Lenny Pinto left Hershey last year with bronze around his neck.
His Mountaineer teammates Patrick Noonan and Josh Jasionowicz are still searching for their first state medals. So, too, is Pocono East’s Steven Storm.
The four wrestlers head to the Giant Center in Hershey for the PIAA Class 3A state wrestling tournament, which begins Thursday at 4 p.m. with the preliminary and first rounds.
Stroudsburg’s Pinto, wrestling at 170 pounds, and Noonan (132) are both heading to the state tournament for the third time in their careers. Head coach Sean Richmond believes both young men are prepared for what to expect this time around.
“It’s always been difficult to win a state championship your first time in that tournament in that arena,” Richmond said Tuesday. “But once you’ve been out there and you’ve experienced it, you understand the nerves and you understand the flow of the tournament. And it really is a benefit having that experience of having been out there before.”
Pinto, both a District 11 Class 3A and the Northeast Regional champion at 170 pounds, is primed for a run to the state title bout, Richmond believes.
“He wrestled in the semifinals (in 2019),” Richmond said. “He lost an overtime match in the semifinals. He won overtime matches out there. He’s beaten kids who have beaten him before. So he’s as experienced as you need to be to win a state title.”
Still, Richmond acknowledged that even though he has no doubt in Pinto’s ability, the weight class will be stacked for the junior who has already committed to the University of Nebraska.
“He certainly has a very difficult weight class,” Richmond said. “He has a very highly-regarded person (Dylan Reinert of Gettysburg) that he would have to defeat in the semifinals and in the finals, he’s very likely to have either the WPIAL champion who he beat in overtime in December or the defending state champion whose name is Trey Kibe from Mifflin County.”
Noonan, a senior who will head to the University of Virginia to continue his athletic and academic careers, has never stood on the podium at states. After finishing second at districts but earning a redemption title at regionals, Noonan is hoping that changes in his final trip to Hershey as a high-school competitor.
“I think the fact that he had a good regional tournament and set himself up as well as he possibly could have in the bracket to have success out at Hershey certainly is relief for him,” Richmond said. “I expect that he’s going to have a strong performance at the state tournament.”
If Noonan reaches the finals – which won’t be any easy task in itself – chances are he will have to face Gabe Willochell from Greater Latrobe, who was named Outstanding Wrestler at his weight during the Powerade Tournament, or Kenny Herman of Bethlehem Catholic, whom Noonan defeated last week at regionals.
At 106 pounds, senior Mountie Jasionowicz has improved immensely from his freshman year, when his record was just 4-20 and was regularly outmatched as he weighed 89 pounds.
“He was just getting mauled by kids who might not have more experience or may not be better than him, but he was just too small,” Richmond said. “And the fact that there was nothing he could do, it was hard for him to train properly. It was hard for him to drill properly.
“He was always trying to kind of go for broke, score big points or utilize big moves because he had overcompensate and that developed a lot of holes in his game.”
Since then, his lifting and training has improved his abilities tenfold, allowing him to focus on just becoming a better wrestler and athlete. That work has brought him to Hershey with a chance to contend for a state medal.
At Pocono Mountain East, 145-pound wrestler Steven Storm is ready to bring home PIAA hardware after third-place finishes at both district and regionals.
Josh Haines, the Cardinals’ coach, saw something was off during Storm’s district tournament – Storm’s leg proved bothersome and he wasn’t able to get into his offense nearly as well as usual. Still he persevered for a bronze medal.
The two spoke candidly after the tournament to amend the physical and mental barriers that seemingly arose. It worked, and Haines saw Storm back at the top of this game for regionals.
Now, the focus falls on getting the senior Cardinal his first state medal before moving onto Lehigh University.
“I know he’s always wanted to place at states,” Haines said. “I think if Steven wrestles 100% for six-plus minutes, I think he can medal at states. It’s not easy, but I have every bit of confidence and faith in this kid to place at states.”