Growth at Muncy: When losses become wins
Andy Aguilar had just recorded the takedown to tie up his bout with Central Columbia’s Steve Shannon. From the bench, Muncy head coach Denny Harer screamed to get his sophomore 126-pounder’s attention for the signal to let Shannon up.
With less than a minute to go in the bout it was a surprising move, especially considering the score was tied. But Aguilar didn’t hesitate, allowing Shannon to get to his feet. Aguilar quickly went back to work on his feet, and scored a takedown with 28 seconds left to beat Shannon, 8-7, at the Bob Rohm Tournament.
A year ago, Harer never could have trusted Aguilar to give up the point to Shannon and know he could get the takedown to win the bout. This isn’t the same Aguilar which Harer coached a year ago, either.
“Last year that match wouldn’t have been 6-6,” Harer said. “But he believed. He was jumping around and excited and he was excited for the challenge. That’s a big win for him.”
Aguilar’s win over Shannon avenged a pair of losses to the Central Columbia sophomore a year ago. Neither of them, like Harer said, had the chance to be 6-6. Shannon pinned Aguilar in a dual meet in late January in 3 minutes, and followed it up with a 46-second fall in the third-place consolation match at the East-Central Sectional tournament, a win that sent Shannon to the District 4 tournament, and ended Aguilar’s season with a 13-20 record.
So Aguilar’s one-point win over Shannon last week was a statement victory. It was part of an eye-opening, undefeated day for Aguilar in which he won five matches for the Indians. It was a day in which he was announced as a different wrestler than the one which started last year 3-8, with seven of the losses by fall.
“I guess wrestling isn’t really about how much you can do when you’re in the glory,” Aguilar said. “It’s how much you can do when you get pushed down so you can try to get back up.”
Aguilar took his freshman season as a learning experience, one which he didn’t want to repeat. So he dedicated himself to the sport during the offseason. He spent more time in the practice room with Harer trying to improve.
He also worked out with Hughesville’s Dakota Nixon, who won a PJW state championship last spring.
It’s clearly worked. His 11-6 record to start his sophomore season leaves him just two wins shy of his freshman season total. Just two of his six losses in the first month of the season have come by fall. He started the season 2-5, but has nine wins in his last 11 bouts, including five bonus-point victories.
“He was in the room all summer and he dedicated himself,” Harer said. “He’s believing. He bought into the system. When you buy in, good things happen. The exciting part is that he went 5-0 (at the Bob Rohm) and he still has some work to do.”
Aguilar stepped into the lineup a year ago after the departures of two of the most successful wrestlers in school history. Ryan Hembury and Zack Strickland both moved on to Division I wrestling programs after becoming the Indians’ first state champions in more than 50 years.
Even though he wasn’t jumping into their weight classes, Aguilar said he felt the pressure of jumping into the starting lineup as a freshman because it was a team coming off back-to-back District 4 Duals runner-up finishes and a trip to Hershey for the PIAA Duals tournament. It didn’t help matters when his first match ended in just seven seconds at the hands of former PIAA champion Arty Walsh at the Top Hat Tournament in Williamsport.
“Yeah, I was nervous a little bit,” Aguilar said. “You don’t really know what to expect at first, especially if you weren’t really that good in junior high.”
Things have clearly changed in his second year in the starting lineup, though. He’s wrestles with confidence that he can win anytime he steps foot on the mat. He wrestles with quickness and athleticism and a fluidity in his movements that belies his youth in the sport.
And after spending a summer working out with Harer and buying into Muncy’s system which has produced a state placewinner in each of the last five season, he’s put his full trust into his head coach. So when Harer signaled to have Aguilar cut Shannon loose with under a minute to go to give away the lead, there was no hesitation. And more importantly, there was no hesitation in Aguilar getting right back to his offense to score the bout-winning takedown.
“When I don’t think I can win a match, he gives me the confidence that helps me win,” Aguilar said. “It felt pretty good to get that win. He’s already beat me twice previously, and I wanted to get a little even. It’s a big one.”
Don’t it expect it to be his last big win.
Garrett Wesneski sure didn’t waste much time in getting back to form following a knee injury which cost him much of the football season. The junior went 5-0 for Canton at the Bob Rohm Tournament last week in his first extensive action since returning to the Warriors’ lineup from the knee injury.
He had one forfeit win, but recorded three falls and a major decision for Canton. Two of his three falls came in the first period.
“We had him weighed in at 185.8, so it was good for him to get some full matches under his belt and get adjusted to being down,” Canton head coach Lyle Wesneski said. “I think he’s only going to feel better.”
The junior is coming off a year which he qualified for the regional tournament, but had the start of his season delayed because of knee surgery. He’s currently ranked second in the region at 195 pounds, and will likely take the same spot at 182 once he drops.
Wesneski is off to an 8-0 start for the Warriors and provides another hammer to go along with Connor Route at 220 pounds.
