In a season full of milestones and accomplishments, Montrose wrestler Joe Hester found one more to check off his goal list.
At the end of three-day PIAA state wrestling tournament, Hester was on the medal stand after capturing eighth-place in the 132-pound Class 2A weight class.
“It feels incredible to be in the top eight of the state,” said Hester. “It was a long-time goal of mine and I’m fortunate to reach it.”
Hester culminated his run with a tough 1-0 loss in the seventh-place consolation finals to Kaeden Berger of Reynolds High School. Berger was able to manage an escape in the second period for the only points in the match. Hester nearly tied the match in the third period with an escape of his own but was unable to get out from Berger.
Hester began the tournament on Thursday morning with 4-0 loss to Northwestern’s John Wheeler. He rebounded in the afternoon with a 4-1 win over Red Bank Valley’s Ethan Wiant.
“Dropping my first round was discouraging,” admitted Hester. “I just listened to my coaches and trusted myself that I wasn’t out of it yet.”
Montrose Coach Matt Hawley felt that after the first-round nervousness passed, Hester got refocused. Hawley and Assistant Coach Wade Robinson reminded Hester there was plenty of opportunity left.
“I told him, the nerves of the big show are gone now. Now it’s time to do what you do best,” said Hawley. “Win matches and take what you worked hard for the past four years.”
The win over Wiant was the start of a strong three-match run for Hester. Friday, he opened with a 4-2 win over Quaker Valley’s Conner Redinger who had finished third in the state the previous year.
In his second match of the day he dominated Chase Chapman of Phillipsburg-Osceola 11-6 to guarantee he would finish with a state medal.
“I was just focusing on my attack and trying to stay after it the whole match,” said Hester about his three-bout run.
Hawley felt the win over Redinger was important for Hester’s mindset and allowed him to cut loose against Chapman. “That (win over Redinger) was the breakthrough he needed,” said Hawley. “It built confidence.
Before the match with Chapman, Hawley offered some advice to the senior wrestler. “Now it’s time to wrestle the match you’ve waited so long for,” Hawley said he told him. “And he did, he dominated that match.”
In the match to determine whether he would compete for the fifth or seventh place medal, Hester fell to Everett’s Garret Cornell 5-3. Cornell who was a four-time state qualifier and two-time state medal winner was able to get up early on Hester and hold him off.
Hester finishes his high school wrestling career 133-24 and is the first Montrose Area wrestler to medal at the PIAA championships since Jesse Bonnice in 2000.
“I want to be remembered as a wrestler who always tried to stay aggressive and have entertaining matches,” Hester said.
For his coach, Hester is more than that and is an inspiration to all the wrestlers that will follow him.
“I hope Joe’s achievements have opened the eyes of those currently in the program by showing that if you work hard enough great things will happen,” said Hawley. “He’s the best example of what every coach could ever dream of having on his team.”