PJP’s Collins earns program’s first-ever PIAA berth

WEST LAWN — The bear hug and smile said it all for Michael Collins on Friday night.

Three years of heartbreak and what-if’s were all dispelled as if they were nothing more than a bad dream.

And although there is still work to do this weekend, the Pope John Paul II senior 182-pounder could now call himself a state qualifier.

Collins scored a pair of wins — one by technical fall and the other by major decision — to punch his ticket to Saturday’s semifinal round at the Southeastern Pa. Class AA Regional Tournament, and, in the process, earned the program’s first-ever PIAA State Championship meet berth.

“I’ve worked hard to get here, and I deserve to be here just as much as the next guy; it’s as simple as that,’ Collins said. “The hard work I put in over the off-season is really starting to show, and I can’t be more proud of myself.’

Although he will be the only Golden Panther in the semifinals, Collins is one of four Pope John Paul II wrestlers still alive. Nick Boyce (106 pounds), Nick Yerger (126) and Dave Mattiola (138) will each wrestle in Saturday’s second round of consolation matches in an attempt to advance to the state meet.

“Of course there were a couple of matches I thought we could win, and we didn’t,’ said Pope John Paul II assistant coach Seldon Staples, who was filling in for head coach Jared Every, who was away on business but will return for Saturday’s matches. “But we’re advancing four, which is good. Overall, I am happy though. The wrestling here is good, and we’re in good shape.’

For Collins, a spot in next weekend’s state tournament is just the latest goal on a redemption tour that lasted through the first three years of his high school wrestling career. Injuries put an end to his postseason each year before they even had a chance to start, and he wasn’t about to let anything stand in the way in his final shot on Friday night.

“It’s unreal, and I am just trying to take everything in,’ Collins said. “Just being here and everything, it’s really a blessing. I am so blessed to be going to states.’

After needing just five minutes, 36 seconds to register a technical fall over Palmerton’s Jared Mooney in first-round action, Collins wrestled a smart match in the quarterfinals, having his way with Schuylkill Valley’s Colby Geisinger en route to an 18-7 major decision.

Collins jumped out to a 4-2 lead on Geisinger in the first period thanks to a pair of takedowns before letting him up each time. Then, starting from the bottom position to begin the second period, Collins was easily up and out, and seconds later, nearly scored the fall when he caught Geisinger, took him to his back for the takedown and picked up three more points on the near fall for a 10-2 lead.

After letting Geisinger up, taking him down and letting him back up again to end the second period, Collins again let Geisinger up to start the third, only to repeat the process over the match’s final two minutes to secure the easy victory before running over to assistant coach Brandon Skupski and putting him in a celebratory bear hug in a momentary display of happiness.

“I knew I could beat (Geisinger) on my feet,’ Collins said. “It was just a matter of whether I could get him in a position to take him down, and I did that. I wrestled smart, and I can’t beat that.’

Staples agreed with his senior standout’s assessment of his match, and said he had a good feeling Collins would be right where he is going into the semifinal round.

“You always want to stay on the winner’s side. If you win, you win and you go to states,’ Staples said. “(Collins) had two winnable matches, and he did what he had to do. He’s healthy, and he’s happy and that’s all you need. His body is good and he’s content, and when he wrestles like he wrestled (Friday night) he’s pretty good.

“I think there are four tough kids in his bracket, and he’s one of them, so now it gets tough as he starts to wrestle tougher guys. Everybody is good here; now you’re getting to the really good.’

Boyce was the only other Pope John Paul II wrestler to pick up a first-round victory, scoring a 12-5 decision over Archbishop Carroll’s Guillermo Murgueytio before getting decked by Palisades freshman Zack Wasser just 30 seconds into their quarterfinal bout. He will meet Northern Lebanon’s Dustin Breidegan, the fourth-place finisher out of District 3, in today’s second-round consolations.

Yerger dropped into the consolation round after a 5-0 decision to Littlestown’s Cory Becker in first-round action, but kept his second trip to regionals alive with a 6-4 decision over Delone Catholic’s Antonio Ugarte. He meets Lower Moreland’s Bruno Mariani, District 1’s third-place finisher, in today’s consolation second round.

Tamaqua’s Dylan Rynkiewicz dropped Mattiola into the consolation round with a first-round pin, but Mattiola still advances after securing a bye in his consolation match. He will face Brandywine Heights junior Hunter Gimbor Saturday morning.

NOTES — District 3’s Boiling Springs leads the team standing with 63.5 points, a tournament-high eight wrestlers in the semifinals and three more in consolations, while Bermudian Springs is second with 46 points and six wrestlers in the semifinals. Tri Valley (39 points), Northern Lebanon (30) and Bishop McDevitt (27.5) round out the top five. … Poper John Paul is in 22nd place with 10 points. … Action resumes Saturday with second-round consolations at 9:30 a.m. … Semifinals are expected to start around 11:30 a.m. with the medal round matches beginning at 5 p.m.

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