Hampton wrestler Hart rebounds from cracked ribs to earn PIAA silver

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Saturday, March 20, 2021 | 10:01 AM


In mid-January, Hampton senior Justin Hart couldn’t laugh without it hurting.

One month later, he was smiling with no pain at all.

Hart fought back from multiple cracked ribs that sidelined him for nearly three weeks to win the WPIAL Class AAA wrestling title at 189 pounds. He followed that with a surge to the PIAA championship match during a covid-strained season unlike any other.

“I’ve been working for it forever, so it feels good to finally have the work pay off and get my name in history for having a title,” Hart said. “It’s pretty awesome.”

The early season was not as pleasant. With some uncharacteristic losses and lingering rib injury, Hart decided to shut down in late January and skipped the prestigious Powerade Wrestling Tournament. He returned to the mat Feb. 12 with a whirlwind, recording a technical fall along with four pins, averaging 34 seconds, in his next five matches.

“In hindsight, it was the best decision,” coach Chris Hart said of his nephew. “It wasn’t an easy decision, but it was definitely the right thing to do.”

Justin Hart put his name in the Hampton record books when he edged Kiski Area senior Brayden Solar-Roscosky, 3-2, on Feb. 27 to become only the seventh Hampton wrestler to win the WPIAL crown and the first since older brother Jake in 2013.

The victory avenged a pair of losses to Solar-Roscosky, including a third-period pin in a January dual meet when Hart was dealing with cracked ribs.

“It felt pretty good to come back and beat him and get the title,” Hart said.

Hart placed third in the PIAA West Super Region to reach Hershey for the fourth consecutive year but had yet to bring home a medal. This time, he advanced to the state finals of the eight-man bracket with a pair of wins. But his bid to become the third PIAA champion in Hampton history ended with a 15-5 major-decision loss to Spring-Ford senior Joey Milano in the 189-pound finals March 13. Milano, an N.C. State recruit, is ranked No. 5 in the nation at 182 by TrackWrestling.

“It felt pretty awesome to make the finals and be able to go out in the parade of champions,” Hart said. “It was an awesome experience.”

Hart, a Virginia Military Institute recruit, finished with a career record of 136-28. Only brother Jake (143-21) has won more matches as a Talbot.

Hart (28-6), who will represent the WPIAL all-stars against the Maryland all-stars as part of the undercard of the Pittsburgh Wrestling Classic on April 2 at Hilton Garden Inn at Southpointe, had company on the PIAA medal stand. Hampton senior heavyweight Dawson Dietz capped his wrestling career with his first PIAA medal, taking seventh at 285.

It marked only the second time in program history Hampton had multiple wrestlers earn PIAA medals.

The other time was in 1993, when Jason Robison (first at 189), Chris Hart (third at 171) and Jason Bursick (fifth at 135) achieved the feat.

Just reaching the state championships seemed like a long shot for Dietz after a 14-2 loss to eventual PIAA champion Nate Schon of Selinsgrove in their West Super Region opener. But the Talbots heavyweight rebounded for three consecutive victories, securing his spot at states.

“It was a great season,” said Dietz, who placed third in the WPIAL two weeks earlier. “It was definitely my best season yet.”

Dietz (35-7) dropped his first two matches in Hershey, but he regrouped to pin West Scranton’s Cameron Butka, the East Super Region champion, at 1 minute, 39 seconds for seventh place to the delight of about 20 family members in attendance.

Dietz, an all-conference defensive lineman, will play football in college, most likely at Washington & Jefferson, he said.

“I knew it was going to be my last match, so I wasn’t going to hold back,” said Dietz, who ended with a career mark of 113-32 and a school-record 84 pins. “I had to make a statement.”

Along with Hart and Dietz, Hampton will graduate Conrad Harold (24-7 at 215), Gage Galuska (9-3 at 160) and Corey Schrerer.

The top returnees will be WPIAL qualifier Jayden Resch (20-15 at 172) and freshman Caleb Rihn (14-14 at 126).

They likely will have different paths in next year’s postseason. Because of covid restrictions, the PIAA this season added more steps to reach the trimmed-down state championships. Instead of two cutdown stages to qualify for states, this year there were four.

“This year, you put an asterick by it,” coach Hart said. “I consider this year harder than ever. Justin’s bracket had seven Division I commits out of the eight guys. It’s pretty impressive.”

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