There was an ease, a freeness, if you will, to the movements of Demetri Probst on the wrestling mat. He was just wrestling, acting and reacting to his opponents.
There was nary a hint of the pressure he felt in his first tournaments competing for Central Mountain this year. He's found a way to relax, a way to go back to doing what he knows best. He's competing.
And he's started to find the groove which made him one of the best wrestlers in District 4 each of the last two seasons. But Probst, a two-time regional fourth-place finisher at Bucktail, is in a new home. Prior to the season, Bucktail and Central Mountain, both governed by the Keystone Central School District but separated by 30 miles, joined into a co-op for the wrestling program.
It took Probst, and other members from the Bucktail team, from a school with the fifth-lowest enrollment of all PIAA wrestling teams, to a Central Mountain team which is only four years from being a top-10 ranked team in the country. It was an intimidating proposition for Probst as the only former Bucktail wrestler in the Wildcats' starting lineup.
He felt the need to prove he belonged in the starting lineup. It showed as he had disappointing performances in both the Top Hat and the King of the Mountain tournaments, where was a combined 2-4.
"It's a big difference coming from Bucktail to a school as big as this," Probst said after a 4-1 day the Bob Rohm Tournament on Saturday. "I've been nervous. But I've wrestled with the kids for a while now. I'm starting to get used to the practices and used to the kids. I'm making some friends, so it's been good."
Probst is a quiet kid, but a coach's dream. He's never someone head coach Doug Buckwalter has to worry about on or off the mat. He's a great student who's willing to work hard and is very coachable.
"From what I've seen in the practice room, if he can transfer that out to the mat, he's going to have a very successful season," Buckwalter said. "As the year is coming along, he's getting better at that. He's opening up a lot more in matches and he's battling."
The first couple weeks of the season were a learning curve, but Probst seems to have settled in. At Bucktail, he was a big fish in a small pond, the only two-time regional qualifier for the Bucks since moving into District 4.
Now, he's a cog in the Central Mountain wrestling machine. He's gone 5-1 since those two season-opening tournaments, all in dual meets. He was a part of the Wildcats' unbeaten effort at the dual meet Bob Rohm Tournament in which the Wildcats outscored their five opponents by a combined average of 58-10.
"After the first couple wins (at the Bob Rohm), I'm definitely starting to get my confidence back," Probst said. "Things are getting back to being the same. I'm just getting loose and getting adjusted to everything."
"The thing I know is Demetri's coachable. He walks off the mat and looks at you like what do I need to improve on," Buckwalter said. "If anybody does that, they're going to get better. This is a totally different environment. Every time he's walking on the mat now, he has to scrap a little bit more than what he did last year and he's getting better at it."
Let's be honest, Probst is probably seeing better competition every day in the practice room than he did in two regular seasons at Bucktail. As one of the smallest schools in the PIAA, the Bucks often struggled with numbers and often went to smaller tournaments to be more competitive. Bucktail entered the King of the Mountain last year, but Probst did not participate because of an injury.
Now he's working out with Class AAA state qualifier Chad Reese on a daily basis. He also rolls around with junior Gavin Caprio, who was a District 6 champion.
It's a benefit both ways, though. Probst is getting better workout partners than he's ever had, and Reese and Caprio are getting a two-time regional fourth-place finisher from one of the toughest Class AA wrestling districts in the state.
"It's awesome," Probst said. "I'm doing a little beating on people, and getting beat on myself a little bit. It's pretty awesome."
GETTING IT DONE
Canton was winning by the skin of its teeth early in Saturday's Bob Rohm Tournament. The Warriors won their first three matches by a combined five points. It beat both Muncy and Central Columbia by identical 37-36 scores, and followed it with a 37-34 win over Athens.
"I'll take five of those," Canton head coach Lyle Wesneski said following the second win.
