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December 28, 2012

Top 10 sports stories of 2012 | No. 4 Rizzo, Roberts earn rare PIAA three-peat

JOHNSTOWN — The region’s scholastic wrestling scene possessed a pretty solid hand during the PIAA Class AA championships in March:

A pair of 3s.

Richland’s John Rizzo and North Star’s Nick Roberts each won their third state championship during the PIAA’s premier event at the Giant Center in Hershey.

Prior to 2012, no wrestler in The Tribune-Democrat’s coverage area had ever pulled off a three-peat of state championships.

Roberts defeated Bethlehem Catholic’s Zeke Mosley, 3-2, in the 120-pound championship to become the first area wrestler to win three state titles.

“It’s unprecedented at North Star,” Cougars coach Pat Berzonski said after Roberts’ win. “Not too many people in the history of Pennsylvania wrestling have won three titles.”

Rizzo matched that milestone a few bouts later. The 220-pounder scored a 12-3 major decision over Lackawanna Trail’s Eric Laytos, who had won a state title in 2010, to claim his third gold medal.

“It feels unbelievable,” Rizzo told The Tribune-Democrat after the historic win. “To go out there and score points, that’s what I wanted to do.”

Rizzo won his two previous state championships while wrestling at 285 pounds in 2011 and 2010. He dropped a weight class during his senior season.

“It’s just so special,” Richland coach Tom Smith said after the title bout. “It’s a special feeling. He works so hard year in and year out. He’s the guy that you’re rooting for to do something like this, to do something great like this. He’s kind of Richland’s Rocky Balboa, because they see him out there working and doing all of the things he needs to do to have success in his life.”

Roberts finished his career with a 146-10 record. The Ohio State scholarship wrestler won his first two state championships at 103 pounds in 2009 and at 112 pounds in 2011.

His semifinal loss in 2010 prevented him from having a shot at joining a rare group of four-time Pennsylvania champions.

“I think about that all the time,” Roberts said after his third championship. “Every single practice I think about it. It’s horrible, but I’ve got to be proud of what I already have. I’m thankful and very happy.”

In May, both Roberts and Rizzo were named to the 27th ASICS All-America Wrestling Team. Roberts made the third team and Rizzo was an honorable mention on the prestigious squad.

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