By MITCH RUPERT
HERSHEY - Keeping his left arm wrapped around his opponent's waist, Shawn Nitcznski kept working and circling to his left looking for an opportunity. He finally got it in the third period of his 126-pound preliminary match at the PIAA Class AA Wrestling Championships on Thursday.
The takedown was a tack-on takedown, but one which provided the Sullivan County senior with a little extra cushion to let him know he had won the bout with Redbank Valley's Tanner Altobelli.
It was Nitcznski's first win at the state tournament since his freshman year. It's been a long trip back to Hershey for the wrestler looking to become the Griffins' first-ever state placewinner. He missed a run to states his sophomore year because of a broken ankle suffered at districts. Last year he failed to get out of sectionals in a stacked 120-pound weight class.
But now he'll wrestle at least two matches today, needing one win to win a state medal. It's the same scenario he had when he qualified as a freshman in 2011.
"It still feels the same (in the Giant Center)," Nitcznski said. "I wanted to get this first one done and go from there. It comes to my mind that I only have to win one more. It's my senior year, so I have to go out and do what I can do and keep wrestling good matches."
Nitcznski picked up the first takedown in the first period and then controlled the final 2 periods on his feet. He didn't allow a stronger Altobelli to get in on his legs, leaving Altobelli no other option than to take random swats at Nitcznski's legs hoping to make latch on to a knee.
But that third period takedown was the killer. Leading by just one, the takedown from Nitcznski put Altobelli in too big of a hole to climb out of, even with a minute to go. Nitcznski won, 5-2.
"I felt like when I locked up with him I was more comfortable," Nitcznski said. "I didn't think he was going to shoot out of the tie-up."
Canton's Garrett Wesneski did the opposite of Nitcznski, controlling his 195-pound preliminary on the mat. He knew Catasaqua's Rhaine Sziy could be funky on his feet, which he showed when he funk rolled out of a Wesneski shot in the first period for a takedown.
So Wesneski took control on the mat, first scoring a reversal in the second period, then tilting Sziy for three points. He nearly had more back points with a tilt later in the period. Wesneski, the second-ranked 195-pounder in the state, won 8-3.
"I was debating whether or not to go bottom with him this week," Wesnseski said. "I decided to go down because down here, you have to be able to get off bottom if you're going to win. When I got the reversal, I think it took the wind right out of him. He got really sloppy and let me tilt him."
For a moment, even Milton's Ryan Preisch got a little sloppy in his 160-pound preliminary. He got out of position in the first period against Jefferson-Morgan's Ryan Zalar. But Preisch, a returning bronze medalist, recovered and didn't give up a point before scoring a fall in 2:43.
"I didn't panic. I know that I'm OK if I get in that spot," Preisch said. "I felt great and in control. It was a little iffy spot there, but overall I felt good. I felt strong."
Montgomery's Isaiah Bobotas got a gentle reminder in the third period against Chestnut Ridge's Austin Buttry that he has to wrestle a full six minutes. Even though he was never in danger of losing and won handily, 10-6, Bobotas was outscored, 5-3, in the third period and was taken down twice.
"I can't give up those points at the end," the senior returning state qualifier said. "I was content at 7-0, and I knew if I didn't do anything stupid I was probably going to win. But kids like that I should be majoring. I can't let up and can't take it easy."