Led by state qualifiers, Hampton wrestling looks strong in upper weights

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Saturday, December 5, 2020 | 11:18 AM


If Hampton senior Justin Hart ever says “uncle” in the wrestling room, it will have nothing to do with giving up.

Hart, the nephew of Talbots wrestling coach Chris Hart, is one of the top 189-pounders in the WPIAL Class 3A and joins fellow state qualifier Dawson Dietz in another top-heavy Hampton lineup.

“Winning a state title has been my dream forever,” said Hart, who went 40-5 last season. “I’ve been trying to work all summer to get ready for my chance to finally do it.”

Hart is a three-time PIAA qualifier but hasn’t reached the medal stand with a top-eight finish in Hershey. He enters this season with a career record of 109-18 and posted a 5-0 mark at the West Penn Duals in mid-November.

Dietz, an all-conference lineman on the football team, went 40-11 last season and will wrestle at heavyweight for the Talbots, who are scheduled to host the season-opening Joe Bursick Sr. Dawg Duals on Dec. 12 with an eight-team field that includes Hempfield, Fox Chapel and Thomas Jefferson.

The Talbots will also compete in the prestigious 54-team Powerade Wrestling Tournament on Dec. 27-29 at Monroeville Convention Center.

Early practices have posed challenges for the Talbots. Because of covid-19 protocols, the wrestlers are mandated to wear masks at all times, including during live wrestling.

“It’s very difficult. I’m not going to lie,” said Chris Hart, entering his fourth season at his alma mater. “But we’re doing the best that we can to stick to the rules. … Our kids are not complaining. They are doing whatever they can to make sure we have a season.”

Because of the inherent nature of wrestling, wearing masks is trickier than in some other sports. They are often displaced during live drills.

“It’s a challenge every day,” Justin Hart said. “They get wet from sweat, and it just makes it very difficult to breathe. They break all the time. It’s just something mentally that we are going to have to push through.”

Chris Hart has instructed his wrestlers to be mindful of their masks but to avoid risking injury trying to adjust them.

“I told my guys, ‘If we’re going live and your mask comes down, put it up as soon as you can.’ But what I don’t want is for them to get hurt fixing their mask. Your partner doesn’t know you’re adjusting your mask. You reach up to fix your mask and next thing you know, you post your hand wrong and you’ve got a dislocated elbow or a knee.”

The Talbots last season sent a program-record four wrestlers to the PIAA Class AAA tournament, with then-seniors Zach Wright and Tyler Kocak also advancing.

Hart, who has verbally committed to wrestle at Virginia Military Institute, wrestled at 182 pounds last season but will move up to 189 in the reconfigured PIAA weight-class system.

“I think 189 is a natural weight for him,” Chris Hart said. “But 189 is going to be a loaded weight class this year in the WPIAL, for sure.”

Justin Hart said his offseason wrestling regimen was “not even close” to what he had envisioned. Multiple freestyle events were canceled and even finding a practice facility was difficult. But he wasn’t idle.

“As far as conditioning,” he said, “I was still able to run and keep lifting and stay in shape.”

Other returning wrestlers include seniors Jayden Resch (13-11 at 195), a WPIAL qualifier last season, Corey Scherer, Gage Galuska and Conrad Harold, and juniors Jon Maguire and Alan Wolfe. All of them will compete in the middle to upper weights.

Freshmen Logan Pelusny, Caleb Rihn and Alan Danner are the top newcomers on a 16-man roster that has seven ninth-graders and no sophomores.

As the lineup is currently constructed, the Talbots will be forced to forfeit in dual meets at 113 pounds and likely 138 and 145. Their Section 1A-3A opponents are Armstrong, Fox Chapel, Highlands, Indiana and Kiski Area.

“Dual meet-wise, we’re going to struggle a little bit just with the forfeits,” Chris Hart said.

“But we’ll do our best. We’re kind of used to that, having a thin lineup. I think in the upper weights, we are extremely competitive. From 152 on up, I think we match up really well with a lot of teams.”

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