HERSHEY, Pa. — Each of Vaughn Spencer’s first two high school seasons got derailed by injuries, preventing him from chasing his dream of becoming Pine-Richland’s first PIAA wrestling champion.

You know what they say — good things come to those who wait.

Spencer’s lifelong dream became a reality on Saturday night, as the Rams junior rallied from an early deficit to defeat Trinity senior Bodie Morgan in an all-WPIAL state final at 172 pounds. Morgan (30-5) scored an early takedown and took a 2-1 lead into the second period, but Spencer got stronger as the match went on, securing a pair of takedowns and finishing the third period in top control on his way to a 6-3 victory.

“I knew if I stayed the course and kept applying pressure, he could take me down once, but I’m going to take him down two or three more times,” Spencer said. “That’s just how I work.”

As a freshman, Spencer (43-2) dealt with a lingering concussion from football that forced him to miss his entire debut season, then he suffered a devastating knee injury in the first round of last year’s PIAA tournament after posting a record of 28-0 at 189 pounds. Those setbacks only helped him grow stronger, though — and Spencer finally got to show the world what he can do at full strength in front of a packed Giant Center crowd on Saturday.

“I’ve been dreaming about this moment for so long,” Spencer said. “For it to finally come true — it’s awesome.”

Three other WPIAL wrestlers competed in the Class 3A finals, with Norwin freshman Landon Sidun and Thomas Jefferson junior Maddox Shaw claiming their first state titles while Franklin Regional senior Tyler Kapusta lost a heartbreaking 3-1 decision in overtime against defending state champion Keanu Dillard of Bethlehem Catholic at 121 pounds.

One of the most heralded wrestlers to come out of Western Pennsylvania in recent memory, Sidun (42-2) burst onto the scene by winning a Powerade title and finishing in third place at the Beast of the East tournament earlier this season. Spending most of the season ranked No. 1 in the country at 113 pounds by FloWrestling, Sidun’s momentum took a hit when he lost a dramatic 5-4 decision against Butler sophomore Santino Sloboda in last week’s WPIAL finals.

Fortunately for Sidun, the state tournament is the one that matters most — and the freshman phenom was ready for the bright lights when the moment arrived.

Facing Ridley’s Curtis Nelson in the 114-pound finals, Sidun gave up an early takedown but battled back to earn a 6-3 win for his first state title — setting himself up to potentially become the next four-time state champion. Only 14 wrestlers have won four state titles in the 87-year history of the PIAA tournament, and only seven hail from the WPIAL.

“[That loss] really refocused me for this match, knowing I had to come in here on my game in order to be able to win this,” Sidun said. “It did light a fire under me to get out here and show what I really could do.”

Shaw had the most daunting finals matchup of the WPIAL’s trio of Class 3A champions, facing former PIAA champion and Penn State recruit Dalton Perry of Central Mountain in the 139-pound finals. With the match knotted up at 1-1 at the end of regulation, the familiar foes went into sudden-victory overtime, where Shaw scored the championship-clinching takedown to secure a 3-1 win while avenging a PIAA semifinal defeat against Perry in 2022.

“That’s why you practice so much,” Shaw said about his match-winning takedown. “I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve hit that shot. Thousands. That’s why we do it. That’s why we practice every single day. It’s muscle memory at this point.”

After placing third in the state as a freshman and second as a sophomore, Shaw (43-3) took home first place at the Super 32 Challenge in October — widely considered the toughest all-star tournament in the country. By then, it was clear Shaw had taken his skills to a new level, but there was still no guarantee he would reach the top of the podium in the loaded 139-pound weight class.

Ranked No. 4 in the country at 144 pounds, it’s safe to say Shaw lived up to his billing on Saturday — and don’t expect him to stop here.

“I’m going to get back in the room right away,” Shaw said. “I love it. I love getting better now. It’s just an everyday thing. You’ve got to keep improving.”

Steve is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at srotstein@unionprogress.com.

Steve Rotstein

Steve is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at srotstein@unionprogress.com.