people know it, but back in the day Garrett (Shnyder) and I were water boys back when Max was the head (football) coach," Solomon said. "So it's got a special place in my heart, it definitely does."
ONE BIG STEP
Angelo Barberio spoke to the positives of finishing second in his first District 4 tournament last weekend. But those positives didn't come without caveats.
"This was huge for me. It gets me ready for next week," the Muncy freshman 106-pounder said. "It's quite an accomplishment, but I've got work to do on bottom."
It was an answer from a wrestler who wasn't nearly satisfied with his finish. Barberio's second-place finish was the cap to a brilliant run through the tournament in which he beat West Section champion Kyle Drick and state-ranked Brian Friery of Lewisburg.
His loss in the final came to undefeated Zack LeBarron of Warrior Run. It was the third loss to LeBarron this year for Barberio, but his approach to wrestling the long and lanky 106-pounder was his best yet.
He mirrored LeBarron's style of wrestling down on one knee, essentially neutralizing his long reach and forcing him to tie up. The result was the closest match of the year between the two long-time rivals.
But all Barberio saw was that it was a loss mainly because of the final 3 minutes of the match which LeBarron spent in the top position. When it came to the third period with Barberio down 3-0, he looked to his corner where head coach Denny Harer made the signal to have Barberio take the bottom position. It was a decision that was as much about working on trying to get off the bottom against LeBarron as it was about scoring to win the match.
"There's still work to do. I'm on the verge, but there's still work to do," Barberio said. "He rides hips really well, but if I keep working I'll eventually get there and be able to get out."
Mitch Rupert covers high school wrestling for the Sun-Gazette. He can be reached at 326-1551, ext. 3129, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Mitch_Rupert.