Four wrestlers from the North suburban coverage area advanced to the PIAA finals during the 2016-17 season. Jake Woodley and Sam Hillegas won titles, while Louis Newill and Ryan Sullivan placed second.
Woodley, a North Allegheny senior, claimed his second PIAA gold medal, this time at 195 pounds, and coach Sanshiro Abe was ready for the jump into his arms.
Abe, a four-time NCAA placewinner at 126 pounds at Penn State, was caught off guard by Woodley's celebratory jump after winning his first title last season. Abe was knocked to the floor by Woodley, who landed on him.
"I was ready for him this year," said Abe, who caught Woodley and then took him to the mat for a takedown, thus showing the crowd he's still nimble on his feet 21 years after winning and NCAA title his senior year.
Woodley (50-3) recorded two technical falls and a major decision en route to his second title. He faced General McLane senior Ethan Laird in the title match and recorded a 3-1 victory.
"It was a pretty close match," said Woodley of the title match. "The kid's pretty tough and I wasn’t getting as many takedowns as I normally do but I got the win anyway. You just have to pull it out. I’ve won a lot of close matches before and you just have to get the win."
This year's title match was obviously different than last year.
"Last year, I wrestled a kid I had beat four times," Woodley said. "This year, I faced somebody I had never wrestled before, so it was a little different. But I guess they all mean the same - a state title is great either way."
** Hillegas (43-0), a North Hills freshman, defeated Newill (41-5), a Seneca Valley junior, for the fourth consecutive time with his 5-2 win in the 113-pound final. Newell was making his second appearance in the finals and had to settle for a second silver medal.
"It’s really amazing to come out and win a title as a freshman and be North Hills’ first state champ," Hillegas said. "It's tough [to face an opponent that many times] but you still gotta go out and wrestle every single match and have the same mind-set and don’t let anything interfere with that."
Hillegas earned his title berth with an exciting 6-4 overtime win over Stroudsburg's Cameron Enriquez in the semifinals. Hillegas locked in a cradle at the buzzer to score the winning takedown.
** Sullivan, a Shaler freshman, dropped a 5-2 decision to Downingtown East's Doug Zapf in the 106-pound final.
** Quaker Valley made its WPIAL debut this season and sophomore John Rocco Kazalas became the school's first PIAA placewinner. Kazalas (32-9) placed sixth after losing to the silver and bronze medalists.
"I think I wrestled pretty well in my first time up here," Kazalas said. "I've got some things to work on to get ready for next year. It's great to be the school's first PIAA qualifier and placewinner."