Kocak, Wright end Hampton wrestling careers in memorable fashion
Friday, March 13, 2020 | 9:27 PM
Tyler Kocak and Zach Wright faced their share of adversity in their high school wrestling careers. So it was fitting to see both make a run at the podium at the PIAA Class AAA championships at Hershey’s Giant Center.
Kocak (38-7) finished eighth at 170 pounds in what coach Chris Hart called the toughest weight class in the state.
He estimated seven of the top 20 wrestlers ranked nationally at 170 are from Pennsylvania.
“I was extremely proud of Tyler and how he battled back in the most difficult bracket in AAA,” Hart said. “It was a really solid performance.”
However, the George Mason-bound senior would have liked to defeat South Fayette’s Eli Brinsky, whom he lost to 3-1. Kocak defeated Brinsky previously at the Allegheny County duals in January and placed above him with a silver medal at WPIALs.
“Tyler’s had a great career,” Hart said. “I’ve been fortunate to coach him four years and as a little kid. I know that will motivate him when he gets to college.”
Kocak overcame a tumultuous offseason after he missed last season’s the high school postseason with a knee injury. Things went bad to worse when he suffered a broken femur in a tournament over the summer. But he came back strong, finishing 38-8 and No. 8 in the state.
He came within a win of WPIAL gold, losing 3-1 to Mt. Lebanon’s Mac Stout in the final.
“To do that in the toughest weight bracket,” Hart said, “it’s a major accomplishment.”
Hampton’s other standout senior, Zach Wright (35-10), had a different path of obstacles to overcome at 126 pounds. For the past three years, he hadn’t been able to clear the hurdle to qualify for the PIAA meet. This season was different.
“I felt like I was peaking at the right time,” Wright said. “I felt I could turn it on when it really mattered and could beat anybody. I just trusted myself and my coaches and got the job done.”
After losing a WPIAL quarterfinal match to Chartiers Valley’s Dylan Evans, Wright faced an uphill battle in the consolation bracket. But he pulled together perhaps the best stretch of wrestling of his career, going 4-0.
With a state berth in the balance, he faced Franklin Regional’s Finn Solomon, last season’s state runner-up whom he lost to in the team’s last regular-season dual meet this season. This time, he was prepared.
“He’s really a student of wrestling,” Hart said. “He listened to us and trusted the things we were going over.”
Wright pinned Solomon, then avenged his earlier loss to Evans with another fall to capture WPIAL bronze.
“Zach wrestled one of the best matches he’s ever wrestled,” Hart said of his match with Solomon.
Wright started the state championship with a pin of Griffin Hollingsworth of Garnet Valley.
“I’d never wrestled in the Giant Center, so I was just wondering what that atmosphere was going to be like,” he said. “I really got fired up about it, seeing how important it was to myself and everybody else.”
He dropped a 9-2 decision to eventual third-place finisher Luke Lucerne of Council Rock North. That match, Wright and Hart said, was closer than the final score indicated. His effort in the consolation round was enough to earn him an invitation to represent the WPIAL at the Pittsburgh Wrestling Classic.
“I never really thought I could be wrestling in it,” said Wright, who attended the event as a child. “It’s definitely cool, seeing the letter that invited me, and I’m just really excited to perform well.”
As a senior who had never made the state championships before, Wright’s emergence was only a surprise to those who don’t work with him.
“He wrestled his heart out,” Hart said. “It was disappointing the way it ended. He deserved to be on the podium. It might have been a surprise to some, his WPIAL performance, but not us.”
Kocak finished his career with 130 wins. Wright had 113.
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