Senior battles through knee injury for surprising Hampton wrestling team

Saturday, January 13, 2024 | 11:01 AM

Hampton senior Caleb Rihn heard “a large pop” from his left knee during club wrestling practice in early November.

“It was pretty bad,” he said. “We kind of knew right away that it was my ACL.”

Rihn was certain of something else — he wasn’t going to miss his final season of wrestling.

“I pretty much knew five minutes after coming off the mat that I didn’t want to get the surgery,” he said. “I definitely wanted my senior season.”

Rihn, a 172-pounder, waited for the swelling to subside and for his range of motion and strength to improve. He returned to the mat in late December to join a Talbots lineup that is already exceeding many expectations.

“I’m feeling really good,” Rihn said. “I’ve recovered well.”

Said coach Nick Endres, “It’s been a long process to get him ready for competition. … With wrestling, you’re not sprinting and cutting as much as other sports. It’s doable. I’m not going to say it’s easy, but it’s doable, and I think it being his senior year provides more motivation for him to get on the mat.”

Hampton (6-3, 4-0 in Section 5-2A) has clinched a playoff berth for the first time since 2020 and placed second at the Steve DeAugustino Holiday Classic at West Mifflin on Dec. 28-29, trailing only Class 3A Central Catholic in the 14-school field.

A total of 11 Talbots earned medals, including a pair of champions: sophomore Dustin Kerr at 139 and senior Alan Danner at 160. Rihn placed second at 172 while seniors Aiden Petry (third at 189), Zach Campbell (fourth at 127) and Nate Glock (fourth at 285) and sophomore Jonovan McKelvey (third at 215) earned top-four spots on the podium.

At the season-opening Chartiers-Houston Invitational on Dec. 1-2, Danner placed fifth at 160 and senior Isabella McNutt took sixth at 114, becoming the first female wrestler to place in the tournament’s 29-year history.

Kerr, a PIAA Southwest Regional qualifier last season, was 14-3 as of Jan. 16, with all three losses coming after he failed to make weight on Day 2 at Char-Houston. Danner, who went a combined 14-37 in his first two seasons at Hampton, was 16-3 with seven pins.

“They are competing hard,” Endres said. “They are bringing passion into practice.”

Hampton hosts defending section champion Highlands on Jan. 17 and visits Laurel on Jan. 24 to close out the section schedule. The Talbots have already clinched a top-three finish and a spot in the WPIAL Class 2A team playoffs.

“I think collectively as a team, we are doing better than on paper what a lot of other people outside our team would have anticipated,” Endres said. “We’re not a team that has a lot of top-end talent, like we used to in the past. But we make up for it in depth. They have shown that. Every dual meet, there is always somebody new stepping up.”

The Talbots, who are preparing for the Allegheny County Championships Jan. 19-20 at Fox Chapel, have rallied in numerous dual-meet victories this season. During their 4-0 start in section, the Talbots overcame an 18-6 deficit to beat North Catholic, 36-30; a 22-0 deficit to topple Knoch, 39-31; and a 15-0 hole in a 48-27 win over Ellwood City.

The Ellwood City victory Jan. 3 marked the first time this season that Hampton was able to fill every weight class.

“We should be all good to go moving forward,” Endres said.

Rihn is used to competing in some discomfort. He wrestled all of last season with a torn rotator cuff. He had surgery in the offseason but reinjured the shoulder this year.

“We’re pretty sure it’s torn again,” he said. “But that’s something I can wrestle through. I did it all last year. It’s just about adjusting your style and pushing through the pain.”

Rihn, who plans to have surgery after the season, is wearing a large knee brace and tapes his shoulder before matches and practices. He said his doctors warned him it’s “likely” he could injure other ligaments in his knee wrestling with a torn ACL.

“I can’t hurt the ACL anymore,” he said, “but it’s pretty easy to hurt my (MCL).”

In the meantime, he is adapting to make the most of his final season as a wrestler. He is attending Grove City, which doesn’t sponsor a wrestling team.

“There’s a lot I can’t do and there’s a lot I have to change,” Rihn said. “I’ve had to adjust a lot of things. That’s just part of the struggle. I’m embracing it. Sure, it will hurt a lot when I wrestle. But I don’t focus on being hurt. I focus on being the best wrestler I can be.”


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