Jersey Shore wrestling well heading into Hershey

It was the perfect opportunity for Jersey Shore head coach Shawn Weaver to spout some kind of coach speak he wanted, but he chose not to.

His Bulldogs had just been beaten by a Hughesville team struggling to stay above .500 to qualify for district duals, and on top of the tough loss it was the fourth in five matches for Jersey Shore. Weaver was clearly concerned.

The Bulldogs struggled in their own dual-meet tournament, losing to Muncy, Warrior Run and Western Wayne. Add in the loss to Hughesville and the good feelings Jersey Shore had after beginning the season 9-0 were quickly fading.

Weaver stood in the middle of Jersey Shore’s gymnasium and declared the Hughesville match a crucial point. It was either a folding point for the Bulldogs, or a reason to refocus, work harder and fix all the mistakes which fueled the streak.

His team clearly selected the latter option, beating Selinsgrove 62-18 before wrestling a near-perfect match against Shikellamy on Saturday to beat the Braves and win its second consecutive District 4 Class AAA Duals title. Jersey Shore opens up its second consecutive appearance in the state tournament today at 6 p.m. against District 7 runner-up Franklin Regional.

“I don’t know if we were so much down, but it definitely shocked us,” Jersey Shore’s Jacob Huling said. “It helped us push ourselves in the mat room even more to be able to come here and have an experience like this to be able to go to Hershey.”

“Those guys understood that we’re going to be OK if we do the things we need to do. But if we don’t, anything can happen,” Weaver said. “We took our licks that day and sometimes that’s what it takes. We definitely got humbled a little bit. I think our guys understand they have to put in the work if you want to reap the rewards.”

It’s been a tremendous season for a Jersey Shore team that has just three wrestlers in its lineup who competed in Hershey for the Bulldogs a year ago. Weaver said earlier this year that the strong start to the season wasn’t that much of a surprise. He felt like he had talented, but young, wrestlers who were going to be competitive.

Only Noah Ulmer, Colton Killion and Austin White competed in Hershey for Jersey Shore a year ago. But they’ve gotten 15 wins out of senior Nate Caputo and 17 from Zak Herman, both of who returned to the team this year after taking a year off. Add in 10 wins from Huling a sophomore, seven from freshman Nate Lose wrestling at 195, 11 from freshman Allen Saar and 17 from freshman Hayden Swartwood, and Jersey Shore has formed a formidable dual-meet team.

Weaver said the Bulldogs’ schedule was a little back-loaded this year, so the rash of losses two weekends ago wasn’t completely unexpected. After wrestling this weekend, Jersey Shore still has dual meets left with Bellefonte, Central Mountain and Bald Eagle Area.

“That’s the way we like it going into the postseason. It’s all an experience,” Weaver said. “We kind of preach that everything going into the postseason is just a tune-up and then we throw out all the records. The guys are doing a great job of understanding this is the time that really matters.”

Jersey Shore may get its two toughest tests of the year this weekend.

Franklin Regional is currently the 35th-best high school team in the country, according to Intermat. The Panthers are coming off a 31-26 loss to Canon-McMilan in the District 7 final. Canon McMilan is the No. 10-ranked team in the country and the favorite to capture the PIAA title this weekend.

Franklin Regional has five state-ranked wrestlers, three of which are ranked in the top 20 nationally in their respective weight classes. And three of the five state-ranked wrestlers are underclassmen.

Michael Kemerer is a returning state runner-up who is ranked fifth nationally and second in the state at 126 pounds. Tyler Smith is a two-time state qualifier and a state fifth-place finisher a year ago ranked third in the state this year. Josh Maruca is ranked fifth in the state at 138 pounds, and 20th nationally coming off a fifth-place state finish a year ago. And Josh Shields is currently ranked first in the state and 13th nationally at 145 pounds.

“I think you have to understand that you have to go compete,” Weaver said. “You get (to Hershey) and then whatever happens, happens. Understanding that you belong is really big. I think our guys do. They understand that wrestling is wrestling and if you do things the right way then good things will happen.”

In their first-ever trip to Hershey for the team tournament a year ago, Jersey Shore lost in the first round, 48-27, to LaSalle College, and then in the wrestlebacks, 41-28 to Norristown. Whether the Bulldogs win or lose today, they’ll face either District 1 champion Owen J. Roberts, or District 2 champion Delaware Valley on Friday.

“I think the biggest thing we learned last year is for our young guys to go in there and be ready to wrestle,” Weaver said. “You can wrestle with anybody and anything can happen on any day. Not that I feel we’ll be overmatched, but in a lot of respects a lot of other people are going to feel that way. If we just go wrestle, do what we can and understand that the situation is not above us and just do our thing, we’ll be OK.”