PITTSBURGH — Josh Heil tasted fear Thursday.
As he’s done so many times before, the Brunswick graduate shrugged it off and responded with some fireworks to open his NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships against South Dakota State’s Henry Pohlmeyer.
Heil was leading midway through, relaxed for a split second and was put on his back. The two-time NCAA qualifier caught his breath, escaped and then put the former Fargo All-American on his back to end things.
“I haven’t been put on my back in a while, so coming back after that is big,” Heil said. “It was my first win at nationals. Let’s keep the ball rolling.”
How he did it brought the sellout crowd at PPG Paints Arena into a deafening roar.
Seemingly pinned by Pholmeyer, Heil arched off his back and escaped, but never lost contact, putting the Jackrabbit junior on his back and pinning him with one second left in the second period.
“I was looking at a tweet the other day that said you’re going to face adversity in this tournament in your first match,” Heil said. “A kid that I thought was just going to roll over, he put it to me. I was dead to rights and two seconds later I put him dead to rights.”
Dead to rights but not finished, as Heil earned the win and erased a 0-2 showing two years ago when he was a freshman.
Now a redshirt sophomore, Heil is ready to climb the steps as high as he can go, but must do so on the back side of the bracket after falling 4-1 to North Carolina’s Austin O’Connor.
Facing the U.S. Open freestyle champion in the round of 16, Heil gave up a takedown midway through the first period and got ridden out to eventually give O’Connor a riding point.
After a scoreless second period, Heil was able to close the gap a bit on a penalty point for an illegal hold, but O’Connor, who scored a point on an escape earlier in the period, was able to fend off deep attacks to keep Heil at bay.
Up next for the No. 11 seed is a match this morning against American’s Michael Sprague. Should Heil win three matches today, he’ll become an All-American.
Nick Kiussis (165) didn’t fare well in his first trip to the tournament. The four-time state finalist and 2017 state champion at Brunswick faded in his first match.
Down 4-1, he gave up an escape and two takedowns before losing 10-2 to Wisconsin’s Evan Wick.
Kiussis came back with some dramatics, scoring an overtime win over Gardner-Webb’s Tyler Marinelli. He’ll face Rider’s Jesse Dellavecchia this morning.
“It’s real big confidence wise,” Kiussis said. “I need to keep going and moving on in the tournament. I have to bring it from the start tomorrow. Right when that first whistle blows I have to be ready. I really have to keep my focus.”
More area power
Norwayne standout and two-time All-American Kollin Moore (197) rolled to the quarterfinals. Moore, who wrested in the Wadsworth youth program, opened with a 12-3 major decision over Buffalo’s Brett Perry and then scored a 14-4 major decision over Oklahoma’s Jake Woodley. He will face Virginia’s Jay Aiello in the round of eight.