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Saturday's district duals tournament the best yet
February 3, 2014 - Mitch Rupert
Peeling himself off the mat, Robert White struggled to get back to his feet. The pain and exhaustive nature of Saturday's District 4 Duals tournament evident with every increasinly painful wince as he got back to the center of the mat to shake Justin Griffith's hand.
Twenty-four minutes White spent on the mat Saturday, a brutal 24 minutes like he may never experience again this year. But it was the nature of one of the most brutal and brilliant days of wrestling District 4 has put on in its history.
From the standpoint of the fans, Saturday's District 4 Duals tournament at Milton was excruciatingly fantastic. It was a gauntlet of a tournament which determined the three best teams to represent the district in this week's PIAA Duals tournament.
From a coach's and wrestler's perspective, it was three or four matches of intense pressure and extraordinary competition ending with a physical and emotional exhaustion unlike anything they had experienced before. Don't believe it? Ask White, Hughesville's 170-pounder, after a day of wrestling four matches against some of the region's best 170-pounders, how he felt.
“First thing I said to the kids, I can't believe the day I went through,” Hughesville head coach Steve Budman said. “A lot of us coaches were looking at each other throughout the day saying, 'Seriously, do we really have to do things this way?'”
There was a perverse smile on Budman's face of someone who just witnessed how much of a toll wrestling Wyalusing twice, Montoursville once and Lewisburg once in the same day takes on high school kids, while enjoying the competition that came with it.
It was all a byproduct of the show District 4 put on. For all the things District 4 has gotten wrong with its playoff seedings and procedures in other sports, this was a district tournament executed perfectly.
So much credit has to go to District 4 wrestling chairman Steve Gobble and his support group who helped adjust the duals tournament after last season. After Benton and Warrior Run, easily two of the three or four best teams in last year's tournament, met in the quarterfinals, meaning one wouldn't have the chance to wrestle back for third, Gobble and his crew put in place wrestlebacks from the quarterfinals which led to Saturday's awesome display of high school wrestling.
It paid off. Wyalusing, which lost in the quarterfinals to Hughesville, won three consecutive matches in the wrestlebacks to take third place. The Rams wrestle District 11 second-place finisher Saucon Valley today in the PIAA pigtail round. Is the tournament and its seeding procedures perfect? Not at all. But consider it took the NFL 11 years to institute automatic video reviews of both touchdowns and turnovers. Everything is a work in progress.
But what's more important is Gobble is willing to adjust and tinker and wants to find the best way to get the best wrestlers and wrestling teams to advance. And in turn, you get phenomenal tournaments like Saturday's.
“I loved (the district duals tournament). Absolutely loved it. Wyalusing would have been out of the tournament, and I think it validates itself right there,” said Towanda head coach Bill Sexton, whose Black Knights team won its fourth District 4 Duals title. “I thought last year was a real shame Benton and Warrior Run wrestled in the first round and one was out of the tournament, and I think we've cured that problem.”
But is it too much to ask teams to run through that gauntlet of a tournament to advance? It's tough to imagine either Wyalusing or Hughesville would have been able to compete Monday at 100 percent in a state tournament match.
In fact, Monday's snow postponement might be a benefit for Wyalusing just to give them an extra day to rest and recover.
“You have to couple (the district tournament) on top of wrestling every other day for our league. Right now I'm looking at my guys thinking I'd like to take about three days off, but I can't do that,” Budman said. “We've been through the Gauntlet (at Blue Mountain), the Zephyr Duals in Whitehall, and they looked as cooked as ever.”
The truth is, not every District 4 Duals tournament is going to be the ringer this one was. What made it so special is how evenly matched all the teams were. Consider three of Hughesville's matches came down to the final match, and the fourth was still in doubt with two bouts to go. Three of Wyalusing's four matches was in doubt with two bouts to go.
District 4 has generally had a team which was favored to win the tournament and everyone else trying to play catch-up. Although Towanda was the top seed, and deservedly so, after the regular season it put together. But the Black Knights were never overwhelming favorites. Just look at their three-point win over surprise finalist Montoursville as a reason why. Towanda may have been the most complete team, though, as evidenced by the district championship plaque it carried back to the northern tier.
For one day, though, or one season, this was the best show District 4 could have put on. And it was glorious as long as you were sitting in the bleachers. Treacherous if you were matside. Just ask Robert White.
Mitch Rupert covers high school wrestling for the Sun-Gazette. He can be reached at 326-1551, ext. 3129, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/Mitch_Rupert.
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