Pulling out close wins is nothing new for this Canton team. Six of its eight dual-meets this year have been decided by fewer than 10 points. The Warriors have found just enough balance to go with its potent upper weights to start the season with a 6-2 dual-meet record. Its only losses came Saturday at the Rohm to eventual runner-up Downingtown West and New York's Smithtown East, a perennial contender at the Rohm.
A year ago it was those same kind of close matches which helped cost the Warriors a spot in the District 4 Duals tournament. The Warriors lost a 38-34 match to Montoursville and a 39-35 match to Midd-West in the first month of the season. Canton was 10-11 by the district duals cut-off date, losing by just seven points to NTL champion Williamson in a match it had to win to qualify for the tournament.
"We got some big league matches after the new year with Athens, Towanda, Wyalusing and Troy. They're all going to be dogfights," Wesneski said. "It's good for the kids to get put in situations like that, and I want to see how they react. We put some pressure on the upper classmen in the upper weights. They had to come through with the majors, the technical falls or pins for us to win and that's what they did. It's what upperclassmen are supposed to do."
The concern for Canton isn't about those upper weight veterans. Wesneski knows exactly what he's going to get from the likes of Tyler Cole, Garrett Wesneski and Connor Route. And the emergence of sophomore Brady Bryington at heavyweight gives the Warriors a dangerous a group of upper weights as there are in District 4.
Wesneski became Canton's first state placewinner since Garth Mahosky in 2010 a year ago. Route was a regional qualifier who won more than 30 matches. And Cole won 21 matches a year ago and is ranked 22nd in the state.
Lyle Wesneski is looking for a little production from the lightweights in his lineup to help make Canton a more balanced team. Dennis Route and Travis Butcher have done well in trying to provide some of that balance. The two are a combined 15-6 through the first month of the season.
"We got five or six veterans, then six or seven pretty green and young kids," Lyle Wesneski said. "We have to be patient with them. They're working hard in the mat room. I keep telling them, the only thing I'm looking for, I want maximum effort and I want improvement every time you go out there. If you give me that, you'll never hear me complain. It's what any coach would want."
Denny Harer knew it was going to take some time for Scott Appleman to knock off the rust after being out of wrestling the last couple seasons. But he was definitely excited to get the junior back into the practice room this year.
Harer, Muncy's head coach, is beginning to see what has him so excited about having Appleman back on the team. The 220-pounder started the season 3-5, but has gone 5-1 since, including a 4-1 performance at the Bob Rohm Tournament where his lone loss was to Canton's Garrett Wesneski.
"Slowly we're getting there," Harer said. "He was 4-1 on the day and it's a huge day for him."
The one thing Harer knew he could count on was Appleman would bring an aggressiveness to his wrestling. He was the Northern Tier League Small School Defensive Player of the Year after posting 120 tackles for the Indians in 11 games.
Appleman showed off that aggressiveness in a 13-6 win over Downingtown West's Matt Duplicki. Harer had Appleman let up Duplicki each time he recorded a takedown, getting the junior more and more comfortable on his feet and looking for shots.
Appleman isn't quite to the point where Harer hopes he'll be by the end of the season, but he's a productive member of a Muncy team which is going to battle for a HAC-III championship.
"He's a great leader on our team," Harer said. "He is the leader on our team."
OF THE WEEK
Hunter Bohannon, Warrior Run, 220 pounds
The freshman sure made quite the impact in his first varsity appearance Saturday at the Newport Holiday Tournament. He was one of eight champions for the Defenders, but his may have been the most impressive. Bohannon won all three of his matches by fall to win the 220-pound bracket. He wrestled for just 1 minute, 35 seconds of mat time and was named the tournament's Outstanding Wrestler. Not a bad start.
OF THE WEEK
Zephyr Duals, Saturday, 8:30 a.m.
Outside of the Top Hat, this is one of the most competitive tournaments Hughesville competes in all year. The Spartans will be the seventh seed and face Class AAA Whitehall in the first round. Hughesville hit a rough patch just prior to the Christmas break, losing close matches to both Towanda and Benton, but have a chance to make up for it in a tough, day-long dual-meet tournament.