Barnes wants a healthy medal

Billy Barnes likes to brush aside talk of the injury he sustained last year at the state tournament.

“It’s in the past,” he says.

Or, “I can’t change it now.”

But the reality is the injury he suffered in the PIAA semis against eventual state champ Mikey Racciato of Pen Argyl had a large bearing on why the then Williamson sophomore finished sixth in the PIAA Class AA tournament. It was an injury his left hip and leg which put him in a wheelchair for a week following the state tournament and left him unable to compete for the better part of the next five months.

The injury, which happened just over a minute into his semifinal with Racciato, forced Barnes to not only forfeit his semifinal, but also his two consolation matches. He finished sixth in the tournament despite spending just 7 minutes on the mat.

“I kind of felt like I didn’t earn it (state medal) because I didn’t wrestle at all in the consolation bracket,” Barnes said following his Northeast Regional championship win Saturday. “But you work all season for that, so I guess I had to take it and move on.”

It was a salty ending to what had been a brilliant sophomore season for Barnes. His only two losses before states came to Benton’s Colt Cotten, a four-time state placewinner who ended up finishing second to Racciato in the state tournament.

The likelihood of beating Racciato in that semifinal probably wasn’t very good, but it was as good an opponent as Barnes had wrestled in his two seasons with the Warriors. The match last just 1 minute, 7 seconds, though, when Racciato had Barnes on bottom and tried to muscle him to his back.

Barnes had a hip flexor injury as well as injuries to the muscles in the back of his left leg. It wasn’t as bad as the broken femur the athletic trainers on site initially thought it was. But it was enough to end his season. It was enough to force him into about two months of rehab. And it was enough to keep him from competing in a wrestling match until the Disney Duals on June 27.

“It was bad. It’s unlucky. There’s nothing you can do about it,” Barnes said. “It pushed me this year harder than ever before. I want to get back (to Hershey) and get on top of the podium. I’ve been waiting for this.”

Barnes entered the postseason undefeated for the second consecutive season this year. In fact, he hasn’t lost a non-postseason match since Dec. 17, 2011, when he lost 2-1 to Central Columbia’s Jesse Shannon at the Dandy Duals in Towanda. He won his second career district championship a little over a week ago, and added his first regional championship Saturday when he beat Muncy’s Dakota Nixon, 5-1, in the 145-pound final.

He’s put together the best season of his career thus far. He’s one of two wrestlers in the Class AA 145-pound weight class to enter the state tournament with an unblemished record. The only other one is Kittanning’s Jason Nolf, a two-time state champion who has just one loss in his career and has been ranked No. 1 at 145 all year.

Barnes’ drive has come from that injury in the state tournament this year. Just four of his 39 wins this year have come by decision. One was an 8-4 win over state fifth-place finisher Michael Comunale of Pius X – who Barnes could see in the quarterfinals this weekend. One was a 3-1 victory over returning state qualifier Jeffrey Inman of Annville-Cleona. And the other two came against Nixon and Milton’s Zack Bennett in the regional and district finals.

Barnes’ season has been nothing short of spectacularly dominant. But he’s in a state bracket which features nine returning state qualifiers, including himself, and six of those are on his side of the bracket.

It hasn’t stopped Barnes from looking ahead just a little bit, though. He knows if he wants to be Williamson’s first-ever state champion this year, there’s going to come a point where he has to beat Nolf, and he’s already thought about that matchup while still understanding there’s work to do before he gets there.

“I know Jason well. We’ve gone to camps together and we’ve wrestled a few times. It’ll be a good match,” Barnes said. “We have similar styles where it’s just go, go, go. I’ve been preparing for it. But I’ve been preparing for any competition. I don’t want to look past anybody, but I’ve been looking forward to that match.”