HERSHEY >> Friday of the PIAA Wrestling Championships is some of the most gut-wrenching competition in high school sports. Over the course of the day, the eight wrestlers in each weight class that will reach the podium are decided, with dozens more falling excruciatingly short.
To get an idea of just how focused Pope John Paul II's Ryan Vulakh is in his quest for a state title, you need only look at his reaction following his tech fall win in the 152-pound semifinals over Sully Allen of Sharon. Allen, the NW regional champ, entered the bout with a record of 37-2.
"You know it is something special when the kid is upset with himself when he couldn't finish the pin in state finals and had to settle for the tech," said coach Tom Hontz.
Allen was never in the match, Vulakh piled up the points from start to finish, and was leading 14-2 when he put Allen on his back for the final three near fall points.
"It's just something the coaches have instilled in me, that I should just keep scoring," said Vulakh, a George Mason recruit. "I actually don't mind wrestling in tight matches, but even in those, if I could keep piling up points I would."
Vulakh faces Trent Schultheis from Freedom Area in Saturday afternoon's finals.
"I'm excited to be wrestling in the finals," said Vulakh. "I am very confident and focused on winning. But this is PA states, and you can't look past anyone, or relax."
Souderton's Tyler Williams not only clinched a spot on the medal stand, but is also alive to be standing on top with gold, advancing to Saturday's semifinals. William Tennent's A.J. Tamburrino and PJP II's Matt Vulakh won consolation bouts to guarantee they head home with hardware.
Up first in the Class AAA quarterfinals, Williams (138) had a quarterfinal matchup with a wrestler coming off a huge upset. Hempfiield Area's Ty Linsenbigier had knocked off a defending state champ in McDowell's Jeff Boyd in his opener, and had to come into his match with Williams feeling good about his chances.
Still tied 0-0 to start the second, Lisenbigier probably still felt pretty good, but that is when Williams went to work, hooking up his trademark tilt twice for a 6-0 lead. Williams didn't let up, adding another four points in the third to celebrate his 18th birthday with a 10-0 victory and a spot in semifinals.
"I work hard on my tilts, and I feel confident with them," said Williams. "I wasn't nervous even being scoreless after the first. I just started working to collect the wrists and turn him. This is a whole different feeling than last year when I lost in semis. Last year I think I was kind of satisfied to medal. This year, I am feeling calm and confident. I don't intend to leave here without a state title."
Tamburrino was next, wrestling in the 145-pound quarterfinals. The Tennent junior dropped a tough 4-2 decision to Bethlehem Catholic's Ryan Anderson, a state champ at 138 a year ago.
Falling into what is known as the Blood Round of consolations-the winner gets a medal, the loser goes home-Tamburrino turned it up a notch, breaking open a relatively close match with a big third period, finally pinning Penncrest's Brendon Stocku in 4:31
"It's great to know that I've gotten a medal my first time here," said Tamburrino. "I came here looking to be a state champions. Now I just have to make sure I fight my way back to third."
Methacton's Kibwe McNair (138) and Plymouth Whitemarsh's Paolo DiSanto also reached quarterfinals, but both went 0-2 on the day and were eliminated.
In Class AA, Ryan Vulakh (Pope John Paul II, 152) is wrestling like a man on a mission, reaching the semifinals with another dominating win.
Squared off against the third place finisher from the SW, St Joseph Academy's Keegan Rothrock, Vulakh came out of the gate firing on all cylinders.
Vulakh picked up three takedowns with three different moves in the match, the last coming on a blink-and-you-missed-it fast duck under. Already up 10-1 barely two-and-a-half minutes in, Vulakh put the match away, running a half-and-wrist combo to get the slap of the mat at the 3:00 mark.
"Obviously, it's great to get to semis, but I have to keep it going," said Vulakh. "I'm feeling good out there, but that is just the result of a lot of hard work in practice. It's always nice when you win, but this is just the next bump in the road to something bigger. Now I just have to keep doing it again and again."
Though he suffered a tough loss in the quarterfinals, Ryan's younger brother Matt is guaranteed a spot on the podium, bouncing back to win a blood round match against Faith Christian's Eric Alderfer. The two met previously this post season, with Vulakh coming away with a 3-0 win in the District 1/12 finals. This time around, a second period escape spelled the difference in a 1-0 Vulakh win.
"We've been wrestling each other since we were little kids," said Vulakh. "We know the ins and outs of what the other does, so that can make things tough. But I just needed to get it done. It's great to know I am going to get a medal, but I don't want to be satisfied with just getting a medal. I want to make it the highest medal I can."
The younger Vulakh lost his next consolation bout and will wrestle for seventh place Saturday.
The Golden Panthers brought three wrestlers to Hershey, and two are headed home with medals.
"We would have liked to see (Jack) Files get a win or two, but states is tough," said PJP II coach Tom Hontz. "The way Ryan is wrestling is incredible, and for Matt to come back and get himself a medal is great. The blood round is always the toughest round of the tournament. It takes a lot to be able to shake off a loss and comeback to get a win a couple hours later."
Alderfer, just a freshman, finished the tourney with a record of 2-2, falling a win short of becoming Faith Christian's first-ever state medalist. Max Schultz (160) and Damon Waltenbaugh (170) were each 0-2 for the Lions.