Trib HSSN wrestler of the year: Canon-McMillan’s Gerrit Nijenhuis

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Saturday, March 21, 2020 | 10:13 PM


Gerrit Nijenhuis is a dynamic performer and two-time state champion who added another sparkling chapter to Canon-McMillan’s storied wrestling history this season, so it probably is not fair to boil down his high school career to just one number.

Then again, it’s a really impressive number.

Nijenhuis’ 6-0 victory over Peters Township’s Donovan McMillon in the 182-pound final at the PIAA championships earlier this month was the 181st of his high school career.

That’s a WPIAL record, topping the mark of 180 shared by Shady Side Academy’s Dane Johnson and Geoff Alexander.

To be on top of the WPIAL’s all-time wins list, ahead of scores of multiple-time PIAA and NCAA champions, not to mention a few Olympians, is an enviable spot to be in indeed.

“It’s great,” Nijenhuis said. “Obviously, there’s a super-rich history of wrestlers who came out of the WPIAL. To have my name up there with the most wins, it’s a real honor.”

Nijenhuis was also honored as Trib HSSN’s 2019-20 wrestler of the year.

The state record is 199 wins. Looking back, do you think there’s any way you could have found 18 more wins somewhere along the way?

I think the (scheduling) system was a little different back then. Guys got a lot more matches. I don’t know about that. I didn’t really miss a whole lot of matches.

Another big number is 47. You went 47-0 this year. What does that total mean to you?

It’s great. I wanted to run through everybody this year. That’s the same goal I set every year. Some years, it was tougher to get it done.

Winning a second state title, do you feel like that puts you in a different category?

I think there have been, obviously, great wrestlers who have only won once. It’s definitely nice. I just think the goal from freshman year was to win a state title every single year. You don’t want to look at it differently, no matter what you’re going into it with.

You can’t be that hard on yourself, can you? You can’t feel like you batted .500 in your high school career.

Never going to be satisfied, you know?

You faced the same opponent in the WPIAL and PIAA finals, Donovan McMillon from Peters Township. Considering how close your schools are to each other, how familiar were you with his style? Did you wrestle as kids?

He was always a little bit lighter than me, so I never really ran into him. This is the first year. But, yeah, he’s a good wrestler.

He’s getting all kinds of scholarship offers for football. What’s it like wrestling someone that athletic?

I’m a firm believer that technique is the best skill to have. I just felt like if I went in and wrestled the way I wrestle, I was going to be fine.

What’s it like wrestling someone whose style you know well on a stage that big in the state finals?

I knew I didn’t have to put it all on the line. I just had to wrestle my match and wrestle clean, and I thought I was definitely going to be good. It was probably a little more passive than usual. I just took it minute by minute. I had a feeling he would try some big stuff. I just felt like if I kept my cool and didn’t get overzealous, I would be fine.

What made you pick Purdue?

I really like the atmosphere that coach (Tony) Ersland had created there and the culture. The coaches like A.J. Schopp and (Jake) Sueflohn, I just think they’re the best people to guide me through my college wrestling journey on and off the mat.

You’ve got to be looking forward to wrestling in the Big Ten, too.

You always want to wrestle the best. That’s how you get to be the best. I definitely think the Big Ten is where that’s at.

Speaking of wrestling the best, how disappointed were you when the Pittsburgh Wrestling Classic was canceled? You were supposed to wrestle John Poznaski, a Rutgers recruit and New Jersey state champ.

I was pumped for it. I wrestled him at Super 32, and it was a pretty good match. I was really looking forward to scrapping again.

How are you handling spending so much time at home these days?

It’s definitely tough not being able to get on the mat, but I’ve been waking up every morning, going for runs, trying to get as much activity as I can in.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review Assistant Sports Editor. You can contact Jonathan by email at jbombulie@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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