CRESSON – Portage coach Mike Fox didn’t need to see the balloons or the cardboard cutouts of “100” at Mount Aloysius College to know how far Cole Sossong has come in his wrestling career.
Yes, the 170-pounder hit a milestone on Friday – his major decision of Central Cambria’s Ethan Kubat was his 100th career victory – but that isn’t how Fox measures his senior’s growth.
“In Cole’s case, if he wouldn’t have won a match the rest of the year – in seventh grade, he was this quiet little shy kid that came in the wrestling room,” Fox said. “Now he’s a leader – he’s a phenomenal leader on the football team, phenomenal leader in our wrestling room.
“That’s probably the biggest accomplishment for me – the young man he’s becoming. This is just icing on the cake.”
Sossong is one of seven local wrestlers to advance to Saturday’s semifinal round of the Panther Holiday Classic. Penn Cambria, the host school, leads the local contingent with three semifinalists in Chase Proudfit (138 pounds), Derek Brown (170) and J.C. Smychynsky (182).
Smychynsky is the biggest surprise semifinalist, as he came from the 10th seed.
The bracket took a significant hit when second-seeded Jarrett Feeney of Dallastown lost by injury default. Smychynsky took advantage, pinning No. 7 Abraham Allebach to reach the semifinals.
“I think we wrestled well,” Penn Cambria coach Todd Niebauer said. “We can only control what’s put in front of us.
“Smychynsky really listened to us and did exactly what we knew he needed to do against Allebach.”
Bedford’s Kaden Cassidy (132), Berlin Brothersvalley’s Tristan Pugh (145) and Somerset’s Tyler Coddington (132) are the other area wrestlers who will be in Saturday’s semifinal round, which begins at 11:45 a.m. The tournament resumes at 8:45 a.m. with fourth-round consolations. The finals are set for 6:15 p.m.
Sossong and Brown have the potential to meet in the 170-pound finals, as they’re in opposite sides of the bracket. Neither has an easy draw, however, as Brown will face fourth-seeded Jon Hoover of North Allegheny, while Sossong faces No. 2 Anthony Hinson of Spring Grove.
“I would love to see an all-area final there,” Niebauer said.
“I thought Derek wrestled well at times. He definitely still had some early-season rust that we need to work on.”
Sossong said he’d welcome a finals match with Brown.
“It would be nice,” the Portage senior said. “I saw he was at 1, and I’d love to get an opportunity to wrestle him. He’s a great competitor, great guy. I’d love to get a match with him. We rolled around a little bit last year before states. We’re friends. We talked before the match. He’s a good dude.”
Sossong became the first Mustangs wrestler to reach 100 wins since David Kephart did it in 2011. Kephart, who coached Sossong years ago, died in May.
“When I was younger, watching him at states, regionals and districts – he was definitely one of my role models,” Sossong said. “It was real tough, honestly. He was just a great person all around.”
Shawn Perich, a 2010 Portage graduate, won 138 matches in his career.
For Sossong, the milestone is representative of everything he has done to reach this point.
“It’s really special,” he said. “A lot of hard work – training, running, lifting, time in the wrestling room – it feels good for it to all pay off.”
He’s also hoping that other wrestlers see what can be accomplished in a Portage uniform.
“I like to think that the younger kids, I set an example for them,” Sossong said. “They see me get it and they strive to get it. That’s what I’m hoping to do.”
Fox has seen the Portage program grow in his five seasons as coach, and he’s hoping that Sossong can take the next step.
“We want to keep pushing the bar,” Fox said. “When I started here, our goal was to get kids to Day 2 of this tournament.
“We started getting kids on the podium. Now he’s the 3 seed, he needs to win a match to get to the finals. Hopefully we can get there and get a championship for him tomorrow.”