The countdown begins in earnest today.
Gerrit Nijenhuis knows that this wrestling tournament has value for a couple reasons.
First, the senior from Canon-McMillan High School can become a WPIAL Class AAA champion for a second consecutive season if things turn out well this weekend. He won silver medals as a freshman and sophomore. That in itself would be a great accomplishment.
But there is this gold medal for the 182-pound champion that Nijenhuis has his eye on that awaits in Hershey.
The first round of the WPIAL tournament begins at 5 p.m. today at Nijenhuis’ home gymnasium, Canon-McMillan.
Semifinals are at 11:30 a.m., Saturday, with the finals set for 5 p.m.
The top four wrestlers in each weight class advance to the PIAA Class AAA championships at the Giant Center in Hershey. That tournament begins Thursday.
“Obviously, my goal every single season is to win a state title,” Nijenhuis said. “It’s always awesome.
“My mindset has improved a lot. I’m working hard trying to get better on things.”
Nijenhuis can only match his performance from last year’s state tournament, as he went undefeated in the four bouts of the weight class and defeated two-time state champion Edmund Ruth of Susquehanna Township in the 170-pound finals. Nijenhuis’ performance was so dominating that he was named the tournament’s Outstanding Wrestler in Class AAA.
But first things first.
Nijenhuis is the top seed in the 182-pound weight class. He brings in a perfect 39-0 record and has a chance to become the all-time victory leader in the WPIAL. He needs 181 victories and can get it if he wins eight more bouts. Nijenhuis has a 173-16 career record. Two former Shady Side Academy wrestlers – Dane Johnson and Geoff Alexander – share the record at 180 wins.
Johnson, a four-time WPIAL champion, was originally thought to be the win leader with 182 upon graduation in 2009. But a recent recount found Johnson’s freshman win total off by two. Alexander caught him in 2012.
If Nijenhuis takes the lead, it probably won’t last long. Burrell’s Ian Oswalt has a 137-20 record and has been averaging win totals in the high 40s in his first two seasons. He has 42 wins this season heading into the state tournament.
Zach Kemmerer of Upper Perkioman heads the state list with 199 victories.
Nijenhuis made his run last season while tending to a gimpy knee, a great learning opportunity, he felt.
“I learned resiliency,” Nijenhuis said. “I learned to control the things you can control to the best of your ability and come out ready.”
The other top-seeded wrestlers in this tournament are Ty Watters (106) of West Allegheny; Carter Dibert (113) of Franklin Regional; Dylan Chappell (120) of Seneca Valley; Rocco Welsh (126) of Waynesburg; Gabe Willochell (132) of Latrobe; Sam Hillegas (138) of North Hills; Ty Linsenbigler (145) and Isaiah Vance (Hvy) of Hempfield; Cole Spencer (152) of Pine Richland; Jack Blumer (160) of Kiski; Mac Stout (170) and Luke Stout (195) of Mt. Lebanon; and John Meyers (220) of Greensburg Salem.