Rizzo PAL wrestler earns a spot on the podium at PIAA wrestling championship second time around.
By Melissa Komar
Angel Garcia showed up hungry in Hershey nearly three weeks ago.
After failing to place at the PIAA wrestling state championship last year, the Mariana Bracetti Academy Charter School junior walked away not completely satisfied.
This year, the outcome was different.
The longtime Beat the Streets Rizzo PAL wrestler placed sixth in the PIAA Class 3A 170-pound weight class.
“I pushed my pride to the side and kept looking forward, thinking, ‘If I lose this match, I’m going home,’ so, in between every match I stayed humble, but I kept being hungry to push forward. I sat with my parents and talked about how I had nothing to lose,” Garcia said.
Placing was no easy feat.
Garcia had to win his way back into the consolations after losing in the quarterfinals.
His game plan was simple: stay with his basic moves.
“My coaches always say offense wins matches and defense wins championships, so I just kept with that mindset,” Garcia said. “I went out there to get on the podium and push forward. I was ready to push the pace and wrestle my match. I gave 101 percent and pushed through every battle.”
Making it to the podium was an out-of-this-world experience.
“I felt like it was the end of the world,” Garcia said. “I was really happy that all the work I put in all year. All the suffering, all the crying, all the sweating I did every single night right here at PAL. I put out the max this year to get to that podium.”
The win was a win for the Garcia family; between his brother coaching him and his dad helping him maintain weight and his diet, it was an all-hands-on-deck effort.
Garcia, 17, also had an unexpected shot at redemption in his first match of the tournament: He faced Luke Nichter of Chambersburg.
“One of his earliest matches in the tournament was wrestling Luke Nichter. Angel had lost to him in the Escape the Rock tournament in January in the championship final after dominating the entire match,” said Ed Schneider, PAL Wrestling head coach. “Angel caught early in the tournament and early in the match, Nichter caught him in a cradle. Angel fought out of the cradle and dominated the rest of the match for the win.”
Nichter, along with the rest of the competition, was fierce.
“It was a whole different ball game when I was out there,” Garcia said. “I may have wrestled guys with the same intensity and mindset as me, but it was totally different. I had guys who were wrestling since they were 3 and who were really pushing the pace. It was constantly grinding and grinding on me.”
Fierce is an understatement for Schneider.
“The caliber of competition at states is the best in the country,” he said. “For lack of better words, in Angel’s bracket, everybody was good. Everyone goes to states with a 0–0 record, having to take one match at a time. In order to get on the podium, you have to wrestle relaxed and with a smile on your face scoring points. And, Angel did that.”
To prepare for the competition throughout the year, Garcia practiced seven days a week. From attending PAL and Mariana Bracetti practices Monday through Friday and practicing in his family’s custom workout room at home on the weekends, to spending an extra five to 10 minutes working on skills after each practice, his work ethic was relentless.
“Since January, working with Angel and his coach, Leo Garcia, his older brother, we were in anticipation of the state championship,” Schneider said. “Last year, he qualified and put the work in during the off-season and we had the expectation of getting on the podium.”
Garcia hopes to transfer his work ethic to his academics and, ultimately, college.
“I want to be the second member in my family to go to college,” he said. “My family and I have been through a lot and taking sixth at states and winning a state championship will put our name higher and it will open me up to a lot of colleges.”
With the road he is currently on, Schneider is confident Garcia will realize that goal.
“Angel is preparing for his SATs through the Beat the Streets academic program and he is training for the PAWF Greco-Roman Freestyle Championships in Virginia Beach in order to qualify for Fargo in July,” he said. “The ultimate goal is to win Fargo. With a place at Fargo, a state medal, and high SAT scores, Angel will turn himself into a prime candidate for college recruiters.”
While college is the end goal, Garcia is still hungry.
“My goal now is to get on the podium and win states next year,” he said. “I’ll do whatever it takes. I’m still hungry. I’m not quite full yet. I want to be a state champion.”