A-K Valley wrestlers took different paths to PIAA Class AA tournament
Monday, March 4, 2019 | 10:10 PM
Ian Oswalt noticed the lights of the Giant Center when he stepped in to the arena as a first-time competitor at the PIAA Class AA wrestling tournament last year.
“It’s just bright in there,” Oswalt said. “There’s just different lighting. It’s weird about that. Then all the matches, you have so many coaches and schools. You see so many people that I knew from middle school or elementary, you see them there and it’s crazy.”
Oswalt ultimately shone under those bright lights, finishing fourth at 113 pounds as a freshman, and he’ll return this week as the top seed at 120 pounds after winning championships at the WPIAL and PIAA Southwest Region tournaments.
Four wrestlers from the Alle-Kiski Valley will compete at the PIAA Class AA tournament, which begins at 9 a.m. Thursday in Hershey, and each took different paths to get there.
Ian Oswalt, Burrell
Sophomore, 120 pounds
Oswalt is the favorite to win at 120 pounds after a dominant season that included championships at the King of the Mountain, Westmoreland County Coaches Association, WPIAL and PIAA Southwest Region tournaments.
His two lone losses came at the Powerade Christmas Tournament, where he fell to Norwin’s Kurtis Phipps — a three-time WPIAL Class AAA champion — in the semifinals and Shaler’s Ryan Sullivan — a WPIAL and PIAA Class AAA champ last season — in the third-place match.
Oswalt repaid Phipps, a close friend, in the WCCA finals, where he scored a 2-1 victory thanks to a reversal in the third period.
“I moved my feet a lot more, and I think I did what I needed to do,” he said. “I executed my game plan. I got off the bottom, which I didn’t do (at Powerade). I fixed mistakes that I didn’t do the week before, and I think that really shows that I can make changes.”
At his best, Oswalt hunts for takedowns, and he considers getting up from bottom “a mental thing.” At last season’s PIAA tournament, he used a trick takedown to score a sudden-victory decision in the consolation bracket, a match that helped him finish higher on the podium.
“I used to hit that in practice as a joke with my friends. … It goes to show you those kinds of things can work in a big match if you set them up right,” he said.
A.J. Corrado, Burrell
Sophomore, 138 pounds
Corrado earned a seventh-place medal at the 2018 PIAA tournament the hard way: He lost his first match but battled all the way back through the consolation bracket and beat Freedom’s Trent Schultheis in the seventh-place match.
“Every kid there is tough,” he said. “There’s nobody there that’s a joke that you can pin the first two seconds of a match. You’ve got to be ready every match.”
This season Corrado finished as the WPIAL runner-up at 138 pounds and followed it up with a fifth-place finish at the Southwest Regionals.
He believes a breakout match was his WPIAL semifinal bout with Freedom’s Kenny Duschek, where he won 8-2.
“I just need to get to my offense instead of working on defending their shots, hitting my underhook and things like that,” Corrado said.
Austin Mele, Burrell
Senior, 160 pounds
Maybe no wrestler benefited more from the two-week gap between the PIAA Southwest Regional and states than Mele, who had to injury default out of both the WPIAL and regional tournaments with a lingering ankle problem. After a week off the mat, Mele said he feels healthy and ready to go for Hershey.
A Seton Hill recruit, Mele wrestled at the PIAA championships last season but did not place.
“I had the big eyes going in there, and I think that was a little bit of a distraction,” he said.
Mele broke out as a senior with a career-high in wins, finishing third at the King of the Mountain and second at the WCCA tournament. Even not at 100 percent, he was able to beat Portage’s Cole Sossong in the regional quarterfinals to earn a spot at the PIAA tournament.
“Taking people down and letting them up — that’s what I like to do the most,” Mele said. “Sometimes I go a little crazy in the first period and kind of wear myself out, but we’ve been working on it. I haven’t really been doing it. But I like taking a guy down, cutting him (loose), taking him down, just breaking him.”
Noah Hutcherson, Valley
Senior, 170 pounds
Hutcherson is making his first appearance in Hershey, but he’s heard the stories.
“I’ve heard it’s crazy,” said Hutcherson, whose coach at Valley, Dane Johnson, won three PIAA titles. “I’ve heard it’s a lot different than anything else I’ve ever experienced. I’ve been working four years to get there, and I finally made it.”
The Valley senior did so after placing fifth at the Southwest Regional, one week after he finished as WPIAL runner-up. His senior season includes a Section 3-AA title, a second-place finish at the Eastern Area Invitational and a third place at the WCCA.
With a more aggressive approach, Hutcherson is getting the success he always aimed for.
“(I like to) push the pace, keep the pace, just wrestle my match and just focus on what I do and not what they do,” he said. “That and having my mind in the right place.”
Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Doug at 412-388-5830, [email protected] or via Twitter .