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BY JEFF FALK

ALTOONA – For Griffin Gonzalez, putting in work is cathartic, he forgets by working hard. But remembering causes him to work even harder.

Just a sophomore, Gonzalez has many great things ahead of him, and he’ll be back. To do so, he’ll use what happened yesterday as both experience and motivation.

On Saturday morning at Altoona High School, during the COVID-19-necessitated PIAA Class AAA West Super Region wrestling tournament, Gonzalez ran into adversity for the first time this year. In his quest for a state tournament berth in the 132-pound weight class, the Lebanon tenth-grader came up short and lost both of his bouts, thus ending one of the most successful seasons in program history.

Gonzalez was decked at the 3:13 mark of his quarterfinal opener by Briar Priest of Hempfield Area. Then he was eliminated by an 8-0 loss to Bellefonte’s Jude Swisher in the first round of consolations.

The top four finishers in each weight class’ eight-competitor bracket advanced to next weekend’s PIAA Class AAA championships at Hershey’s Giant Center. Gonzalez was the only sophomore competing in the 132-pound weight class.

Gonzalez had earned his spot in the Class AAA West Super Regional by capturing the championship of his weight class at the Southcentral region tournament. Earlier this year, Gonzalez claimed a weight-class title at the Lancaster-Lebanon League tournament.

Before his two losses on Saturday, the talented Cedar had won 29 of his 30 bouts this winter.

“It just (stinks),” said Gonzalez. “It’s not at all how I expected it to go. I’m ready to go back to work right away. My expectations were for a lot better than I did. I was really expecting to move on.”

“I definitely saw him in the top four and advancing,” said Lebanon head coach Vauhgn Black. “We knew coming in that this regional was tough. We knew he was going to have to put forth his best work. He said it wasn’t his best work, and I agree.”

Gonzalez performed better in his consolation bout against Swisher than he did in his opener, but he again trailed most of the way. Following a score-less opening period, Swisher scored an escape, then parlayed a five-point move into a 6-0 second-period lead.

“It’s extremely hard wrestling from behind,” said Gonzalez. “The first takedown is huge. But you’ve just got to keep wrestling.

“This is probably the best I’ve felt at this weight,” continued Gonzalez. “I thought I was ready, but the first match I just didn’t go out and wrestle well. After the first one, you’ve just got to let everything go and put it behind you. That’s what I was trying to do. In the second one, I came out a little better, but it still wasn’t my best.”

“Coming into his first match, his opponent (Priest) was very offensive, and that can set you off your game a little,” said Black. “The attack was non-stop, and I think it was a little shocking to him (Gonzalez). He wasn’t there and wrestling his match. In the second one, he (Gonzalez) started a little slow, but you could see more of his attacking style.

“Physically, he’s not where he needs to be,” Black continued. “Being on the big stage like this, everyone is a state qualifier. It’s a battle every period. Trying to get through any district or state tournament is tough. Both of the guys he lost to had been here before.”

Gonzalez was taken down by Priest 45 seconds into their opener, and trailed 2-0 after the first period. He also surrendered an escape and another takedown, before Priest completed his pinning combination with 47 seconds left in the middle period.

“I don’t think it was so much a lack of experience,” said Gonzalez. “I’ve wrestled a lot of good guys in my career. But I’m definitely going to take this into next year.

“Coming into this year, I wanted to be on the (medal) podium at states,” added Gonzalez. “I hit every one of my goals, except being on the podium (at states). Everyone in the West, all the kids, are so much tougher in general. This tournament is tough, but I knew that.”

“He had an exceptional year,” said Black. “He works so hard, across the board. He’s in the top 16 in the state, at this point of the season. I think he realized, ‘Hey, I belong here.’ He knows what to expect next year.

“There’s pressure,” Black added. “He was coming off two championships and I think there were expectations from that. I think there’s a lot of pressure from different directions, but he handles it well.”

To purchase images in this article email jkfalk2005@yahoo.com.

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