By Frank Dimon
For The Daily Item
MILTON -- Last summer, Ryan Solomon faced some of the toughest competition in the country at the USA Wrestling Junior Nationals tournament in Fargo, North Dakota, winning a Greco-Roman national championship at 195 pounds.
During his final high school season, the Milton senior won the prestigious Beast of the East tournament at the University of Delaware in late December, beating three nationally ranked opponents along the way, and a week later added a first place finish at the Bethlehem Holiday against another solid field.
Last weekend Solomon wrapped up his second PIAA Class AA gold medal with a dominating walk through the 195-pound bracket, blanking Garrett Vulcano of Chartiers-Houston, 7-0, to wrap up a perfect 40-0 season.
Now, Solomon is set for one final challenge at the high school level. On Sunday evening, Solomon will wrestle in the 39th Dapper Dan Classic at the University of Pittsburgh's Fitzgerald Fieldhouse. Known as the "Rose Bowl of Wrestling", the Dapper Dan annually matches Team Pennsylvania against a collection of best talent from across the country.
Former Line Mountain standout, Zain Retherford, will also participate in the event at 138 pounds. Retherford won a state title for the Eagles as a freshman, finished third the next year, and then transferred to Benton. He beat former teammate, Seth Lansberry, for his second state title last weekend.
A consensus No. 1 in the national rankings at 195, Solomon will face No. 2 Frank Mattiace of Blair Academy in the 220-pound bout, though both wrestlers will weigh in at 200 pounds with the five-pound allowance Classic organizers give to the competitors. Hampton's Jake Hart, who won his first state championship at 195 in Class AAA last weekend will face Broc Berge of Kasson-Mantorville, Minn., at 195.
"There was never any doubt that I would accept the invitation if it came to me," said Solomon, who will spend his college career wrestling at Fitzgerald Field House. He accepted a scholarship to wrestle at Pitt near the end of last football season.
Solomon had hoped to get a shot a Berge, a two-time Minnesota state champion who is head to Iowa. Berge cost Solomon a chance at a second national title at Fargo with a 1-0, 0-1, 0-1 freestyle victory. Solomon went on to a third place finish.
Instead, he'll get Mattiace, a two-time national prep champ who is headed to Penn. Solomon and Mattiace seemed headed for a finals meeting at the Beast of the East, but Saucon Valley's Ray O'Donnell, who beat Lewisburg's Brandon Smith in the Class AA 220-pound final at Hershey last weekend, upset Mattiace in the semis. Solomon beat O'Donnell in the final and again at Bethlehem, shooing O'Donnell up a weight class.
Solomon is familiar with Mattiace having worked out in the Blair wrestling room several times. Mattiace ended his career at Blair with a 160-16 record. Solomon surpassed Bobby Crawford's all-time win mark at Milton and finished with a 142-14 record.
"To be on this stage is going to be awesome," Solomon said. "The Dapper Dan is such a prestigious event and the fact that it's where I will be going to college is just great."
Also ranked No. 1 in the country, Retherford might be facing his toughest competition since he won a world championship last summer. He'll face Anthony Ashnault, a four-time New Jersey state champion who ended his career with an unblemished 170-0 record.
Forced to sit out his junior year after his transfer to Benton, Retherford posted a 130-3 record.
Selinsgrove's Spencer Myers, now at Maryland, was the last area wrestler to participate in the Dapper Dan. Myers beat Trevor Rupp of Idaho, 3-1, in 2010.
A team of Virgina stars will face the group of WPIAL standouts at 4 p.m. with the USA-Pennsylvania match to follow.