HERSHEY – Even the brightest of stars can be blinded by the brilliance of Hershey’s Giant Center and the PIAA Wrestling Championships.
When Jeffrey Inman entered the overwhelming venue for the first time, he was naturally taken aback. But it didn’t take long for the Annville-Cleona sophomore to become accustomed to his surroundings, and once he did, his focus, wrestling instincts and unwavering personality shone through.
By the time he walked off the mat, Inman carried himself more like an expert than a novice.
On Thursday morning, in the opening round of the Class AA 132-pound bracket, Inman notched a 4-2 overtime decision over Williamson junior Trevor McWhorter in his first career state wrestling bout. After regulation had ended in a two-all draw, Inman completed a takedown maneuver with two seconds remaining in the one-minute, sudden-victory extra session.
The triumph propelled Inman, the only Lebanon County competitor to qualify for the prestigious grapplin’ event, into Friday morning’s quarterfinal round opposite Kittanning beast, undefeated Jason Nolf, who defeated Lee Todora of Bethleham Catholic 6-2. Inman, now 41-4, is one win away from his stated pre-tournament goal of a PIAA medal.
“I was getting nervous before the match,” said Inman. “It took a lot of energy out of me. So I was a little slow at the start. I couldn’t get much going.
“When I got that (first) takedown, I knew the match was in my favor,” added Inman. “I became more relaxed.”
“I thought he looked a little nervous at the beginning,” said Annville-Cleona head coach Mike Miller of Inman. “Maybe for the first minute or so and then he settled down and wrestled his match.
“He was focused,” Miller added. “In the first minute he was a little tentative. After he (Inman) withstood takedown (attempt), I don’t know if he (McWhorter) got close to another.”
After McWhorter had forced overtime with an escape early in the third period, the two competitors jostled for position and opportunities on their fee through most of the extra period. And while Inman was certainly aggressive, it was his ability to defend and counter that produced the decisive takedown.
“He false started right off the bat,” said Inman of McWhorter. “We were both shooting and countering. Towards the end, he had a bad shot, and I stuffed it and spun behind him. And that was it.”
“He (McWhorter) took shots and Jeff took shots,” said Miller. “That’s pretty typical at this level. It’s a lot of feeling out. You don’t know guys you scouted. And you don’t want to make mistakes. With Jeff, he’s more defensive, and that’s his style.
With his nerves behind him, Inman employed a Fireman’s Set-up to log a takedown with 35 seconds of the opening period remaining to grab a 2-0 lead. But before the period was through, McWhorter had escaped Inman’s control to slice his deficit in half.
“It’s huge,” said Inman of the entire Chocolatetown/state wrestling experience. “It’s awesome. I’ve wanted to wrestle here since I was a young kid. But wrestling over at the (Hersheypark) Arena (during the District Three Championships) didn’t hurt.”
“Honestly, Jeff’s been pretty steady throughout the season,” said Miller. “What you see is what you get, every time out. He’s been consistent and improved his conditioning. And there’s always things you can tweak. He’s a very smart customer.”
With Inman protecting his 2-1 edge, a middle period in which both wrestlers started on their feet ended without a score. In the third stanza, Inman yielded an escape 24 seconds in, after beginning it on top.
“I want to place,” said Inman. “That’s the biggest goal I have. And I have to win one more to get there.”
“That’s your goal,” said Miller of the fact that his program has sent wrestlers to states in five of the last six seasons. “That’s been Jeff’s goal. He made the connection with the guys who went before him. But when you’re here, you might as win some matches.
“It does mean something that Jeff is the only wrestler from the county here,” Miller continued. “We’re from Lebanon County and we root for each other, as long we’re not in the same weight class. I’d like to see some of those other kids here. There is pride involved. You foster those competitive friendships.”
Inman will certainly have his work cut out for him against Nolf on Friday morning. Nolf boasts a career mark of 129-1, was a state champion as a freshman, finished third at the PIAA Championships last year and came in as the consensus favorite at 132.
“Next I’ve got Nolf, who’s a fantastic wrestler,” said Inman. “I’m just going to try everything and see what happens.”