North Hills’ Hillegas motivated by loss in PIAA semifinals

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Thursday, December 12, 2019 | 5:07 PM


North Hills’ senior Sam Hillegas seemed to be on his way to a third PIAA Class AAA title last season. However, Hillegas suffered his first loss of the season in the state semifinals, denying him a chance to become a state champion all four years.

The Virginia Tech recruit has utilized the 2-1 loss to Northhampton’s Julian Chlebove as extra fuel to end up on top of the podium in Hershey at the end of the year.

Hillegas finished in third place at 132 pounds after a 9-2 decision over Latrobe’s Gabe Willochell.

The Indians standout won a state title his freshman year at 113 and sophomore year at 126 and will look to headline North Hills at 138 this year.

“It’s very motivational. It’s a hard pill to swallow,” he said. “I have learned from it and taken steps forward. It’s a very big character-building moment by taking that loss in a big tournament. I’m getting better every single day and learning from it.”

Hillegas is part of an Indians team lookoing to return to the team playoffs for the first time since his freshman year.

The Indians starting lineup features five other WPIAL qualifiers — seniors Ethan Uechl (152 pounds), Jeremy MacPherson (132) and Damon Thompson (220); and sophomores Ethan Mikovitz (106) and Matt Sewatka (126).

Junior Scott Ross (126) and sophomore Andrew Szynczak (145) also return and will look to qualify individually for the WPIAL tournament.

North Hills finished 7-10 overall with a 1-4 record in Section 3B-AAA last year. However, coach Jose Martinez hopes to win the close matches the Indians lost last year as a recipe to making the playoffs this season.

“We had some misfortunes in the beginning of the last two years. We lost a lot of close ones. This year, I’m hoping we could swing that, and we could win those close ones and keep us above water,” Martinez said.

“Last year, I don’t think I had the experience that I have with a senior-oriented team I have this year. I think we have a great group of seniors that are great leaders.”

As one of the co-captains with MacPherson and Thompson, Hillegas wants to make sure the Indians develop a family bond to get over the hump in his final season.

“It starts with being a family. We have to develop these relationships. One guy is pushing the other,” he said. “We’re working on that team bonding and making sure everyone keeps that great spirit throughout the year so we’re pushing each other to be the best we can be.”

In the opening tournament of the season, the Indians took eighth at the Chartiers-Houston Invitational. Hillegas won the 138-pound title, Thompson finished second at 220 and Sewatka finished third at 126. MacPherson (132) and Szymczak (152) finished sixth.

Martinez wants everyone to just compete with some mental toughness as they progress through the season. If they continue to work hard, he expects the Indians to be in the playoff picture.

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