sponsored by Asics and Schuylkill Valley Sports
Written by Nate Heckenberger; published on February 26, 2020
Alejandro Herrera-Rondon - Seneca Valley
Surprised? That may be a closer description.
It's been an impressive ride to the top, and even Herrera-Rondon would admit it happened a little faster than he expected, despite a strong youth career.
"If I stress about being a four-timer, I wouldn't be able to breathe."
Photo by Sam Janicki, SJanickiPhoto.com
With compounding success comes meteoric expectations.
And after two state championships his first two seasons, the talk undeniably fast-forwards to the potential of becoming a four-timer, even if Herrera-Rondon tries to block it out.
"I try to enjoy it," Herrera-Rondon said. "If I stress about being a four-timer, I wouldn't be able to breathe."
The weight of the added pressure is not what made Herrera-Rondon jump from 113 pounds as a sophomore to 132, this season, though the change of scenery is another challenge to conquer.
After losing just one match all season, last year, Herrera-Rondon is 32-3 in his junior campaign.
"I think what's impressed me is his ability to take some losses this year," Seneca Valley coach Kevin Wildrick said. "He hadn't lost a match, outside of the Ironman final, last year, and beat guys like Kurt McHenry in the Powerade finals and won states again. He lost a questionable match in (this season's) Powerade finals (to Gabe Willochel) and wrestled back to get third. In a tournament like that, that he showed a lot of character."
Herrera-Rondon will have to wait until the Southwest Regional (February 28-29) for a shot at revenge against Willochel, and to redeem a 4-0 loss at the PIAA Duals to Bethlehem Catholic's Kenny Herrmann, he'd have to wait until states.
That duo forced Herrera-Rondon back to the lab, where he has a couple weeks to adjust to some styles he didn't face at the lighter weights.
"It's been a learning experience," Herrera-Rondon said. "I've been getting into new things and new positions with the bigger guys. It's a different world. The longer I'm in it, I feel like I'm improving things, but there are still things to work on."
If his track record means anything, Herrera-Rondon seeing either again may bode well. As a freshman, he lost eight matches, including two to Norwin's Kurtis Phipps. But in the 106-pound state final, Herrera-Rondon got the better of Phipps, 1-0.
Though he was a Pennsylvania Junior Wrestling champ prior to high school, Herrera-Rondon didn't assume his trip to the top of the podium would come so soon, especially weighing, at-most, 105 pounds.
"I didn't expect much, but I think that's also why I had an advantage," Herrera-Rondon said. "I went out and wanted to surpass my goals. My first goal was to make states. When I took second at regionals, I looked at my first and second kid (at states) and thought they were tough, but if I could get through them I'd be in the semis. I made the semis, and I said, 'OK,' and halfway through that match I knew I could beat that kid. ... I didn't really look past anybody. I beat my first kid and second kid and then third kid and all of a sudden I was in the finals."
Twenty other wrestlers in PIAA history have won titles in their freshman and sophomore seasons. Thirteen of them have finished with four championships. Six of the other seven have won three, with North Hills' Sam Hillegas also seeking his third this winter.
Hillegas, like Luke Pletcher of Greater Latrobe a few years prior, suffered losses in Hershey as juniors, and Pletcher was able to bounce back and win his third.
Photo by Sam Janicki, SJanickiPhoto.com
Herrera-Rondon embraces the challenge.
"Not many people get to say they have a chance," he said. "Not everyone can handle it, so I take advantage of it as much as I can. I'm wrestling kids who are a little stronger and bigger, so I just go out and have some fun. I'm not nervous. I let it fly and see what happens."
It helps that Seneca Valley is loaded with hungry, talented lightweights. Dylan Chappell (120) was a state runner-up as a sophomore, and his brother, Tyler Chappell (106) and Hunter Swedish (113) are potential state qualifiers as freshman.
The situation for Herrera-Rondon is ideal, and while the prospect of joining an elite group of wrestlers is hard to not dream about at this point, this postseason is all he can focus on at this point.
Right there, in the moment, the biggest of moments, is where Herrera-Rondon has excelled, and Wildrick believes his star will once again shine brightest when it counts.
"I think it's building up a little bit," said Wildrick said of the pressure. "But he always does a great job on that stage. It's never been too big for him. He's suited well for that. He's unassuming and just goes out and does his work."
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