North Hills, North Allegheny wrestlers exceed expectations
Sam Hillegas was primed to burn through the Allegheny County Wrestling Championships’ 126-pound weight bracket. North Hills coach Jose Martinez advised his sophomore standout to hold back.
“Sam did his job,” Martinez said. “I held him back. There’s a pin award he could have gotten, but I wanted him to get a workout. I was looking at getting him some work on bottom and getting out. He doesn’t get a chance to work on the bottom if he pins everyone in the first period.”
Hillegas was the lone champion for the Indians, who placed eighth as a team with 121 points.
North Allegheny exceeded the expectations Sonny Abe had by capturing the team title with 207.5 points. While the Tigers didn’t have a champion, they had four wrestlers reach the finals.
“We wrestled well as a team, and we got a lot of bonus points, too,” Abe said. “It was nice for us to perform that way at the county tournament.”
Max Stedeford (106), Freddy Junko (120), Jacob Downing (126) and Derek Devine (285) finished second for North Allegheny.
Abe has been especially pleased with Devine’s progress. He’s hoping this performance will help improve North Allegheny’s overall attitude.
The Tigers, who placed third at the Section 3-AAA team tournament, also will be involved in the team playoffs.
“He’s grown a lot the last couple years,” Abe said.
“He didn’t have to wrestle this year because he had a scholarship to go to Virginia. He wanted to wrestle this year and finish his high school wrestling career. In the room, I think he’s matured a lot and is working hard.”
Martinez wanted to see growth from a smaller North Hills’ squad. With 11 wrestlers entering the tournament, he knew a top-five finish was unlikely.
What the Indians liked seeing was kids turning in strong performances.
Jeremy McPherson (113) bounced back from losing his first match to place seventh with a 1-0 win over West Mifflin’s Anthony Salopek. Salopek scored an 8-3 victory over McPherson earlier in the tournament.
Maxwell Bandano competed at 220, but Martinez said he is a 182-pound wrestler. Bandano grabbed sixth place after reaching the consolation semifinals.
“Everyone did their job,” Martinez said. “What you want to see from these tournaments is wrestlers performing above their average.”
That’s what everyone involved wanted to see at counties.
“We have to keep training and try to have a better attitude every match,” Abe said.
Josh Rizzo is a freelance writer.