---- — By Harold Raker
The Daily Item
HERSHEY -- Despite the targets on their backs, the Valley's two returning state champions opened the Class AA state tournament Thursday with wins and moved into this morning's quarterfinals.
Three more wins and they will be back atop the medals podium late Saturday afternoon.
Senior Ryan Solomon of Milton is back to defend the title at 195 pounds and, in getting a major decision (10-0) win in the preliminary round at the Giant Center, he became his school's all-time win leader with 139. He passed four-time state champion Bobby Crawford.
Meanwhile, like his friend, Mifflinburg junior Nazar Mironenko turned in a workmanlike effort with 5-1 decision.
Solomon, now 37-0, who had pinned his way through the postseason, saw that string end versus Justin Blobe of Saucon Valley.
That was fine with Solomon.
"I would have liked to have gotten the pin, but I don't want to do anything stupid," he said. "A win's a win down here, it doesn't matter."
Solomon took Blobe down and turned him for two back points and a 5-0 first-period lead. He escaped and added two more takedowns, but found his opponent tough to budget on the bottom.
"He was strong, he was real strong. He didn't want to get pinned and I needed to keep scoring points," said.
In the scheme of things, he also knew the record was secondary to winning another title.
"Yeah to be tied with him is amazing, but I had to take care of business first. I had to get it done," the University of Pittsburgh recruit and three-time state medalist said.
Mironenko was also happy to get the win.
"I win that first match and I get a whole day off to think about what I can do better for the next match," said Mironenko (35-3).
"You have to do that because of the top quality kids that you're going to hit in the quarters and the semis," he added.
Mironenko, who got takedowns in the first and third periods, giving up just an escape, also took a look back, to last week's frustrations, where he let referees' calls, or non-calls, work on him.
"I needed to not let the refs get in my head. I let them get in my head a little bit last week, but I need to realize that I need to control the controllables instead of letting the non-controllables control me," he said.
Mironenko conceded that because of his state title last season, opponents are wrestling him different this year. "I definitely can tell a lot of people give their best, and go after you."
Mironenko said that is the way it should be.
And now he and his wrestling buddy are each three wins from repeating as champions.
Next up are the quarterfinals starting at 9 this morning, with the semis at 6:30 p.m.