HERSHEY – While his mother stood in a stairwell in the Giant Center, too nervous to watch much of the match, Connor Schram went out and exorcised the demons of the past two state finals with one of his best performances.
Schram, who had lost in the last two finals of the PIAA Class AAA Wrestling Championships, capped an impressive varsity career with a 5-3 decision over Michael Kemerer of Franklin Regional in the 126-pound finals Saturday night.
Not only did Schram win his second state title, but his contribution helped Canon-McMillan to an historic evening. The Big Macs had three state champions – Schram, Solomon Chishko (145) and Cody Wiercioch (170) – tying the school’s best showing. In 1950, Manuel Pihakis, Joe Solomon and Don Haney won gold medals when it was called Canonsburg High School.
Not only that, but Canon-McMillan won its third consecutive team title in this tournament and fifth overall in the last three years, something never accomplished before in school history. The Big Macs had 99 team points, 24 more than Central Dauphin’s 75.
After Schram won the first gold medal, Chishko put on a dynamic performance in shutting out Chris Vassar of Cedar Cliff, 8-0, in the 145-pound final.
Wiercioch followed three bouts later by tearing through Joey Gartland of Penncrest 7-2 at 170 pounds for his third title.
Dalton Macri won silver after losing in the 120-pound finals and Alex Campbell took eighth at 220.
“This is a great day for the program,” said Canon-McMillan head coach Chris Mary. “It’s such a tradition-rich program.”
Schram’s fortunes seemed to change this season, when he defeated Ryan Diehl of Trinity, a defending state champion from Trinity in District 3. Schram seemed to have that same joy on the mat that he did in his freshman season, when he won the state title from Austin Miller of Hempfield in District 3, 2-1 in an ultimate tiebreaker.
Then, the heartaches began. Schram lost to Jordan Conaway of New Oxford, 10-4, in the 112-pound finals as a sophomore. The following year, Schram fell to Godwin Nyama of Brashear 3-1 in overtime.
“It was the worst feeling in the world,” said Schram. “I lost in front of my family and my friends. I was saying (before the finals) I don’t want to be out there, I don’t want to be out there. This is going to suck.”
This year, Schram got a makeover and it had nothing to do with his wrestling. The coaches tried to get Schram to relax and not be so tense. There was nothing they could do for his mother, though.
“That’s the beauty of wrestling,” Schram said. “Everyone works harder because you don’t want to feel that way again.”
Kristen Schram found Connor’s singlet from his freshman season in a pile of clothes. While it was a bit of a struggle, Schram got into it and wore it against Kemerer.
“It still fits,” said Connor Schram. “I never lost in that singlet in the Giant Center. It was buried with all my other singlets.”
Schram had beaten Kemerer twice before, and little changed from those previous meetings. He got the critical first takedown 1:15 in and led 2-1 after one period. Kemerer tied it, 2-2, with an escape but Schram got the back-breaking takedown with 1:32 left in the second period. The two traded escapes the rest of the way.
“It’s so great to go out and win it,” said Schram. “I think a lot of it was mental. I ended it the way I started.”
Chishko missed the regular season while recuperating from a fractured elbow he sustained in the preseason Super 32 tournament in North Carolina two weeks before the high school wrestling practice began.
“Everyone was asking me, ‘Are you coming back?’” said Chishko. “I told them, ‘I don’t know.’”
Chishko got his release from the doctor in time for the individual tournament and won his next 11 bouts to push his career win total to 101. That last victory brought gold.
“It wasn’t easy,” he said. “I had to overcome a lot of challenges, my weight, getting in shape.”
Chishko’s weight rose to 168 pounds, and he had a paunch that made the coaches worry. So they challenged him to get into shape, and he did.
All through the recovery period, he was never ostracized.
“The whole team supported me,” he said. “I was upset because I couldn’t help. I felt I left myself out. I didn’t feel they left me out.”
The junior lost to Steve Spearman of Erie McDowell in last year’s semifinals to take third and fell to Zach Horan of Nazareth, 3-2, in the 130-pound semifinals as a freshman. Horan and Spearman went on to win state titles.
This year was Chishko’s turn.
“Connor’s win was definitely a motivator,” said Chishko. “He was my training partner when we were younger and we have a little rivalry going. When he wins, I want to win. This just feels so awesome.”
Wiercioch culminated a great varsity career with his third state championship sandwiched around a silver medal performance as a sophomore.
“It’s bittersweet,” he said. “I really enjoyed the last match. It went by so fast. The time just flew by.”
Wiercioch took a 4-1 lead after one period and stretched it to 7-1 against Gartland. Wiercioch said this was a special group and he was happy to be part of it.
“We’ll be remembered forever,” said Wiercioch. “We’ve done some (great) stuff.”
Wiercioch won his first state title while wrestling at Charleroi, 2-1 over Travis McKillop of Burrell. McKillop beat him 7-3 in overtime the following year. At Canon-McMillan, he beat Shane Springer of Norristown, 7-4.
“He was so relaxed and poised,” said Mary. “He is a true champion.”
Macri gave up a takedown in the first period and an escape in the second to Sam Krivus of Hempfield. Macri suffered his sixth consecutive loss to Krivus.
“I wanted to get to my offense and get off the bottom,” he said. “It didn’t work out too well.”
It was a rough day for Waynesburg’s A.C. Headlee, who lost three bouts, including a 12-7 overtime decision to Zack Fuentes of Norristown in the 113 semifinals. Headlee was beaten by Jake Gramacki of Cathedral Prep 10-5 in the consolation semifinals and pinned in 1:18 by Dom Forys of North Allegheny in the battle for fifth place.