HERSHEY – In the aftermath of his second district and first regional titles the previous two weekends, Wyoming Area’s Charles Johnson made it clear that those wins were just part of the process of chasing a more significant goal – a spot on the podium at the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association Wrestling Championships.
That’s exactly where Johnson finished his junior season Saturday afternoon.
Johnson wrestled for fifth and sixth place in Class AA at 126 pounds after advancing to the semifinals with wins Thursday and Friday then suffering a pair of one-point losses Friday night.
The top eight wrestlers in each weight class each received state medals.
Pittston Area’s Jake Vaxmonsky and Scranton Prep’s Thor Balavage, an Avoca resident, each fell one win short of a medal.
Johnson ran his winning streak to 36 matches before suffering his first loss of the season. He defeated Pen Argyl’s Chase Anklam, 9-8, in overtime in the first round then topped Derry Area’s Stone Kepple, 9-3, in Friday morning’s quarterfinals.
With a spot in the championship match on the line, Bedford’s Johnathan Gabriel handed Johnson the first loss of his season, 2-1. Gabriel was the state runner-up at 120 pounds last season.
Trying to work his way into the match for third and fourth place, Johnson instead lost his second straight, 4-3, to Triston Law from Forest Hills. Law, who earned his third straight state medal, used the win to improve to 42-2.
Vaxmonsky and Balavage each wrestled at 220 pounds.
Vaxmonsky was one of the wrestlers who had his tournament toughened by the expansion from 16- to 20-man brackets this season. The Pittston Area senior won three times, which in the past would have been enough for a medal.
Because he got into the expanded tournament as a fourth-place finisher in the Class AAA Northeast Regional, Vaxmonsky had to start out in the preliminary round where he pinned Ian Mallory from General McLane 24 seconds into overtime.
Boyertown’s Jordan Wood then pinned Vaxmonsky in 1:42 of the first full round Thursday.
Vaxmonsky, who finished 37-7, won his first two consolation bouts, 2-1 over Belle Vernon’s Michael Fine and 2-0 over Reading Matthew Reinhart.
The season ended in an overtime bout with a state medal at stake when Bethlehem Liberty’s Andrew Gunning got a takedown for a 7-5 win.
Balavage was in the Class AA 220-pound bracket after placing second at Williamsport in the Northeast Regional. The junior finished the season 40-4.
After losing a technical fall, 16-0, in one full period against Jacob Robb from Kittanning, Balavage came back in his first consolation bout to pin South Allegheny’ Seth Hitchens in 45 seconds.
Wyalusing’s Dylan Otis then eliminated Balavage with a pin in 2:34.