Williamsport wrestlers put on show for packed crowd in Magic Dome

KAREN VIBERT-KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette Williamsport’s Izek Brooks and Altoona’s Robert Ferrell wrestle during their 145-pound match on Thursday afternoon at Williamsport High School.

The hum of indistinct chatter echoed off the walls of a packed-to-the-gills Magic Dome on Thursday afternoon. But as Williamsport’s Riley Hilner threw his opponent to his back, that hum became and explosion of noise.

When referee Mark Dawson slapped the mat signaling the fall, the Williamsport band, perched in the balcony, belted out WWE wrestler John Cena’s entrance music in celebration.

Williamsport’s afternoon match Thursday against Altoona wasn’t just a wrestling match, it was an event. The high school’s student body filled the gym as one final assembly before Christmas break began, and they provided an atmosphere unlike one the Millionaires have wrestled in before.

Williamsport pleased the crowd with seven bonus-point wins, including five falls in a 40-36 victory over Altoona.

“That was fun. You don’t see that many people at matches that often,” Williamsport senior Cam Dickey said. “It was a good vibe in the air for all our freshmen on the team. It’s teaching them how to get their nerves out of their system before they wrestle and then go leave it all on the mat win or lose.”

“Regular dual meets on Tuesday and Thursday, we don’t get close to that many people,” senior Nate Powley said. “But seeing the whole student body and going out there and performing well against a good team, maybe we can get more people to our matches.”

The idea surfaced after Williamsport went to Altoona a year ago and the Mountain Lions did something similar. Students came in and out of the gym as classes were going on, but that atmosphere paled in comparison to what the Millionaires did yesterday.

Coach Brian Nasdeo and head principal Brandon Pardoe made it a school-wide event, getting the band involved and turning the event into an assembly which every student could attend.

And though it was a crowd which, for the most part, couldn’t tell a single-leg takedown from a half-nelson, it was a crowd which surely knew an Altoona wrestler on his back was a reason to cheer. Their boisterous reactions along with the band’s up-tempo song selection made for a deafening atmosphere.

Williamsport rode the early wave of emotion. Hilner, Dickey and Izek Brooks recorded consecutive falls, Alec Dickey added a major decision, Torren Potts had a forfeit win and Powley had a fall all in the first eight bouts to give the Millionaires a commanding 34-9 lead.

“We’re streaky like that. I think most teams are,” Nasdeo said. “I think it’s just kind of where it started, that’s kind of the heart of our lineup there. It surely didn’t hurt us.”

“We got pins and the crowd got amped up and happy,” Dickey said. “Coming in, we knew the Altoona lineup was tough up top. Us being able to have those extra points at the end really gave us the advantage.”

When Powley flattened Colin Allmond for his fall at 182 pounds, he turned toward the crowd and encouraged them to make even more noise than they were making. Brooks did the same thing as his season debut ended with a fall.

“I think it got the crowd fired up and got them into it a little more,” Powley said. “We just tried to get the crowd amped up and at the end of the day, try to get more people here to say this is how fun it can be if you come to more matches.”

When Austin Stugert picked up a fall at 106 pounds, it sealed the win for the Millionaires as they survived a run through Altoona’s dangerous upper weights. But Williamsport took control of the match early with an aggressive, crowd-pleasing style which saw the Millionaires score points like the 1999 St. Louis Rams.

That’s the kind of style Nasdeo has been preaching to his team since he took over the program. And with a veteran group which saw four seniors score bonus-point wins, they’ve taken to it.

“That’s just what we preach. I don’t like 3-1 wrestling matches, so let’s just score then we’ll add up the tally at the end,” Nasdeo said. “I told them earlier, that’s why we have a scorekeeper. If every match is going to be 2-1, then we don’t need a scorekeeper.”

Nasdeo also saw Thursday’s match as another test for the Millionaires. They’ve already been through the grinders of the Top Hat and the King of the Mountain in the first two weeks of the season.

Thursday was about a different kind of pressure with the entire student body in attendance. He wants to see how they respond in a different atmosphere and, for the most part, he was pleased.

“Physically I feel good about where we are. We’re working on the mental aspect of it,” Nasdeo said. “I think that’s really the only thing preventing us from being a pretty good team. I got athletes. My boys are serious athletes. They’re strong, they’re fast, they’re in great condition and they go hard the whole match. It’s all between the ears.”

“Coach always says if we wrestle like we do in the mat room, we’ll do fine up here,” Powley said. “I think we wrestle hard down in the mat room and we train pretty hard. We just need to take what we do in the mat room and bring it up here.”

Williamsport 40, Altoona 36

126: Isaiah Jones, A, pinned Tylil James, 1:44. 132: Riley Hilner, W, pinned Jordan Wagner, 4:50. 138: Cam Dickey, W, pinned Gavin Wagner, 1:59. 145: Izek Brooks, W, pinned Robert Ferrell, 0:49. 152: Haden Boutiller, A, dec. Anthony Robinson, 4-2. 160: Alec Dickey, W, maj. dec. Devon York, 9-0. 170: Torren Potts, W, won by forfeit. 182: Nate Powley, W, pinned Colin Allmond, 1:42. 195: Parker McClellan, A, won by forfeit. 220: Adam Port, A, dec. Jamaire Burget, 14-8. 285: Nate Simmer, A, pinned Ethan Williamson, 0:31. 106: Austin Stugert, W, pinned Sheed Corl, 1:12. 113: Matt Sarbo, A, pinned Devin Gray, 0:42. 120: Damion Finnegan, A, pinned Martin Bryant, 3:19.

Records: Williamsport (1-0); Altoona (0-1).