HERSHEY >> Four wrestlers in Class AAA, along with a pair of brothers in Class AA, keep their gold medal hopes alive with win in the opening rounds of the PIAA Wrestling Championships at the Giant Center in Hershey Thursday.
First up was Kibwe McNair of Methacton at 138. As a fourth-place finisher last week, the Warriors' junior had to get through two matches Thursday night. In the first match, McNair was barely challenged, decking Bellefonte's Cole Stewart in just 2:30.
Up next came the SC regional champ, Lower Dauphin's T.T. Ehajj. McNair put his scrambling skills on display, and kept a pace Ehajj just couldn't match, rolling up four takedowns on the way to an 8-5 decision.
"I researched him a bit, which is something I don't often do, and found that he wrestles a lot like I do," said McNair. "I knew I had to just keep pushing him and pushing him until I wore him out. I felt comfortable in the scrambles, because that's what I like to work and drill on. I just need to keep elevating my performance, taking it one match at a time."
Souderton's Tyler Williams - the SE regional champ at 138 a week ago - was relentless in every position, scoring from every position, including a tilt that couldn't be stopped. When all was said and done, Williams had moved on to Friday's quarterfinal round with a 17-1 tech fall over Southern Lehigh's Nick Colasurdo.
At 145, AJ Tamburrino of William Tennent bounced back from last week's heartbreaking finals loss with a convincing 11-6 victory over Joe Nwete of Brashear. Tamburrino jumped out early and never looked back, picking up the opening takedown and a quick shot, then using a hammerlock to set up a pancake for three near fall and a 5-0 lead after a period.
"I really thought I was going to get the pin there," said Tamburrino. "But no matter what, I knew what I had to do. The coaches told me to stay on my offense the whole way, and the wins will come. It feels great to finally get here after some tough luck as a freshman and sophomore. Even better to get the win, but tomorrow is the big day."
The last quarterfinalist in Class AAA is Plymouth-Whitemarsh 200 pounder Paolo DiSanto, who moves on with a 3-2 decision over TJ Moore of Cedar Cliff.
There are a number of local wrestlers still keeping hopes alive in consolations, including North Penn's Patrick O'Neill. O'Neill, a seventh-place finisher last year, picked up career victory number 100 in his opening round match against South Western's Ethan Baney. O'Neill reached the century mark with a 10-2 victory.
"I only won two matches as a freshman," said O'Neill. "So it definitely means something to get to 100 and get my name up on the banner in our wrestling room. But now I just need to keep going and get back on the medal stand."
In Class AA, Pope John Paul II's Matt Vulakh pulled off the upset of the tournament so far. After pinning Mount Union's Matt Beatty in his 106-pound opener, Vulakh notched a pair of takedowns in a 5-2 victory over Reynolds' Gary Steen, the defending state champ at the weight.
"It feels amazing," said Vulakh. "I just went out and wrestled the way I can wrestle and knocked off a guy no one thought I could beat. But there's still three more I need to win before I can really celebrate."
Matt's older brother Ryan Vulakh joins him in quarterfinals following a 3:39 fall over Conneaut's Brandan Bair at 152.