By Frank Foreman
If there was a wrestling accolade to be won during the 2013-14 season, Sam Breese won it.
The biggest award of them all was no exception, as Breese successfully defended his state title by winning his second-straight PIAA Championship at heavyweight, wrapping up an incredible high school career on the mat.
Breese finished the 2013-14 season with a perfect 35-0 record, and along the way won his first-ever District 10 championship, as well as his second-straight region title. It was the perfect season for the Lakeview senior, who entered the year with one result in mind ... repeat as champion.
Anything other than a title defense would have been a failure for Breese, an enormous amount of pressure to carry around. That pressure would prove to be the backbone of his title run this season, as Breese’s success on the mat made him a no-brainer for Meadville Tribune Wrestler of the Year.
The journey begins
When you have the work ethic and motivation to be the best, it’s no surprise that Breese’s athletic prowess extends outside of the gymnasium an onto the football field. The senior helped the Sailors win a District 10 championship while anchoring the offensive and defensive lines.
While nearly everything the Lakeview football team did in 2013 was a positive, the only possible downside was that due to an extended postseason run, Breese wasn’t able to get on the wrestling mat for practice until one week before the team’s first dual meet of the year. Up first was eventual eighth-place state medalist Gene Ringer of Reynolds.
If it were anyone else, that may have been a big cause for concern. For Breese, it was motivation.
“My first match ended up being against (Ringer), and I major decisioned him,” Breese said. “I knew I wasn’t too far off of where I should be. It’s not like I wasn’t in shape, but the conditioning for football and wrestling is a lot different. I knew what I had to do, so I began working out on my own before wrestling began.”
Last season, Breese beat Ringer in a 3-2 decision. Somehow between wrestling seasons, Breese widened the gap between him and his opponents, as Ringer was just the beginning.
“He only had one week to practice before his first match, so conditioning was a factor,” Lakeview head coach Tom Tingley said. “When he beat Ringer, it kind of dispelled any concerns I had. He worked hard in the offseason, even during football. That challenge helped to motivate him to work harder.”
Time for a first
As unlikely as it may seem, despite winning state and regional championships last season, Breese entered the 2013-14 year still devoid of a district title.
That surprising streak came to a crashing halt on Feb. 22, when Breese beat Ringer yet again, this time in a 7-2 decision, to earn his first-ever District 10 championship.
Breese, who said he never performs well at districts, rolled over the competition en route to the title. His final two matches of the tournament both went the distance, but the issue was never in doubt either time. Those two bouts accounted for just the third and fourth time Breese has to wrestle a full match up to that point in the season.
With a D-10 title under his belt, Breese traveled to Sharon and pounded the competition to win his second regional championship.
The stage was set for a return trip to Hershey, the place Breese vowed to return to after his state title the year before.
Though he may have snuck up on his opponents in 2012-13, that wouldn’t be the case this year. Tingley told Breese before this season started that there was a target placed squarely on his chest, a target that would remain there until the season ended.
“It was much harder this time. I wasn’t a secret to anyone anymore,” Breese said. “Nobody knew who I was last year, so I could surprise them. It wasn’t a surprise to me at the time, but for my opponents, they didn’t know what to expect during the matches.”
This year, opponents had plenty of tape and plenty of ideas on how to beat Breese once the state tournament began, making it clear from that start that the senior would get every opponent’s absolute best on the mat.
“Everyone would try to figure out his weakness and ways to beat him,” Tingley said. “I told Sam before the season that it’s hard to win the title, and it’s harder to defend it. He worked hard, and he was definitely a better wrestler going into the (state) tournament this year.”
In the opening bout of the state tournament, Breese won a 9-5 decision over Everett’s Devin Reed.
The bout ended the same way all the one’s before did ... with a Breese victory. But to the casual observer, the dominant Lakeview senior didn’t dominate his opponent in the opener, raising eyebrows to some, but certainly not Breese or Tingley.
Breese answered any questions from doubters in the quarterfinals with a 10 second pin of Boiling Springs’ Noah Davis, setting up a showdown in the semifinals.
With Breese ranked No. 1 all season long at heavyweight, on his tail was Burrell’s Allan Beattie, the No. 2-ranked wrestler. What seemed like a natural championship bout came a round early with the way the bracket was structured.
It was highly anticipated and highly physical, and in the end Breese proved his dominance with an 8-3 win.
“In the semifinals, I expected that match to be the finals. Either way, I knew I had to beat him regardless of when,” Breese said.
For Tingley, the semifinal bout against Beattie would be the big test. Naturally, Breese passed with flying colors.
“That match was the one I was the most nervous about going into,” Tingley said. “(Beattie) was ranked second and had wrestled well against common opponents. Sam handled the pressure well and took care of business.”
Before the finals began, the PCN Sports telecast stated that Breese looked “vulnerable” during the tournament, and that a repeat championship wasn’t a certainty against Pen Argyl’s Brady Mutton.
Breese is a wrestler who is as gifted mentally on the mat as he is physically, and finds motivation for every bout. Had Breese heard about the television commentary prior to his 3-2 championship victory over Mutton, who knows how big of a win he could have secured.
“I do not agree with that at all,” Breese said when told of the comments. “They were going off of the first match, which was the only one they watched. You can’t expect to have a great match every match. I was never in danger of losing that match. They might say I’m vulnerable, but I call it smart wrestling.”
Breese was as enjoyable to interview as he was to watch wrestle this season. Always confident but never cocky, Breese earned the right to speak his mind, showcasing how a student-athlete should conduct himself in and out of the gym.
Ranked 15th in his academic class at Lakeview, Breese embodies the work ethic and determination that every athlete can hope to have at some point during their high school career.
Now it’s time to look ahead, as Breese has decided to take his wrestling talents to Ohio and wrestle for Kent State University.
The jump to collegiate wrestling will naturally have its ups and downs, but it’s never too early to look ahead and begin setting goals for the next chapter.
Most kids would still be celebrating a state title.
Breese isn’t most kids.
“I’d like to be an All-American, and eventually a national champion,” Breese said. “That should be everyone’s goal, as long as you’re willing to work for it.”