Bishop McDevitt’s standout wrestler Riley Robell shouted a powerful “Woo!” as the last second ticked off the clock in his gold-medal match at 285 lbs. in the PIAA State Wrestling Finals on March 12. It was a shout that echoed through the Giant Center in Hershey – one part the joy of victory, one part redemption from a runner-up finish last year that motivated his gold-medal campaign this time around.
It’s not uncommon for wrestlers to be driven by past performances. Matches where they missed an opportune shot or tournaments where they performed under par can spur improved outcomes. In Robell’s case, last year’s finals loss lit a fire.
“I’m never going to be happy with how last year went. I’m always going to have a little disappointment with that, but this definitely redeems it,” he said, with the gold around his neck as he spoke with reporters after his 5-0 finals win over Austin Johnson of Muncy.
“There wasn’t much smiling from me this week because I’m not content. I’m still not content with one title; I want to come back and get a second for next year,” he said.
His junior-year run was a statement in the high school wrestling world. Entering postseason competition with just one loss on the year at the stout Powerade Tournament, Robell pinned his way through district, regional and state tournaments. It wasn’t until the semifinal round of states that a competitor lasted beyond the first of three two-minute periods before succumbing to Robell’s speed, agility and strength.
Robell entered the finals as the number-one ranked heavyweight in Pennsylvania. After a bit of jousting for position in the gold-medal match, Robell earned a two-point takedown near the edge of the mat, and earned a quick escape from the bottom position for a 3-0 lead into the third. Another takedown in the third secured the gold medal and 100th career win for Robell, who was never scored on this postseason.
An elated Robell exchanged an embrace with head coach Mike Nauman after the win, then leapt over the boards and climbed the stairs where an equally-ecstatic group of family members, including his dad, celebrated.
“My dad – my whole life, he’s been there,” an emotional Robell told The Catholic Witness. “He was the first coach I ever had. He’s always there for me and always in my corner. That whole run was for him, and from him. He taught me everything I did in that match.”
With a gold medal finally in hand, Robell isn’t taking too much time to revel in the win. He’s already looking forward to next year, and this time he’ll be motivated not by a loss, but by former Crusader wrestler, Cole Ney, who won back-to-back state titles at 220 lbs., in 2016 and 2017.
“I’m going to come back next year and I’m going to tie Cole,” Robell said. “We’ve got a hall-of-fame wall in our hallway at school, and right in the middle of it is Cole Ney with his two titles. I want to get my second next year and put my newspaper article and plaque right next to his.”
Bishop McDevitt celebrated two Crusaders in the finals this year, as junior Andrew Christie took his well-earned spot in the finals at 152 lbs. Stepping out into the spotlight of a darkened Giant Center floor as the finalists were announced, Christie reveled in the accomplishment, smiling where few wrestlers do.
“My mindset was, ‘Why not smile?’” he said. “Win or lose, I’m top two in the state. This is an amazing opportunity and I’ve worked very hard for it, so why wouldn’t I want to go out there smiling?”
Although he fell by pin to number-one seed Jackson Arrington of Forest Hills, he took a positive perspective as he stepped off the medal stand with a silver.
“Going into this tournament, I was feeling ready and confident, and I know I gave 100 percent, so I can’t be upset. I gave it my all,” he said. “It’s just a crude reminder of how much work I still have to do.”
Christie, ending at 41-5 on the year, has established he can improve by leaps and bounds, having gone from a state qualifier in 2021 to a state finalist this year.
“I believe from last year, I’ve made a lot of improvements. Last year during regionals, the first match I sprained my ankle and it messed me up for a lot of the tournament. Even so, from last year to now, I feel like I’ve made improvements. A lot of it is just keep chugging forward,” he said.
For Bishop McDevitt’s wrestlers, looking forward means a glimpse of not only individual success, but team achievements, too. The Crusaders were the District 2A team champions this season.
“It’s great to wrestle for McDevitt,” Christie said. “I really love our team. It’s always a fun environment in the room. It’s not one of those rooms where it’s a grind every day to get through practice. I enjoy going to practice, and every day I look forward after school to hanging out with Riley, Bryce [Enders], Kade [Werner], Jake [Gilfoil], and Anthony [Glessner], all the guys. Being with my friends and teammates, I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my time.”
(Photos by Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness