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Four Local Wrestlers Take Gold in Hershey

Historically, North Central PA has been known for great wrestling, and this year was no different. Area wrestlers Cael Nasdeo, Williamsport, and Luke Simcox, Central Mountain, both had great regular seasons only to be capped by winning the ultimate prize, a class AAA title in Hershey.

Cael Nasdeo, a senior committed to wrestle at Penn State, won gold at 121 pounds, beating Mason Zeigler of Quakertown with a 4-0 decision. Nasdeo finished the state tournament by giving up only 2 points, both calculated escapes, in the entire tournament. Nasdeo came into the tournament with a 32-5 regular season record, most by pin, and first place in both districts and regionals. Nasdeo finished his senior season 36-5.

“He’s always been a worker and has put his time in,” said Brian Nasdeo, Cael’s coach and father. “The difference this year was he took off some time to get healthy.” Coach Nasdeo went on to say Cael expected to win his matches this year. “His focus has always been to get better. He spent a lot of time in State College working on takedowns and being on bottom. He was able to spend time with Olympic-level wrestlers. Cael also got bigger and stronger.”

When asked what he thought what was responsible for his success this year, Cael Nasdeo said, “Like my dad said, I took some time off over the summer and fall to get healthy.” When asked how he spent his training time and what he did to recover from all of his hard work, Cael responded, “I went to a lot of chiropractic appointments as well as some physical therapy. I also went to State College four days a week to train. “I worked with pretty much everyone. Worked on bottom and hand fighting on my feet.” Cael expressed his gratitude to everyone that helped him win but especially wanted to thank his coach and father, “I’d like to thank my dad for pushing me and getting me to this point.”

Another area wrestler to take gold in Hershey was Luke Simcox at 133 pounds. The junior, with a verbal commitment to the University of Pennsylvania, beat Maddox Shaw of Thomas Jefferson 1-0 to win the title.

“I’d have to say that Luke did all the little extra things necessary to win, like diet and mental prep,” said Jesse Simcox, Luke’s father. “Luke also had a tremendous amount of support behind the scenes. M2 practices were big. Biff Walizer, Dylan Capria, Doug Buckwalter, Steve Crouse, Mike Brown, David Taylor, Mark McKnight, and Brad Pataky all contributed to Luke’s success. When asked how he felt about his son winning the AAA title, Jesse said, “I must say I am in awe as a dad. He had the mindset of a state champion. He was zoned in. He wrestled up in weight sometimes, which well-prepared him for states. He would say to me, “I’m winning the state medal this year.” His attitude and his mind were focused, and he did everything right.”

Nicole Simcox was also immensely proud of her son. When asked if she was the one to help with cooking and meal prep when Luke needed to cut weight, Nicole responded, “The credit for meal prep goes to my husband, Jesse. He was the wrestler and was largely responsible for helping Luke with diet. He knew when Luke needed to eat lighter, add protein, or hydrate better. My job seemed to be more of keeping a positive environment. I was the cheerleader and worked to keep Luke in a positive headspace.”

“This year, I ate healthy, got lots of sleep, and made sure to turn in my school work on time, so I had time to train,” said Luke Simcox. When Luke’s reputation for being able to ride opponents was mentioned, he said that he practices with good partners and also worked a lot on the bottom. “Riding and bottom are my two best spots,” said Luke. “Though I always feel I can score more points when I’m on top.”

When asked why he chose U Penn, the junior responded, “The last year or two, I decided to major in business in college. I have a small business on the side and have traded some stocks. I liked what the coaches at Penn said, and it seemed like a good fit.” Luke went on to say that U Penn has one of the best business schools in the world. “I’d like to thank Coach Walizer and Coach Capria, Dalton Penny, Griffon Walizer, my teammates, and my family, and all of my other coaches. Simcox finished this season with a record of 42-4, where he won districts and regionals. Simcox placed 5th last year at states.

If the street departments in Montgomery and Muncy have not yet done so, it might be time to start planning for the additions of Harer Avenue and Johnson Drive in their respective communities; or perhaps renaming Route 405 connecting the two towns Wrestling Way.

For the second consecutive year, the names Harer and Johnson stood on the highest Chocolate Town podium as each received their gold medals for their championship performances in the PIAA State wrestling tournament held earlier this month. Montgomery junior Conner Harer won the 152-pound crown marking his second straight state title after winning at 145 pounds last year. Muncy sophomore Austin Johnson emerged as his family’s second state champion, winning the title at 215 pounds.

It was a bit of an ‘all-in-the-family’ affair as both Conner and Austin were joined by their brothers Brandt and Scott at the Hershey mat fest. Brandt Harer capped off his freshman season with a second-place finish at 121 pounds. Scott Johnson fell just short of repeating his 2022 state championship, earning a third-place medal at 133 pounds.

While all gold medals are most memorable, Harer’s 3-2 decision over Warrior Run’s Cameron Milheim was extremely satisfying. It marked the sixth time this season he has triumphed over his neighboring District IV opponent.

“What people don’t realize is when you wrestle someone six straight times, it’s hard,” Harer said following the match. “I found a way to win six straight times against a league wrestler, so I just want people to know that it’s not a fluke. I came here for gold, and I got it.

“Last year, I won my first one, and I found it to be awesome, but this year I knew a lot of people were coming after me. I had to wrestle an elite opponent six weekends in a row, but I found a way to stick to what I’m good at and find a way to win.”

The training regimen that is Harer’s year-long companion provided a smooth transition moving up a weight to 152 pounds this season. He earlier explained his dietary discipline to Webb Weekly.

“I have always trained hard and watched my diet. I keep my diet simple. I eat three or four times a day, but it is always healthy eating, making sure that I put the right food in my body so that it comes out the right way. My eating habits are very basic because my stomach isn’t used to junk food and stuff.”

With two consecutive state titles under his belt, both the pressure and opponents’ eagerness to knock him off will make Harer a marked man as he enters his senior season. However, with a combined bout record of 95-1 the past two years and 132 wins during his outstanding high school career, the hard-nosed Red Raider will be ready for the awaiting challenges.

Making his second trip to Hershey Muncy, sophomore Austin Johnson was determined to duplicate his brother’s gold medal success of a year ago. Bigger and possessing a much different wrestling style than his older brother, his mere physical presence is an imposing figure.

The 215-pounder captured his first PIAA state title after a second-place finish last year. Austin began his title search with three major decision victories before outscoring Central Valley’s Brenan Morgan 10-7 to claim gold and cap off a perfect 39-0 record. In his first two seasons of varsity wrestling, his overall record is 80-2.

“It was a tough match,” he admitted to the gathered media. “I was tired, and my emotions started getting to me a little bit. Our team faced a lot of adversity getting to states. I’m glad it’s over, and I got my gold medal. My family, friends, and coaches have helped me all the time. It feels good that I could win this for them.”

Austin becomes the eighth wrestler in school history to capture a state wrestling crown. He joins his brother, Scott, Bryon Dugan, Mick Hill, Larry Lauchle, Zach Strickland, Ryan Hembury, and Joe Klock in that select group.

The addition of more gold to the Indians trophy case is a product of hard work, explained Muncy athletic director Curt Chilson.

“It is not easy to become a state champion. It takes a great deal of dedication, discipline, and training to get on the podium in the PIAA state championships. Austin has worked extremely hard in the weight room to become the athlete you see competing on the wrestling mat and on the football field. We are extremely proud that he was able to accomplish his mission of bringing home a gold medal. Our town has a rich wrestling history, and Austin and his brother Scott have carried on that tradition over the last few years, which has been fun to watch.”

By Dave Bellomo & Scott N. Lowery