Solomon seeks big ending at Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh senior Ryan Solomon is a former state champ from Milton.

The pomp and circumstance of the NCAA wrestling championships has lost its luster to Ryan Solomon. He’s been to the tournament enough times without leaving as an All-American that he’s no longer wowed by the experience.

The only thing that matters for Pitts­burgh’s heavyweight is getting on to the podium. The redshirt senior from Milton is halfway through his final season competing for the Panthers and has his focus set on getting on the podium and that alone.

“The goal is to be on top. I fell a little short last year,” Solomon said recently. “That’s in the back of my mind, too. I’ve been there and I know what it takes. Now it’s time to get it done.”

Solomon is in the midst of another strong season for Pitt. His 13-4 record heading into the weekend was good enough to have him ranked 16th in the country.

He’s become the hammer in the Panthers’ lineup who has been called on numerous times this season to win a dual meet with a win at 285 pounds. And more often than not, he’s lived up to the expectation.

He recorded a major decision in the final bout against a tough CSU-Bakersfield team to hand Pitt a 21-18 win earlier this year. A week ago, he scored a fall in the dual’s final bout to help the Panthers knock off No. 18-ranked Oklahoma in a stunning upset.

The big stage has never bothered Solomon. He was a two-time state champion for Milton and a three-time state finalist. He was ranked No. 1 in the country at 195 pounds his senior season when he committed to wrestle at Pitt.

But he hasn’t been able to find quite the same stability in his college career. He made the move up to heavyweight for his redshirt freshman season when he finished second in the ACC and won a pair of matches at the NCAA tournament.

A year later, he qualified again for the NCAA tournament, but went 0-2 at 285 pounds. Last season represented his best shot at finishing in the top 8. He reached the blood round after winning a pair of consolation matches. But with All-America status on the line, he dropped a 2-0 decision to Penn State’s Nick Nevills.

But Solomon went 3-2 in the tournament. His only two losses were to Nevills and eventual national runner-up Connor Medbery in the championship quarterfinals. He outscored his five opponents a combined 14-7.

It helped establish Solomon as one of the top returning heavyweights in the country. He entered the season ranked in the top 10 in the country.

He lived up to that ranking until the Panthers traveled to Las Vegas for the Cliff Keen Invitational. There, he had a disappointing performance, finishing sixth.

“Vegas didn’t go the way I wanted. But wrestling those guys like those, those guys are good. They expose what I need to work on,” Solomon said. “I’d rather have something like that happen in late November and early December than in March.”

In his career, Solomon has learned to put any kind of misfortune behind him. He’s learned to compartmentalize and take the positives from even the most negative of situations.

It’s how he still has fun with the sport and it’s how he’s confident that, in his last opportunity, he’s going to find a way to get on the podium in Cleveland in March.

“You put it behind you, but it’s always in the back of your mind knowing those guys are going to expose what you need to work on. So every day in the room I’m working with Jon Gingerich and he’s been real helpful this year. We’ve been watching matches knowing what I need to do. It’s been good so far, and we’ll keep working on it every day.”

Solomon got the opportunity in December to come back home to wrestle. He was one of three District 4 alums to wrestle in Pitt’s dual at Bucknell. Unfortunately for Solomon and his teammates, it was a win by Montoursville graduate Garrett Hoffman which made Solomon’s bout, the final one of the day, moot.

But Solomon performed anyway. He scored a quick fall much to the delight of his friends and family who were able to make the short drive to Lewisburg to see him compete near home one final time.

“I think you want to perform for them. It’s family,” Solomon said. “And they want to see you do well. But the bottom line is you just have to go out there and wrestle. You treat it as any other match. Go out there, do my stuff, and everything will take care of itself.”

It’s a thought process Solomon has carried with him since high school. And it’s the same thought process he’ll use to try and get on the podium at NCAAs come March.

HANGING IN THERE

Thursday night was another tough night for Warrior Run sophomore Noah Hunt. That’s kind of been the story of the 113-pounders season.

He’s run a true gauntlet of competition since winning the season-opening Darren Klingerman Invitational. Thursday, after a loss to Southern Columbia freshman Patrick Edmondson, Warrior Run head coach Jeremy Betz acknowledged it’s been a rough go for the returning state qualifier. But he also said he believes it’s going to make Hunt better in the long run.

“We firmly believe this is the right path,” Betz said. “But it’s hard as a 16-year-old young man to go out and give your best effort when you’re getting beat, and sometimes handily. I think long term he’s good. We just have to do a little bit and get back on track. He’s beat a couple state-caliber kids, and he’s still a good kid. That hasn’t changed.

In the last 10 days alone Hunt has run into stud freshmen Edmondson and Gable Strickland of Benton. He also bumped up a weight class Tuesday to face Montoursville state third-place finisher Wyatt Lutz.

This season, he’s also taken losses from New Jersey state qualifier Cullen Day, regional qualifier Garrett Giedroc of Bald Eagle Area, state qualifier Cole Wilson of Northeastern, and Muncy state placewinner Jacob Blair.

His 9-8 record is underwhelming for a wrestler who reached the state tournament a year ago. But for now, Betz isn’t worried. He believes a couple wins will help bring Hunt back to where he needs to be.

“Noah’s a great kid. There’s days in practice where we wonder where this is taking him,” Betz said. “But I honestly believe when he starts getting his feet wet again in the win column, that it’s just going to kind of snowball. He is a very positive, happy-go-lucky kid, and once he starts rolling, he’s a dangerous kid.

WRESTLER OF THE WEEK

Nate Higley, S

ullivan County,

132 pounds

No local wrestler scored a win this week quite the caliber of Higley’s win in the final of the South Williamsport tournament last weekend. The Sullivan County freshman announced his presence on a statewide level with a 12-11 win over fifth-ranked Devin Pietkiewicz of Shamokin. Higley trailed by five points in the third period of the 132-pound final, but hit a wicked inside trip for a takedown, then threw a lateral drop on the edge for a four-point move which gave him the win. With the win, Higley moved up from 20th in the papowerwrestling.com state rankings, to eighth.

CAN’T-MISS MATCH

OF THE WEEK

Central Mountain

at Shikellamy,

Thursday, 7 p.m.

Central Mountain has had some surprising success in individual tournaments this year, winning the Top Hat, and placing third at King of the Mountain. But at the start of the season head coach Biff Walizer said he thought the Wildcats were a better dual-meet team. They enter the weekend with just one loss, and Shikellamy has just two. The lightweight battles between the two teams should be worth the price of admission alone.

Mitch Rupert covers wrestling for the Sun-Gazette. He can be reached at 326-1551, ext. 3129, or by email at mrupert@sungazette.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Mitch_Rupert

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