Highs and lows: Waller battles through disappointment to chase first PIAA title
Mt. Pleasant's Robbie Waller has encountered much adversity through his high school years.
By Paul Schofield
Robbie Waller wondered aloud Saturday night after his second consecutive WPIAL/Southwest Regional wrestling title, "Am I ever going to get a break?" Drained from a grueling 9-3 victory over Kiski Area's Joe Chirafisi, and a bout with the flu that had him running a 101-degree temperature, the senior from Mt. Pleasant High School was left wondering what trouble would be waiting for him next.
A black cloud seemed to hang over Waller, the No. 1 ranked wrestler in the state, throughout his high school career. There have been a lot of highs and some very disappointing lows during his career. Waller, who will be attending Oklahoma University in the fall, hopes to blow those black clouds away this weekend at the PIAA Championships at Hershey, where he attempts to win his first state championship. He is a two-time PIAA runnerup and enters the competition with a 25-0 record (124-3 overall).
Waller faced adversity each year at Mt. Pleasant:
As a freshman, he had surgery on his right shoulder that kept him from competing at the start of his season. When he returned to action he ripped through the competition to post a 20-0 record. Two days before the Section 1-AAA tournament, Waller was diagnosed with a severe case of mononucleosis which ended his season.
Before his sophomore season, he injured his right shoulder again while playing in a football game. He was unable to utilize some of his best moves and lost to Canon-McMillan's Bruce Cridge in the WPIAL/Southwest Regional finals and the PIAA finals at 152 pounds. He finished 35-2.
As a junior, Waller wasn't fully recovered from his off-season surgery and was never able work himself into wrestling shape. He won his first WPIAL/Southwest Regional title, but dropped a 2-1 decision to Rick Springman of Norristown in the PIAA 160-pound finals. He finished 44-1. "Most people would not wrestle after two reconstructive surgeries to a shoulder," said Rob Waller, his father and Mt. Pleasant coach. "He spent his junior season learning to wrestle the opposite way because of the
During his senior season, Waller was on another roll. He won titles at the Mid-Atlantic Classic and Powerade tournament in December before being involved in a vehicle accident on Jan. 4 with best friend Brian Burrows that claimed the life of a 4-year-old boy. Waller sustained a dislocated right wrist and needed more than 200 stitches to close a gash in his head.
The injuries kept Waller out of action more than five weeks.
For 31 days, he couldn't run or work out while he healed. During that time, he and his dad lost a close friend, Brookville wrestling coach Lenny Ferraro, who died suddenly.
Waller returned in time to compete in the WPIAL team tournament and his victories in the Trinity and Connellsville matches helped Mt. Pleasant reach the finals.
During the finals, however, Waller needed a pin to secure the team victory over McGuffey. He could manage only a major decision victory against a wrestler 25 pounds heavier and McGuffey won a 28-26 decision. "I'm an emotional person," said Waller. "I felt I let my teammates down. I wouldn't wish this season on anyone."
He atoned for that disappointment Saturday by winning to secure the Southwest Regional team title for Mt. Pleasant. "As sick as Robbie was, I knew he'd come through for us," said Coach Waller. "What he did that night was top-notch. He did a great job."
Now Waller tries to put those negative thoughts behind him as he attempts to capture his first PIAA title. "This season has been tough on all of us," said the younger Waller. "What I did Saturday was for my dad and the team. My dad deserves the title. I want to win the state championship for him, too. He's coached seven runners-up at Mt. Pleasant. It's time he had a champion."