Burrell wrestler Ethan Awes prepares for final shot at making state tournament

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Tuesday, February 20, 2018 | 11:15 PM


Ethan Awes' season began with the same high hopes as many of his fellow wrestlers. Somewhere along the way, it turned into what the Burrell senior describes frankly as a “mess.”

He still has a chance to clean it up, though.

Despite a heaping pile of adversity — lengthy injury absence, difficult recovery and controversial result in one of his most significant matches of the season — Awes goes into this weekend's PIAA Class AA Southwest Regional with a chance to qualify for the PIAA individual championships in Hershey for the first time, which was his main goal from the beginning.

“I'm just trying to punch my ticket to states,” Awes said, repeating the refrain twice more as he prepared for a practice earlier this week.

To do so, he'll need a top-six finish at regionals, which run Friday and Saturday at IUP. Awes competed there each of the past two seasons, bowing out after two matches in both appearances.

This represents his last shot.

“I feel like past times at regionals, I've been like nervous and not acting the way I should,” Awes said. “This year, I'm just going to hang loose, work my offense and just try to push the pace.”

An improvement at his final regional tournament wouldn't clash with Awes' backstory. In fact, it fits the overall narrative. He spent much of his freshman season as a reserve until classmate Corey Christie suffered an injury. As Christie's replacement, he won one match in nine tries.

As a sophomore, Awes improved to 21-22 and finished second in Section 3-AA and seventh in the WPIAL. Last season, he went 27-17 with another section runner-up finish and a third-place medal at WPIALs.

That upward movement led Burrell coach Josh Shields to pinpoint Awes as a potential breakout candidate for 2017-18. But then came the first bad break — literally — at the Powerade Christmas Tournament in late December.

In the final seconds of his first-round bout against Brookville's Dontae Constable, he went for a fake and took Constable's head to his face. Although he wrestled two more matches at the tournament, the damage was done: a broken orbital bone on the right side of his face.

“I didn't really think much of it because I wasn't in pain or anything,” said Awes, who also suffered nerve damage. “I went to the hospital, and they told me I was out four to six weeks with a broken orbital bone. And then just the recovery back's been pretty tough.”

The four- to six-week recovery period put the remainder of Awes' season in doubt. The nature of the injury put any contact out of the question, and he also couldn't run or lift weights for the first 10 days after his surgery.

“He's really shown a lot of growth,” Shields said. “It's unfortunate he didn't get to wrestle the majority of the regular season. Right now, we're trying to get the rust off each and every match. Usually, there are things you can work out throughout the regular season, but we don't have that in his case. We're trying to amp up the training and really eliminate the mistakes as quickly as we can.”

After watching as Burrell won its 12th consecutive WPIAL Class AA team championship, Awes returned for the PIAA tournament earlier this month and immediately became involved in perhaps the Bucs' most controversial match of the season.

Awes led Muncy's Ethan Gush, 5-0, after two periods of their bout in the first round of the tournament, but four penalty points — three for stalling and one for fleeing the mat — helped Gush rally for a 7-6 victory, one that proved pivotal in Muncy's eventual 34-30 victory. Burrell protested the calls to no avail.

Two weeks removed from the match, Awes said he “ran out of gas” in the third period.

“The week before when I was running and stuff, I felt great,” he said. “I felt like I could run forever. But running and actually wrestling in a match is totally different. The third period, I was dead. I was just trying to hold on, and I just let my guard down. I got banged with stall calls and stuff left and right, and it just didn't end up good.”

Now Awes wants his individual season to have a sweeter ending with a trip to Hershey. He finished third at the Section 3-AA tournament last week and fifth at WPIALs. But given some of Awes' past success against Derry's Onreey Stewart and Freedom's Jake Pail — who finished first and second in the WPIAL — Shields believes his senior has what it takes to come up with the top-six finish he needs.

“You always want to make progress each and every year,” Shields said. “You never want to come down to, ‘I've never been to regionals, and it's my senior year. I've got to do it.' But he's been there. He knows what to expect. He knows the challenge at hand, and he's definitely up for it.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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