It was easy to see Denny Harer wanted to gush. The Muncy head coach wanted to pile on his praise for Isaiah Bobotas, especially after the sophomore just went 5-0 at the Bob Rohm tournament.
But he held back. He took a deep breath and said, "Isaiah is wrestling real tough." He left the thought at that.
It was very similar to a year ago when Bobotas joined the Muncy team as a freshman. It was a team Harer knew had the potential to end up in Hershey for the PIAA Duals tournament. And he knew they were only going to be that much tougher with the added talent of Bobotas.
Isaiah Bobotas of Muncy, top, went 5-0 at the Bob Rohm Tournament and is becoming a tougher middleweight.
Harer tempered his expectations of such a young wrestler a year ago, instead deferring the strength of the team to a senior class that featured Ryan Hembury and Zack Strickland who became Muncy's first state wrestling champions in more than 50 years. But he knew he had something special, even in a young wrestler.
Bobotas is starting to show that potential this year. He's already 16-3 with his only losses coming to either regional or state qualifiers. What's interesting, though, is Bobotas said he gets more nervous when he wrestles this year than he did a year ago.
"Last year I was expected to win, but this year, I'm expected to win," Bobotas said after the Bob Rohm. "I'm more nervous, but I feel better."
He showed the flashes of brilliance at times as a freshman that had Harer so excited. He won a stellar match against Central Columbia's Mike Roosa in the final bout of the finals of the Bob Rohm Tournament to force a tie with the Blue Jays. The Indians won the tournament title on the criteria of having won the most bouts.
But at times, he looked overwhelmed with wrestling on the varsity level. He looked unsure of himself and his abilities.
"You could see in his eyes he was growing confidence. And when he gets confidence, he's dangerous," Harer said after Bobotas' win over Roosa last season.
The refrain hasn't changed much. Bobotas looks physically bigger and stronger this year wrestling at 152 pounds. There's an air of confidence surrounding him when he runs to the center of the mat.
He's no longer hoping to win, he now knows he can win.
"The only person that can beat Isaiah is Isaiah," Harer said. "He needs to go out there and stay focused and he'll be fine."
Bobotas has already learned quite a bit from his three losses this year. He knows he was in much better shape a year ago and plans on getting back to a steady diet of running in order to get back in the shape he was in. He's hoping that may be the edge he needs to be able to pull out what was a two-point loss to Benton regional qualifier Jeric Kasunic and a four-point loss to General McLane regional qualifier D.J. Myers.
Bobotas himself is excited for the possibilities of his season. Senior Heath Strickland has returned from his knee injury that took away the majority of his junior year and gives Bobotas a great workout partner.
"That's helping to make me better," Bobotas said.
It's clear Bobotas has taken quite a step forward this year. In due time, maybe Harer won't be bashful about heaping the praise on the sophomore.
TIME TO GET OFFENSIVE: Milton's Ryan Solomon made a great run through the 2011 Bethlehem Holiday Wrestling Classic, finishing second at 220 pounds Thursday. Solomon's run to the finals wasn't exactly a surprise. The junior is a returning state runner-up who ran maybe the toughest gauntlet of any wrestler at last year's state tournament and nearly came out on top.
And how Solomon is winning, or losing, his tough matches isn't becoming surprising either. He lost in the finals Thursday to Wyoming Seminary's A.J. Vizcarrondo, a returning national prep tournament runner-up, 4-3 in an ultimate tie-breaker.
It's almost become more surprising when Solomon doesn't wrestle to at least the tie-breaker period in a state tournament-caliber match than when he does. He's wrestled in two state tournaments totaling nine matches. Three of them, including two a year ago, went to the tie-breaker. He's also had a matches decided by a 1-0 score, a 2-1 score, and two others at 3-2 that didn't get into the tie-breaker.
There's no question that Solomon is one of the top 220-pounders in the state regardless of classification. His 4-1 win over Nazareth's Aaron Bradley, a 285-pound regional qualifier a year ago in the Bethlehem semifinals, can attest to that. He's currently ranked second in the state behind two-time 285-pound state champion John Rizzo of Richland. On top of that, he's ranked 11th in the country at 220 pounds.
But it's safe to say if he's looking to take the next step on to the top of the podium in Hershey, he's going to have to find a little more offense. He scored just eight points in four state tournament matches last year, and 10 in five matches as a freshman.
OF THE WEEK
Donald English, Milton, 182 pounds
No, he wasn't the highest placing wrestling Milton had at the Bethlehem Holiday Classic. In fact, of the three Black Panthers who did place, he was the lowest at fifth place. We should all be so unfortunate. English has taken about five steps forward in his career this season, and the season is just a few weeks old. The returning regional qualifier already had an overtime win over Wyalusing regional qualifier Anthony Clark under his belt before heading to Bethlehem this week. But getting to the semifinals in Bethlehem is no easy task. He lost in the semifinals to Delaware Valley state qualifier Mark Wagner before eventually finishing fifth. This could be the start of a huge season for English.
CAN'T MISS MATCH
OF THE WEEK
Hughesville at Warrior Run, Thursday, 7 p.m.
This match may not carry some of the heavy star power of other matches throughout District 4 this week, but these are two very solid lineups that are going to pose more than their fair share of problems for whoever they face. Expect an exciting energy throughout the Warrior Run gym on Thursday night. The most intriguing matchup may be Hughesville 285-pounder Derek Earnest against Warrior Run second-year wrestler Austin Fiedler. We'll see just how far Fiedler has come against a returning regional qualifier.