Pope John Paul II’s Collins hopes for long day after falling in first day at PIAA-AA Championships

HERSHEY — He’s already made considerable bit of history within Pope John Paul II’s wrestling program.

Michael Collins stands to enhance his legacy this weekend at the PIAA Championships. In his mind, getting here is not so much a final destination as it is a stepping stone to a bigger goal.

Collins earned a trip to Hershey by becoming Pope John Paul II’s first state-level qualifier. He did so with a third-place finish in the 182-pound weight class at the Southeast AA Regional — the highest regional finish by a Panther wrestler in its brief history.

“It was nice to get recognition for what I’ve done,’ he said during Thursday’s opening session at the Giant Center. “I got a lot of texts from kids at school.’

His debut on the state stage didn’t quite live up to the expectations of Collins or his coaches: A 4-3 loss to Jefferson Morgan’s Bill Bowlen in the first championship round. But the PJP contingent stayed around the Giant Center for the first consolation round, scoping out the definite and potential opponents Collins will be line to wrestle.

“We’re sizing up the competition. We’re not taking this lightly. We feel he had the opportunity to medal here,’ PJP head coach Jared Every said.

To do so, the Panther senior will have to make through the weight class’ wrestlebacks. It starts Friday with a second-round consolation against Cambridge Springs’ Hunter Cox — a 14-6 winner over Palmerton’s Jared Mooney in the first round of consolations.

A victory over Cox (35-13) will pit Collins (30-3) against the loser of the quarterfinal between E.L. Meyers’ T.J. Cistrunk and Fort LeBouef’s Garrette Reinwald. Two wins will put the PJP senior in good stead to secure the program’s first state-level medal.

“Whatever else happens to add to the experience will make it better,’ he said.

In his opening bout, Collins rode an early takedown to a 2-1 first-period lead against Bowlen (35-6). The Southwest Regional runner-up came back in the second period to force a 3-3 tie, Collins tying the score with an escape.

Bowlen responded with an escape of his own in the third. Collins tried to work a late takedown, but he ran out of time in the loss.

“It was a very tough first match,’ Every said. “Michael wrestled a solid kid, and some of his stuff wasn’t working. But we’re coming up with a game plan going forward, which could change depending on each opponent he’ll face.’

And however far his Hershey experience goes, Collins approaches it with a bit larger comfort zone.

“Absolutely,’ he said. “The first time here, it’s a little nerve-wracking. I had wrestled Class AAA before, and I didn’t know what to expect.’

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