HERSHEY, Pa.: Canon-McMillan stud Gerrit Nijenhuis knew he was on a collision course with Susquehanna Twp. star Edmond Ruth.
This is the match high-school wrestling fans have been talking about since December. Ruth moving up to Class 3A, and two nationally-ranked competitors projected to meet for state gold.
It was only a matter of time. But, Nijenhuis got some advice throughout the season and leading up to the PIAA Championship weekend: Maintain focus, don’t get caught up in the hype, and block out the noise.
So, when the two finally met Saturday night, Nijenhuis was prepared. That showed throughout the six-minute 170-pound bout, as the Big Macs junior stopped Ruth by an 8-3 count to capture the state championship.
“I was talking to coach Strittmatter, and they were giving me advice on how to maintain my focus and to just go in there and dictate how I wrestle,” Nijenhuis said. “To just wrestle the body and not the name, and that’s what I did.
“The way it ended is so awesome. I was able to be resilient … state champ. I still don’t think it has hit me yet. I’m on cloud nine.”
Nijenhuis came out in a flurry, latching in a takedown on Ruth in the first 10 seconds of the opening period for a quick 2-0 lead.
Ruth didn’t know what hit him. Nijenhuis was also a physical on top and didn’t allow the Indians senior any breathing room to get an escape.
“I wanted to make sure I dictated the pace and the speed of the match,” Nijenhuis said. “Going out there and firing right away and instead of sitting back, just going right to my offense. I felt if I did that, I would win, and that’s what happened.”
Nijenhuis, ranked second in the state but higher in the national rankings, took bottom to start the second. Ruth tried to ride tight, but the Big Macs standout was able to escape with 1:32 left to make it 3-0.
The two wrestlers were hand-fighting for the bulk of the two-minute period. Then came a scramble, the type Ruth usually wins.
Not this time. Nijenhuis somehow got on top of Ruth and added two near-fall points just before the buzzer went off to increase his advantage to 7-0.
“It was just one of those moments you don’t even have time to think,” Nijenhuis said. “It’s just natural, wrestling, kicking, scrambling. I just ended up on top.”
Said Ruth, “He was more prepared than I was. I came in prepared, but he, obviously, had a better plan where mine wasn’t as strong. That’s just how it turned out.”
Ruth took bottom to start the third and shook free for an escape 10 seconds into the period. Sensing a little desperation, the No. 1-ranked wrestler in the state and Lehigh recruit went to work.
He was able to score a takedown with 1:06 left in the match. Knowing he needed more to challenge for the win, Ruth cut Nijenhuis and went for another takedown.
But, Nijenhuis was ready. He kept Ruth at bay over the final minute and got his hand raised to drape gold around his neck.
“I was trying to avoid his strikes,” Nijenhuis said. “The things that make him a very good wrestler really feeds into my offense. I think that made it a really good match-up.
“I knew he needed to get three or four takedowns, and I have a lot of confidence in my defense. He’s a great wrestler. I just felt like that’s the best I wrestled all year, and I think it showed.”
Ruth finished his career with a record of 139-16. He placed eighth as a freshman before going on a tear that landed him a pair of Class 2A titles in his sophomore and junior seasons.
“From the beginning, there was a learning stage,” Ruth said. “The middle was a building stage, and the end was at a level area.
“It’s been a great ride and even though I lost, I don’t feel like I lost. I can still hold my head high, smile, and I still feel like I was a champion.”