No bluff: Beth-Center’s Brown shooting for medal

March 4, 2014

Someday, Nico Brown might have a future in The World Series of Poker.

He rarely reveals his emotion and that makes him hard to read, a must for any good card player.

Even his head coach at Beth-Center High School, Bill Swarrow, doesn’t always know what Brown, a talented 160-pound wrestler, is thinking.

“He’s a man of few words,” said Swarrow.

Maybe Brown simply allows his performance on the mat do the talking for him, and it has said a lot this season. The junior is one of only two Beth-Center wrestlers who will be competing at the Giant Center this week when the PIAA Championships get under way in Hershey.

Brown is one of 15 local wrestlers in Class AA who earned a spot, including teammate Anthony Welsh at 145 pounds.

Four wrestlers will return as defending champions, but only three can repeat in Double-A. That’s because Devin Brown, who won the 106-pound title last year for Saegertown, transferred to Franklin Region, a Class AAA team. The three returning in Double-A are George Phillippi of Derry, Jason Nolf of Kittanning and Sam Breese of Lakeview. Last year, Phillippi won the 113-pound title, Nolf the 132-pound weight class and Breese at heavyweight.

The first round for Class AA begins at 9 a.m. Thursday and Class AAA starts at 4 p.m. Finals for Class AA are at 2 p.m. Saturday, followed by the Class AAA finals at 7 p.m.

Bethlehem Catholic, which won the PIAA Team Tournament last month, is the favorite to win the team battle in this event.

The top eight wrestlers in each weight class will medal, and Brown expects to be one of those in the 160 class.

“I’m real excited,” he said.

“I’m going after a medal. It’s going to be a great experience, and I’m glad I got to do it as a junior. I’ve never been there except as a spectator. Some people shine under the lights, and some crumble.”

Brown has made steady progress in his wrestling. Last season, he failed to qualify for the state tournament, finishing with a 1-2 record in the region tournament, leaving him with a 22-11 overall mark. Brown took fourth place in the WPIAL Championships two weeks ago, then finished in third place in the region tournament in Johnstown last weekend with a 1-0 decision over Ryan Zalar of Jefferson-Morgan. His only loss in that tournament came against Jared Walker of South Fayette.

“He’s a good worker,” Swarrow said. “He is into weight lifting and is stronger than most kids he wrestled.”

Brown takes a 33-14 record into the first round of the state tournament against Jeric Kasunic of Benton, a senior who was a Northeast runner-up with a record of 32-7. Brown went through a midseason slump, dropping four of six matches a few weeks ago. But those four losses came by a combined five bout points and while he was making the drop from 170.

“We wanted him to get down to 160,” said Swarrow. “He got down in time for the Bedford tournament, but then he hurt his elbow. He’s good with his weight now.”

Brown said he finds motivation from a number of different things, including coming close but not qualifying for the state tournament last season. This year, he took some extra precautions to make sure that scenario was not repeated.

“I’m pretty superstitious,” Brown said.

Brown will wear the same singlet and socks if he is having success. He warms up for a match going through the same routine.

But Swarrow knows it’s not luck that has gotten Brown to this point.

“He has a lot of talent,” Swarrow said. “He’s been wrestling since he was 5, and he’s always been a good wrestler. Wrestling is a sport that you can’t do half-hearted, and he never does things half-hearted.”

Joe Tuscano has been with the Observer-Reporter since 1980. He has covered all sports for the newspaper, including the Steelers, Pirates, Pitt football, local college football and wrestling. He has worked for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Jeannette News-Dispatch and North Hills Record. He graduated from Duquesne University in 1980.

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