Montoursville freshman eager in first postseason

Garrett Hoffman remembers watching former Montoursville wrestler Luke Frey jump into head coach Jamie Yonkin’s arms after winning a state title in 2008.

It was a defining moment in Hoffman’s progression as a wrestler. Some five years before he’d step on to a varsity wrestling mat, the now Montoursville freshman saw what was possible from the first year of varsity wrestling.

When Hoffman talks about his first varsity wrestling postseason he won the West Sectional 145-pound title on Saturday he doesn’t speak in terms of winning a certain number of matches. He doesn’t speak in terms of just qualifying for the next tournament week to week. Hoffman talks about winning tournaments because five years ago he saw Frey do just that.

Hoffman is the lone freshman in the 145-pound bracket at this weekend’s District 4 Class AA wrestling tournament. Everything he’s done this year has built toward this point to see where he stacks up against a field of proven winners.

“I’ve been looking forward to this for a while,” Hoffman said. “I want to see where I am next to state qualifiers.”

Hoffman has spent his entire freshman season trying to prove himself. First it was a sixth-place finish at the Top Hat to announce himself as a threat.

Then it was wins throughout the season over the likes of Bloomsburg’s Brandon Conrad, Mount Carmel’s Tyler Wariki, Benton’s Dominic Vitale, Loyalsock’s Giacomo DiNicola and Hughesville’s Dakota Nixon, a veritable who’s who of District 4 qualifiers. His season has been a constant proving ground, establishing himself as a threat for a deep run in the postseason with every win.

Since opening up the year with a 3-3 weekend at the Top Hat to take sixth place, the freshman has gone 23-3 since, including a dominant run through last weekend’s West Sectional tournament in which he outscored his opponents 30-0.

“After that Brandon Conrad match (a 4-3 win on Dec. 22), that really started to make me realize I could have a big impact on the postseason,” Hoffman said. “The other ones have just been adding to it from there. It helped me realize I could hang with these guys.”

And by “these guys” Hoffman is referring to the likes of Williamson’s Billy Barnes, Milton’s Taylor Porter, Lewisburg’s Logan Aikey and Nixon, all of which are on his side of the bracket for this weekend’s district tournament.

In general, the 145-pound field is quite daunting. Central Columbia’s Aaron Johnson, Midd-West’s Zach Heeter and Barnes are former regional qualifiers. Porter was a district sixth-place finisher a year ago.

And then, of course, there’s the top seed in the bracket Colt Cotten of Benton, a three-time state placewinner who could become just the third four-time state placewinner in school history this year.

Hoffman saw the field with a combined 319-68 record this year and still held confidence that he’s good enough, even as a freshman, to not only work his way in to regionals next week, but to get himself into the finals this weekend.

“All the kids in the bracket are tough, high-quality wrestlers,” Hoffman said. “I should be able to go really deep if I keep pushing the pace and keep working hard. I feel really confident going into it. I can hang with a lot of them. I should be able to hang with all of them. In the past I’ve had really good matches with Billy. I just need to be able to keep it close and I should be able to get some wins.”

Montoursville has produced a state placewinner every year since Frey won his state title in 2008. The Warriors’ best hopes to keep that streak going this year rest in Hoffman and fellow freshman Keith Batkowski, the younger brother of two-time state placewinner David Batkowski.

Montoursville’s streak is equaled or bested by only four other teams in the Sun-Gazette coverage area. Lewisburg has had a state placewinner every year since 2005. Milton and Central Mountain have each had a placewinner every year since 2007 and Muncy has had at least one every year since 2008.

Hoffman and Batkowski became the key cogs in a Montoursville lineup which surprised much of the district with its success this year. The Warriors were the ninth seed in the District 4 Duals after a 13-7 regular season.

“Going in as freshmen, you never expect to have that big of an impact on the team,” Hoffman said. “But we really worked hard to have a high-quality season and to get as many bonus points as we can.”

Now, though, those bonus points don’t matter too much. Hoffman is concerned about scoring enough points to win, to keep moving on and get himself to Hershey.

It’s a simple goal that is easier said than done. But he has memories of a past Montoursville great to remind him it’s possible.