North Xtra: North Hills' Avon proud of wrestling bronze medal

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HERSHEY -- It wasn't widely predicted that Jonathan Avon would be North Hills' top finisher at last weekend's PIAA Class AAA wrestling tournament.

Yet, Avon, a senior, accepted his bronze medal on the 160-pound platform in Hershey Saturday night, while his teammate and one of the top-ranked wrestlers in the country, Gage Curry, took sixth at 106 pounds.

Avon has come a long way from two weeks ago when he was seeded fifth at the WPIAL tournament.

"I think I just put my faith above everything else," Avon said. "Just believing in myself. Everyone around me kept telling me I deserve it and I just had to go out and earn it."

Avon came within two wins of reaching states last season, and yet he felt he wasn't as highly publicized this season as others in his weight class from the area. He said he would continually read articles about other WPIAL wrestlers in the 160-pound weight class, but not him.

"A lot of people in my weight got written up in the paper before and I just kind of sat there," Avon said. "It was a coincidence always -- I would lose to somebody and then they would get written up.

"... I read them all and I see everyone I'm wrestling saying [in their articles], 'I want to win a WPIAL title. I want to win a WPIAL title. It motivated me, absolutely."

Avon entered the Class AAA Section 3 tournament as the No. 1 seed with a 27-3 record, but he was beaten, 3-2, by 2013 PIAA place-winner Brendan Burnham of Pine-Richland.

Avon said the loss was the turning point in the season, and he told his coaches afterward that he was making it to states.

So Avon hit the wrestling room hard. He worked on his weaknesses, including the defense of cross-wrist tilts, which hurt him against Penn Hills' Te'Shan Campbell earlier this season.

"It helps he has a good practice partner," North Hills coach Jose Martinez said.

Avon practices with North Hills assistant coach Vertus Jones, a former PIAA champion at Greensburg Salem and two-time NCAA runner-up.

Jones and Martinez developed a strategy for Avon to succeed these past few weeks, and Avon heeded their advice.

"He's a workhorse," Jones said. "We tell him to do something and he does it."

Avon won his first two matches at the WPIAL tournament, taking down fourth seed Devin Austin of Penn-Trafford in the quarterfinals.

That set up another match with Campbell, who had handed Avon two of his four losses on the season up to that point. But Avon got the better of Campbell on March 1 to advance to the final, where he lost to Belle Vernon Area's Austin Bell.

Although Central Dauphin's Garrett Peppelman -- who finished his high school career Saturday as a two-time state champion and three-time finalist -- was on Avon's side of the bracket, Martinez liked his wrestler's draw otherwise.

"The first match was a key match," Martinez said. "We looked at the bracket and I'm not going to lie, we thought we had a good bracket to do well."

Avon won his first match against Manheim Central's Jared Siegrist, 9-6, and then defeated Abington Heights' Matthew Carr, 3-2, to advance to the semifinals, where he lost to Peppelman. But he bounced back to win his final two matches and take third.

While Avon got off to a great start at states, his teammate, Curry, did not.

For the second consecutive season, Curry, a sophomore, entered the state tournament with high expectations only to lose his first match of the tournament, this time to 2013 PIAA runner-up Connor Sheehan of Solanco.

Sheehan would defeat Curry again in the consolation semifinals, and Exeter Township's Brett Kulp gave him his third loss of the tournament in the fifth-place match.

It was a disappointing end to the season for Curry, who was undefeated and ranked No. 2 in the country at 106 pounds prior to losing last week's WPIAL final to Franklin Regional's Devin Brown.

"Gage has to open up, and he realizes that, but he's going to win with what he has," Martinez said. "He's an excellent wrestler, but with the top guys, you have to find something that they don't know about. It's a learning experience."

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