Prosen’s ‘game rises when it matters most’

Just call him the “Derek Jeter of high school wrestling.” He shows up for the big moments.

It’s not a complete shocker that Sheffield High School junior Ricky Prosen qualified for this weekend’s Northwest Class AA Tournament at Sharon High School. Because Prosen actually qualified last year at 113 pounds as a sophomore.

The surprise is how he did it.

Entering the District 9 Class AA Championships Friday and Saturday at Clarion University, Prosen wasn’t even seeded in the top eight of 14 wrestlers in the 120-pound weight bracket.

Only the top four advance to regionals.

To make it even more difficult, Ricky lost his first match on Friday, by major decision, 15-3, to Redbank Valley’s Tanner Altobelli.

“He got pretty smoked right there,” said Ricky’s father, Rick.

It’s a double-elimination tournament, folks. And wrestlebacks are not just one match or two or three; lose one more match and your season is over.

It would take four straight wins just to get into the third-fourth-place match, which would qualify him for regionals.

“Somewhere he just pulled it out of somewhere,” said his mother, Angie, always a nervous wreck watching her son wrestle. “He went ‘Beast Mode’ like I’ve never seen him before, and he’s been wrestling since he was like three.”

Sheffield had already had a successful wrestling campaign, with second-year head coach Jack Rice putting the small school back on the map with a school record for wins in a season with 14.

As it turns out, Prosen would have to battle back through what Rice called a “stacked weight class” at 120 pounds to become Sheffield’s only regional qualifier.

“Ricky wasn’t even seeded and he shocked me by making it out,” said Rice this weekend. “It’s amazing how much his game rises when it matters most.”

It’s not that Ricky didn’t enjoy the regular season.

“I didn’t do as good as I personally wanted to, but altogether the team did awesome,” he said. “I would give it a 8 (out of 10 rating). “

But the odds were piling up against him at districts.

“I was thinking about wrestling 113 at districts, but my weight certification didn’t allow me to go that low,” he said this week, reflecting back.

His mother admitted he missed the certification by one pound.

Prosen didn’t let it get him down, and would go after the same wrestlers who beat him in the regular season, including Altobelli, 7-2, and Port Allegany’s Dalton Caden, 10-2.

The string of victories started with a 7-1 decision of Clarion’s Adrian Weber. From there, Prosen held off Caden, 1-0, after a third-period escape, and earned a 6-1 triumph over Kane’s Jon Gelsick. He secured his second straight trip to regions with a 6-5 win over Altobelli – the same wrestler he lost to on Friday.

“I think the Caden match really turned it around,” said his father, Rick, who admitted even he was a little amazed at what Ricky overcame.

“It amazed me,” said Rice. “He just didn’t make any mistakes. He always seems to start off slow and come along at the end.”

He did something similar last season – as a sophomore – when he beat Port Allegany’s Lucas Manning after losing to him in the regular season.

“I think my exact words to him (after he lost) were, ‘don’t hold anything back, wrestle smart, and the best defense is a good offense.’ Some of his earlier losses in the season, and even in his first match (at districts), was due to being a counter-wrestler and that just didn’t work with the explosiveness (of Altobelli).”

Like Derek Jeter’s intangibles, it might be impossible to know where Prosen – or any wrestler – pulls his ability to come back from. With Ricky, maybe it has something to do with the fact he came up just one win short of advancing to regionals as a freshman.

Whatever it is, Rice has seen “a lot of potential” in Prosen in the two years he’s coached at Sheffield.

Prosen’s stock has risen much like the stock of the program, with a school record for wins in the 2012-13 season, and several wrestlers finishing just one match short of a shot at regionals.

“I actually think he could contend (for a trip to states),” said Rice. “The later he goes into the tournament, the more dangerous he is. That’s the kind of kid he is.”

“Showing up when it counts sounds pretty good,” said Prosen. “I got beat during the season by most of the people that I beat (at districts). And hope to do that again this weekend.”