“I don’t think he even thinks about (the injury) anymore,” Lyle Wesneski said. “The first week in the room maybe he did a little bit. But even in drilling and stuff it’s not even in the back of his mind anymore.”
Brandon Owlett and Chad Daugherty have already had plenty of success for Wellsboro in their careers, but head coach Rick Mihalik has seen a new dedication this year in his two leaders, and it’s turned into quite the start to the season for the two upperclassmen.
Owlett, a junior 145-pounder, and Daugherty, a senior 195-pounder, are a combined 19-3 for the undermanned Hornets to start the season, and they’ve both firmly cemented themselves as names to watch out for come the postseason.
“I know they’ve been to Bucknell camp this summer and they wrestled on some travel teams. It’s more than they’ve done in the past,” Wellsboro head coach Rick Mihalik said. “And so far this season, it’s shown. We’ve come a lot farther this season than we have in the past.”
Daugherty, a returning district qualifier, lost his first bout of the year, 4-2, to Canton’s Tyler Cole, but has won nine consecutive bouts since then. Six of his nine wins have come by fall in 1:30 or less.
Owlett’s victories have come in a much different fashion. His last five wins have been by decision, and four of his last five decisions have been by four points or less. Mihalik said Owlett’s two losses have come from mistakes he’s made, but he’d rather see those mistakes happen now than late in the season.
“Hopefully by the postseason we’ll get that worked out and by the postseason he’ll be wrestling well,” Mihalik said. “We just need him to keep a good attitude and keep working.
It might be time to start considering Lewisburg as a team to watch out for. The Green Dragons were 4-1 heading into Saturday’s matches at the Coudersport Duals. The Green Dragons were already sporting one of the best 220-pounders in the state with Brandon Smith, but to that have added the likes of freshmen Jordan Gessner and Brian Friery to the core of a team that has seen Max Reed emerge as a point-getter.
Following Friday’s 60-15 win over Wellsboro, Lewisburg head coach Jim Snyder tried to temper his excitement for the possibilities which surround this Green Dragons team, but he also let it be known he was excited.
“This squad has more balance this year. It’s great to have those little light kids (Gessner and Friery) that fires us up at the beginning,” Snyder said. “We don’t have long lulls like we had last year that cost us a couple matches.”
Smith, Friery, Gessner, Reed and 285-pounder Kyle Santorine represent consistent point-getters for the Green Dragons, but they’ve also been able to add the exploits of Dante Taylor who has won seven of his last eight bouts after getting comfortable with his weight at 120 pounds, and Nick Bernstein who has won nine in a row.
Snyder is expecting the team to only get better when they are able to add Michael Fox and Ray Mauer to the lineup in the next couple weeks. Lewisburg is facing winnable matches against Danville, Loyalsock and Bloomsburg in the next couple weeks before running into tough tests with Hughesville and Benton toward the end of the month. So it’s very possible this is a team which could earn a high seed for the District 4 Duals. And with three teams from District 4 advancing to the PIAA Duals tournament under this year’s expanded bracket, Lewisburg has quickly become a team to keep an eye on.
“We’re not at our best yet. We’ll have our best team after the 14th and we’re going to be tough,” Snyder said. “Are we going to beat the Central’s of the world? No, we’re not. But we don’t have to. All we have to do is be top three.”
MOVING ON UP
Three area alumni put together a solid week in two of the toughest collegiate tournaments in the country over the Christmas break. Lewisburg graduate Nathaniel Brown had maybe the most impressive performance becoming the lowest seeded wrestler of the Midlands Tournament to reach the finals.
Brown, a sophomore 174-pounder at Lehigh, reached the finals as the ninth seed. He upset top-seeded Jordan Blanton of Illinois, 3-2, in the quarterfinals before beating Michigan’s Dan Yates, 5-2, in the semifinals. Brown fell in the finals to Nebraska’s Robert Kokesh, but was one of just two Mountain Hawks to reach the Midlands finals. Brown jumped to 11th in the national rankings by Intermat at 174 pounds, up from 19th.
Muncy graduate Zack Strickland took sixth place for Appalachian State at the Southern Scuffle. After losing his first bout of the tournament, Strickland won five consecutive consolation bouts before falling to Oklahoma State’s Tyler Caldwell in the consolation semifinals. Strickland, a redshirt freshman for the Mountaineers, is now 15-9 this year and is undefeated (5-0) in dual meets.
Penn State redshirt freshman Luke Frey, a Montoursville graduate, took seventh place in his first Southern Scuffle wrestling at 149 pounds. Frey advanced to the quarterfinals where he lost to Minnesota returning national runner-up Dylan Ness, 9-4. Frey lost in the consolation quarterfinals as well before beating South Dakota’s Dustin Walraven, 4-3, for seventh place. Frey is now 10-3 for the Nittany Lions this year in tournaments.