- Associated Press - Thursday, March 5, 2015

HERSHEY, Pa. (AP) - A matchup of returning state champions is a rare event at the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Wrestling Championships. It’s even rarer if it happens in the early rounds of the state championships.

So when the brackets for the PIAA Class AAA Wrestling Championships were released last Sunday, fans statewide zeroed in on one bracket in particular: 120 pounds.

Last year’s 113-pound champion Spencer Lee, a sophomore from Franklin Regional, was in the same first round bracket as Bethlehem Catholic’s Jake Reigel, who won the Class AA 106-pound championship last year.

PIAA will separate returning champions onto opposite sides of the weight class, but only if both wrestlers have won their respective region tournaments.

Lee won the PIAA Southwest Region. But Reigel, whose team moved up to Class AAA this year after dominating Class AA the last three years, was beaten in the PIAA Northeast Region. That combination of results combined with the PIAA’s random draw - the PIAA determines the brackets in January well ahead of postseason tournaments - put that matchup in play … until a pulled muscle ruined the narrative.

Reigel was leading Pennridge freshman Micah Visuwan with less than 10 seconds remaining in his preliminary bout at Hershey’s Giant Center on Thursday when he pulled a muscle in his hip and was unable to continue. The result was an injury default, catapulting Visuwan into the first round match with Lee rather than Reigel.

“I was looking forward to wrestling him,” said Lee, who is unbeaten in his scholastic career at 94-0. “You always want to wrestle a good wrestler. But I can’t be disappointed. You have to wrestle who’s in front of you.”

Lee (45-0) had no problems with the overmatched Visuwan, executing a 17-1 technical fall in 1 minute and 48 seconds. He will resume his quest for a second state championship Friday against Exeter Township’s Brett Kulp (45-2) in quarterfinals.

He knows he will be the center of attention any time he steps onto the mat.

“I can’t worry about things like that,” Lee said. “You just out and do what you’re trained to do. It’s something you love, and when you love something, there’s no such thing as pressure.

“But I do get nervous before every match,” Lee said. “Every match.”

The loss by Reigel, who did come back to win a consolation match and remains alive for third place, was the most significant defeat of a returning medalist.

In Class AA, Schuylkill Valley’s Josh Giorgio, who finished second at 120 pounds last year, was beaten 3-1 in overtime by Reynolds’ Michael Bartolo. Between both classes, 13 wrestlers who earned medals last year were defeated in this year’s first round.

The PIAA unveiled a new format this year, expanding the brackets from 16-man brackets to 20-man brackets. The expansion the first in 41 years for the state tournament, brought 112 more wrestlers to Hershey than in past years.

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