IRWIN – A year ago in this same gym, Waynesburg’s A.C. Headlee experienced what he called the worst feeling of his life.
The talented freshman was edged, 3-1, by North Allegheny’s Dom Forys in the consolation finals of the 106-pound weight class at the WPIAL Class AAA Championships, ending his season a week before expected. Only the top three wrestlers in each weight class advance to the PIAA tournament.
Though Headlee finished the season with a sparkling 42-3 record, it was a major disappointment for a wrestler who had experienced nothing but success since taking up the sport at age 5.
Fast forward one year.
Headlee has ripped through his competition throughout his sophomore season, improving his record to 37-3 after a pin Friday night over Connellsville’s Daniel Leonard in the quarterfinals of the 113-pound weight class in the WPIAL Championships at Norwin High School.
But today is the day Headlee has been waiting a year for. He will wrestle in the semifinals against West Mifflin’s James Harrison, with a potential rematch with Forys looming in the finals.
“It’s been in the back of my mind all year,” said Headlee, the No. 2 seed in this tournament. “When I was training in the offseason, I always wanted to do a little bit more, work a little bit harder, push myself further than I did last year because of what happened.”
For a little more inspiration, Headlee travelled to London during the summer. It wasn’t necessarily a vacation, however. Headlee went to London to watch former Waynesburg star Coleman Scott compete in the 2012 Summer Olympics, where he won a bronze medal.
“It was amazing just to watch how he handled the pressure,” said Headlee, one of six Waynesburg wrestlers still alive in the tournament, though the only one is in the winner’s bracket.
“That’s just a whole different level of wrestling.”
Waynesburg coach Joe Throckmorton said he saw the drive in Headlee this year.
“It was a lot of motivation for him,” Throckmorton said. “He’s been used to going to state and national tournaments pretty much his whole career. I didn’t say it to him that night, but I told him to remember the feeling. You don’t want to have it again. It’s been motivating him all year to get back to this point. The mental aspect is what we’ve really been working on, getting him mentally tough enough for this competition. Hopefully, it’s working out.”
They will find out today, provided Headlee beats Harrison (31-1) and Forys (38-2) can get past Peters Township’s Phillip Mary, who improved his record to 29-6 with a 9-5 win in the quarterfinals over Franklin Regional’s Kyle Berk.
“The wars are out there, and you have to learn how to win the mental wars, those close matches and high-quality matches,” Throckmorton said. “We had some losses early in the year in the (Beast of the East), and we avenged them at Powerade. Those are the mental wars you have to start winning.”
Headlee and Mary were two of 13 local wrestlers, including nine from Canon-McMillan, to advance to the semifinals. The Big Macs have returning champions Connor Schram (126), Solomon Chishko (145) and Cody Wiercioch (170). Also advancing for C-M were Brendan Price (106), Dalton Macri (120), William Pihiou (152), Sammy Minor (160), Alex Campbell (220) and Angelo Broglia (heavyweight). The Big Macs also have two wrestlers in the consolation bracket.
Joining Mary in the semifinals is teammate Italo Merante at 132 pounds, and McGuffey’s Brent Blacharczyk also advanced to the semifinals at 182.
Peters Township has five wrestlers remaining in the tournament, while Trinity, McGuffey and Ringgold have three each.
Only one of the top two seeds in any weight class was upset Friday night, that coming at 170 pounds. Hempfield’s Dom Nania, a senior, caught second-seeded Kellan Stout of Mt. Lebanon in a headlock early in the first period and pinned him in 37 seconds.
Nania faces third-seeded Noah Wilps of Chartiers Valley today, with Wiercioch, the top seed, facing Kiski freshman Tyler Worthing in the other half of the bracket.