HERSHEY — Sam Breese waited through three hours and 111 matches prior to his, and then wrestled a match he thought would never end.
But when it did, the senior heavyweight from Lakeview in Mercer County had one match down with three to go in order to earn his second straight PIAA wrestling championship at 285 pounds.
Breese (33-0) was one of three returning champions to advance through the Class AA preliminary round at Giant Center on Thursday.
George Phillippi of Derry Area and Jason Nolf of Kittanning also took the necessary first steps to defend their titles, and Bethlehem Catholic, the overwhelming team favorite, advanced nine of its 11 entrants into Friday's quarterfinal round.
Breese downed Devin Reed of Everett 9-5 in the session's final bout. He weathered an injury timeout in which his left shoulder was examined, and he spent nearly 15 minutes on a chair at the edge of the mat afterward recovering and listening to tips from his coaches.
"I was ready for that to be over," Breese said. "It's just good to get the first match out of the way and get the feel for the year and how it's going to turn out. All the pressure's on my shoulders coming into this tournament, a returning state champ, and I just want to get all the kinks and stuff out right now."
Breese worked Reed for a pair of first-period takedowns and a 4-1 lead before Reed worked a wrist roll for a second-period reversal. Breese countered with the exact same move and added a nearfall to break it open.
"He was trying to stop my underhooks; that worked for him I guess," Breese said. "I just need to keep my goal in mind — be a state champion — and that just drives me."
Kittanning's Nolf (41-0) drove Mason Angstadt of Bethlehem Catholic to his back in the second period and ended his 145-pound bout at the 3:20 mark. Now 173-1 in his career, the Penn State recruit is eyeing his third state title. His only loss was in the 2012 PIAA semifinals.
"I got out of position a couple of times and the kid almost scored some points on me, but I maintained my control and stayed on top," Nolf said.
"I just want to get on and off the mat so I don't get hurt. I want to pin everybody, that's my goal. I don't want to waste my time."
Phillippi, a sophomore, spent his time controlling Sean Stanish of Hamburg for a 9-0 victory. A five-point second period put Phillippi into the second round against Joey Gould (37-10) of Bethlehem Catholic.
"I felt good in every position," Phillippi said. "I need to clean up my finishes, I'd say, though."
Phillippi (38-4) said he wrestles up in class whenever possible to prepare for states.
"We go to the PowerAde tournament and that was one of the toughest brackets in the whole nation," Phillippi said. "We had so many ranked guys; it was awesome competition.
"I think it prepared me good for this and set me up for the competition I'm going to have over the weekend. Competition really helps. I feel good."