HERSHEY, Pa. -- As he walked off the GIANT Center floor and into the bowels of the 10,000-seat structure in Hershey, P.J. Steinmetz sported dried blood on his sweat-filled face. He briefly paused to catch his breath.
It was much needed after an exhilarating six minutes of action that were packed with plenty of offense and defense from the Council Rock South senior to fill two matches. But it was all needed in this one.
Steinmetz finished off Eastern York's Alex Cooley 4-2 in a 195-pound PIAA AAA championship preliminary bout, as wrestlers with Penn State connections went a perfect 8-0 on the opening day of action Thursday. Steinmetz will face fellow Nittany Lion commit and Southwestern Regional runner-up Matt McCutcheon in Friday's quarterfinal. The Kiski Area prospect scored three takedowns and a reversal to fend off a game effort from Bald Eagle Area grappler Aaron Varner, turning his defense into offense.
I had to wear him down a little bit. He was hard to take down at first, and then start working my moves, McCutcheon said. I have to wear guys down. All year, people have been trying to keep it close and win at the end. That's how I lost last week.
Last week brought a WPIAL finals defeat to Hamton's Jake Hart, a match where McCutcheon fell 3-1. To avenge that loss, though, he'll have to go through his side of the bracket, and Hart his, to force a rematch. And he can go a long way in that process if he beats Steinmetz in the duo's first of many bouts to come.
I'm excited for that, we've never wrestled before, and we're going to lots of battles in the room next year, McCutheon said. This ones going to matter right now, though, so I have to focus on this one.
I know where I'm going [to Penn State], and I'm hungrier than ever after that loss last week.
McCutcheon said he plans to redshirt his first season in State College, before enlisting in the 184-pound weight class.
Hamming it Up
Chambersburg's Garett Hammond began the run of future Penn State grapplers in the AAA classification at 152 pounds, never trailing in a 16-1 technical fall victory over Norristown's Rashon Lusane in 4:37. The senior scored seven first-period points before growing his lead in the second with two escapes, two takedowns, and a stalling point.
My goal was to get my offense going, Hammond said. that was one of the main things I was focusing on, because when I'm scoring, I feel like that's my best defense. I'm just constantly looking to score, and keep the offense coming.
He'll attempt to keep that momentum going Friday, when he squares off with Pine-Richland sophomore Brendan Burnham, who was the third-place finisher out of the AAA Southwest regional tournament.
I just wanted to break a sweat and get in there and get the atmosphere out of the way, Hammond said. This is kind of weird, being my last high school tournament, but I just want to keep improving.
There is a whole other level I can get to, and I haven't got anywhere close to it yet. I just want to have a lot of fun, and go out there and do what I love doing. I want to score as much as I can, and have fun more than anything.
Like the rest of his future Nittany Lions, Hammond said he will keep tabs on the Big Ten Tournament this weekend, something he calls exciting to watch. But first, he will have to win his own exciting match.
Thomas Haines closed out Penn State's opening round with a 16-0 dismantling of Mifflin County's Kyle Kahley at 220 pounds. He was unavailable for comment afterward.
Action resumes at the GIANT Center bright and early Friday morning with quarterfinal action in the AA classification kicking off at 9 a.m., followed by consolation round action. Steinmetz, Hammond, McCutcheon, and Haines will get their turn when AAA action resumes at 1:30 p.m., before any morning AA winners return for semifinal bouts beginning at 6:30 p.m.