The grins on the faces of Zach Fry and Robert White were similar. Disappointment coupled with contentment.
Both tried to convey they weren't happy with finishing second at Saturday's East-Central Sectional tournament, but at the same time they were trying to be realistic, knowing doing enough to simply move on to this weekend's District 4 tournament was enough. The two Hughesville wrestlers finished second in two of the most demanding weight classes in District 4 on Saturday.
Maybe most impressive about both their finishes was second didn't seem to be good enough for either of them.
"I knew it was one of the toughest weights, it means a lot to make it out," said Fry, a freshman 120-pounder. "My goal is to make it to states, and I just want to keep working my way there."
"Especially compared to last year when I lost both matches at sectionals, this is a better season than last year," said White, a junior 170-pounder. "Just to make it to the finals is a good achievement, and even though I didn't get where I wanted to be, I'm still moving on."
They both seemed to have healthy outlooks on their situations. We've reached a point in the season where it's nice to be called a sectional, district or regional champion, but it's probably more important to finish in a spot to advance to the next week.
White and Fry accomplished that goal in rather similar fashions Saturday, which allowed them the opportunity to wrestle for a sectional title by winning in the semifinals and guaranteeing their spot in the District 4 tournament. Fry pulled one of the bigger upsets in the district when he beat former state qualifier Shawn Nitcznski of Sullivan County, 2-0, in the semifinals with an armbar tilt in the final 15 seconds.
In a weight class that featured Nitcznski and returning state fourth-place finisher Matt Welliver of Benton, as well as regional qualifier Lewis Williams of Central Columbia, Fry called the semifinal win the most important of his season. Because of that win, he didn't have to worry about winning two do-or-die consolation matches just to advance to the next week.
Nitcznski ended up losing in the third-place match to Williams and had his season end before the district tournament for the first time in his career.
"That's the biggest match of any tournament, I think," Fry said. "I knew there's four really tough kids in our bracket, and winning that match was my best chance of moving on. I needed that. It was a big confidence boost."
White's second-place finish was a starting point for a run he feels could end in Hershey in three weeks. He came in as the top seed in the East-Central at 170 pounds after wrestling 90 percent of his season up at 182 pounds. But this year's 170-pound field district wide is so even, results could vary greatly from week to week.
So while White was clearly unhappy with the silver medal hanging around his neck, he understood he's still put himself in a good position by being in the district tournament. He's now a part of a 170-pound field in the district tournament in which 10 of the 12 wrestlers in the field have at least 24 wins. And one of the wrestlers who doesn't have at least 24 is Benton's Brandon Lontz, the wrestler which beat White, 8-3, for the East-Central title.
"To have the tough competition is a lot better," White said. "It gets my body trained for how I'm going to have to wrestle."
Let's face it, things aren't going to get any easier for either wrestler. While winning gold medals is nice, in weight classes as deep as Fry's and White's, just advancing is as valuable.
CLINIC ON MAT 1
Troy Hembury is walking on to the mat every week with a clear and concise goal. He's in preparation mode, trying to make sure he's 100 percent ready to go for the state tournament in March.
It's not that the Muncy senior is overlooking the next two weeks at the district and regional tournaments, but he's going to be the clear-cut favorite in those two 182-pound brackets. He's ranked second in the state and has had just 7 of his 34 matches this year go a full six minutes. And only one of those seven has come since the turn of the new year.
The senior two-time state placewinner has become an offensive machine of late. His two wins Saturday were by technical fall, including a 16-0 win in 2 minutes, 8 seconds in the 182-pound final at the East-Central Sectional.
"I just want to get better every week," Hembury said. "I've been pretty sick lately. I'm just trying to get healthy and feel better."
Hembury's win made him Muncy's first three-time East-Central Sectional champion since Kevin Strickland won three consecutive titles from 1983-1985. His 157 career wins are already a school record. But Hembury is still looking for a state gold medal.
So when he comes to the District 4 tournament this week, he's looking forward to a potential matchup with Canton's Garrett Wesneski, an undefeated junior who likely poses the biggest threat to Hembury running away with a district and regional title.
"I need those matches. I need to go six minutes," Hembury said. "I need to get my endurance back up because I haven't been able to run because my lungs are so clogged up. I need to get my cardio up and I think I'll be all right."
Williamson's Tyrus Hamblin was the talk of the District 4 wrestling community Saturday, but only because the junior returning state qualifier missed the North Sectional tournament because of an illness. Hamblin was 20-2 this year but has only wrestled in three events since the start of the new year because of illness.
Williamson opted out of the District 4 Duals two weeks ago, despite being the No. 2 seed, because injuries and illness had ravaged a team that was 20-2 at the time and considered a favorite to vie for one of the three state tournament spots allotted to District 4.
In Hamblin's absence, Troy's Ethan Calkins cruised to the North 113-pound title with a fall and a technical fall.
Mitch Rupert can be reached at 326-1551, ext. 3129, or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Mitch_Rupert.