The championship bout at 120 pounds, alone, was worth the price of admission for wrestling fans at the Southmoreland Holiday Classic on Friday.
The finals showdown featured a pair of returning state champion and nationally-ranked wrestlers in North Star senior standout Nick Roberts (No. 1 @ 120) and Kittanning sophomore sensation Jason Nolf (No. 14 @ 120).
Roberts won the 112-pound PIAA Class AA title last year while Nolf struck gold at 103.
Roberts entered Friday’s matchup No. 1 in Intermat’s national rankings while Nolf was 13th at 120 pounds. They were 1-2, respectively, in the Class AA state rankings.
While Roberts grabbed an early lead, it was Nolf who left the mat with his arm raised after a thrilling 11-6, triple-overtime victory.
“I’m about three times as happy right now, than when I won states,” Nolf said. “Roberts is a lot stronger and he has a much better (wrestling) resume.”
“It was definitely a treat to watch two of the nation’s top 120-pounders go at it,” North Star coach Pat Berzonski said. “Unfortunately, we came out on the short end of the stick.”
Meanwhile, somewhat overshadowed by that match, Meyersdale’s Stephen McKenzie carried the banner as Somerset County’s only champion. The senior defeated top-seeded Levi Catalfu of Corry 4-2 in the finals at 132 pounds.
“Stephen has had a rough season to start,” Meyersdale coach Chadd Sines said. “He’s kind of had his eyes opened here and there. I think it’s paid off. This is his senior year and he has to do something with it. This is a great start. This is a tough tournament.”
There was plenty of hype leading up to the Roberts-Nolf bout, and the action on the mat certainly lived up to its billing.
In the opening period, Roberts took 5-0 lead with a takedown and three near fall points. He had Nolf locked in a cradle, and appeared headed for an early pin. But Nolf was able to free himself with a reversal, then turned Roberts on his back. The first period ended with the score tied at 5-5.
“Nick was in position to own the match right there,” Berzonski said. “I think he got a little crazy with (the cradle). He may have got a little off balance. When you’re wrestling a kid like Nolf, who has a little unorthodox style, that played right into his hands. But that’s a testament to a young kid who has a lot of moxy to him.”
The two wrestlers traded escapes in the second and third periods to send the bout into overtime tied at 6-6.