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Strassner with much-deserved rest after sectionals
February 19, 2014 - Mitch Rupert
The area underneath Jacob Strassner's right eye was black and blue. There were red marks still on the right side of his face from a brutal day of wrestling at the Central Sectional tournament last weekend.
And just for added color, it appeared like there was a trace of dried blood under his nose.
“I'm beat,” the Montoursville sophomore said after securing his spot in the District 4 Class AA tournament which begins Friday night. “Mentally, physically, everything. I'm beat.”
But a smile stretched across Strassner's face in the wake of his tremendous run through a daunting 126-pound bracket to take fourth place. His Sunday was already planned. It was a planned day off, a much-needed one, too.
“Sleep,” he said. “Just sleep.”
Saturday's sectional tournament was the coup de grace of a menacing two-week stretch of wrestling for Strassner and his Montoursville teammates. It was a stretch which included a run to the District 4 Duals finals, a trip to Hershey for the PIAA Team Wrestling Championships for the first time in school history, and two league-mandated duals against Lewisburg and Hughesville, just four and five days prior to Saturday's start of the individual postseason.
And to cap it off, Strassner was the seventh-seed in potentially the deepest and most competitive of the 14 weight classes wrestled in three District 4 sections last Saturday.
Yeah, you'd probably be looking forward to sleeping on Sunday, too.
“I'm really proud, but I had to work for it,” Strassner said. “Just go out and wrestle and have fun. It's only a game.”
Strassner was a District 4 sixth-place finisher last year at 106 pounds, losing 5-0 to Midd-West's Corey Stauffer in the fifth-place consolation. It capped off a stellar freshman season which saw Strassner finish 23-11 and come within one win of advancing to the regional tournament.
It hasn't been as easy for Strassner this year. He had to deal with a 20-pound increase and the move up three weight classes. And it was a rough start for him.
He finished sixth at the season-opening Top Hat tournament at Williamsport, and started the season 3-5. But it was the last time he was under .500 all year. It's been a seesaw season for Strassner because the adjustment to a heavier weight class proved to be more of a challenge than he anticipated.
“It's a more fast pace and the kids are stronger,” Strassner said. “The strength surprised me a little bit, and I have to work on that in the summer.”
He's hovered around the .500 mark for much of the season, entering the postseason with an 18-17 record. It was a big part of the reason he was the seventh seed in a nine-man 126-pound bracket at the Central Sectional.
But Strassner knew he was better than what his record would suggest. Even after an opening-round, 9-0 loss to eventual runner-up Brian LeBarron of Warrior Run, Strassner was confident he could finish in the top four. First he advanced by beating Montgomery's Nick Buckle, 5-0, in the first round of consolations. It was an important win for Strassner after Buckle had beaten him twice during the regular season.
He followed that with a brilliant 1-0 win over stellar Benton freshman Anthony Vitale, ranked 16th in the state, in the consolation semifinals to secure his spot in the district tournament. He fell in the third-place consolation, 2-0, to Muncy's Andy Aguilar, but the consensus seemed to be it didn't matter much where in the top four Strassner finisher, just that he put in a day of wrestling which was good enough to advance to the next week.
“This is where it matters. All through the year, no matter if you have more losses than wins, it all comes down to this time of year,” said Montoursville's Keith Batkowski who often works with Strassner in practice. “It paid off for him. He came in to this tournament even expecting to make it out and he's going to districts.”
“Working with Keith and (freshman Nolan Ott) all year pushed me to be up there with them,” Strassner said. “Keith really helped me a lot. With him wrestling 26 last year, he knew what it was about and he was pushing me all year to get ready.”
Strassner will be part of another loaded 126-pound bracket Friday and Saturday at Williamsport which adds the likes of Line Mountain's Blake Carl, Mifflinburg's Noah Kuba, Sullivan County's Shawn Nitcznski, Williamson's Herman Briggs and Lewisburg's Dante Taylor to the mix. And, just like last week, Strassner will wrestle LeBarron in the opening round.
But now Strassner has the confidence he can win matches in the consolation bracket if that's what should be asked of him. He's already done it once to advance.
“I feel like I can let loose a lot more now,” Strassner said. “I know I can compete with everyone and wrestle with them.”
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